In 3 steps: Construction project management demand-oriented & goal-oriented

Construction project management

Needs-based & goal-oriented in 3 steps.

Two weeks ago we started a new project. Together with a property developer, the neighbourhood development with an IPD project setup and the Application of Lean optimized. This should increase the efficiency of the planning phase and accelerate execution through the seamless project structure.

In this blog we would like to report on methods, progress and experiences regarding this innovative form of settlement and provide deep insights throughout the project in the coming months.

In the last post "Lean. Digital. IPD" I talked about the basic ideas and methods of optimized project development, this part is about the project initiation and the exact goal setting.

Designing is problem solving

The project is currently in the project initiation phase at the transition to project conception. The first business cases have been outlined, from which the project goals can be derived.

But stop! No waterfall-like project development is intended! Concepts and planning should not be based on fuzzy target definitions, which are successively sharpened in the course of the project. This results in a proliferation of new variants in each phase, which have to be coordinated again and again. Planning is a circular process. There is a problem that needs to be solved by planning. The project team takes on this task and presents the solution. Usually, however, it is then discovered that the problem has not been fully penetrated or is not the most urgent at the moment. This creates circular inefficient planning. Much of the time is spent on partial solutions and workarounds without actually having penetrated the overall problem. Coupled with the necessary decision-making processes, the result is an extremely absurd process monster. You are virtually doing a PDCA cycle without a real problem.

The design process is used to identify and precisely describe the problem or the goals. Only downstream does the solution finding play a role. In principle, this is the right approach, but it is neither particularly effective nor efficient.


My mentor once said to me: "Designing is problem solving". All activities, from project initiation to project conception to realization and operation, serve the goal of solving a problem. The more precisely and practicably this problem is formulated, the easier, faster and more successfully the solution is found. The solution is the project, the problem lies in the deviation of the ideal target state from the actual state. This is usually defined and determined purely by the client, the planning team interprets this and develops the area in between.

Let's jump into psychology for a moment. For his book "Flow: the psychology of optimal experience"Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi investigated how the activity performed affects the emotional state of his test subjects over a long period of time. For this purpose, the subjects' state of mind and the activity they were performing were recorded at various random points in time.

The results from all the data are simply impressive. Subjects who rated themselves as happiest worked on tasks with clearly defined goals and gradually approached them. It is important that the goals seem achievable with their current abilities, but are not too easy. Challenging, but not too challenging. With a clearly defined goal that you could work on in a focused way without outside influence.

Mihaly calls this state "the Zone". The Zone is a state with the highest focus, but at the same time also the highest creativity and on top of that you feel really good and productive. You are completely absorbed in what you are doing. As a competitive swimmer I often experienced this in my youth. Pain, effort and exhaustion gave way to focused work towards a goal.

This goes a long way to explaining why some projects leave you feeling so frustrated, unproductive, down, or sometimes awkward. You don't know what you want, what is required of you and you are nowhere near "the zone". And that's perfectly logical, because the (project) goals are neither your own nor the right ones for each project member, let alone are they within your sphere of influence.

I have been in a wide variety of projects, in a wide variety of meetings. This frustration can be experienced in pretty much every meeting, regardless of hierarchy or project status. By this I don't mean dragging the discussion down to a personal level. It manifests itself in the little things. How often are no clear factual questions asked, but rather stories told that end with an uncertain or played indignant "what am I supposed to think of that now?". Or instead of a purposeful question, everything is directly dismissed by a statement.

Get in the ZONE

This is exactly what we want to avoid in the project. So the question is, how do we and our project teams get into "the Zone"? There are three important factors for this. These must run like a red thread through all activities.

  1. Define goals and problems
  2. Align processes
  3. transfer them to the team.

As mentioned above, the first factor is the foundation of the whole project and also that of the other factors. Therefore, I would like to focus on the first one today.

Factor 1 Define goals

Basically, there are 2 types of goals in projects. Those of the whole team (and the company, if applicable) and those of the individual team members. Each level of goals is important to make the project successful. The team members' goals are aligned with the overall team goals. However, to get into "the Zone", the personal ones are the critical ones.

In order to find the right project goals, the problem must first be defined and the associated basic decision-making information must be collected. This provides the team with a guideline for action, which everyone can use as a guide and derive their own goals. An ideal prerequisite for a smooth planning process with few iteration loops.

It defines the starting point of the planning, in which the client formulates exactly which business case must be achieved and which parameters and added values must be achieved. From this, the planning task and what the client actually wants to build can be derived per se. Even before the start of the project, planning prerequisites and boundary conditions are formulated.

DIN 18205: Demand planning in the construction industry provides an indication of the necessary information. It is already about 20 years old, but despite its shadowy existence, it provides a good overview of the topics and crucial points through its checklists and appendices. In the DIN 18205 : demand planning contained is of the available financial framework over external basic conditions such as property inclusive building-legal points of view up to physical aspects of the building (e.g. spatial arrangement, static system, kind of the front ....) the desires of the owner are queried. Through the examination of the questions, definitions are then made which enable the start of a targeted project planning in accordance with the service profile of the HOAI.

Builder or team?

Sure, you can actually sit back. This is a clear task for the client and is often referred to as performance phase 0, i.e. the phase that must be processed before the HOAI phase 1 basic evaluation of the object planner. On closer inspection, however, services from the LP 1,2 and possibly even 3 are anticipated here. Cost estimations (DIN 18205: demand planning in the building industry), a definition per se not regulated (DIN276 does not know this term), can be made actually only after the preliminary draft founded. The target determination is therefore not as simple as thought!

In order to achieve this, the framework conditions and the most elementary principles from the project initiation and project conception are first compiled and analysed with the client team. These are then further specified and detailed with the key trades in order to ultimately enable each project participant to find their own goals and maxims for action. Sounds abstract, but has a simple implementation "Design Thinking"!

The implementation - Design Thinking

Design thinking is a transparent and structured approach to systematically identify and specify problems. This should lead to their solution and the development of new ideas. Hypotheses and approaches are generated in several steps and selected according to their persuasiveness. The core themes of Design Thinking are on the one hand the generation of creative ideas, which are often "outside the box", and on the other hand the collaboration of the participants. The idea of productive collaboration can also be found in the philosophy of Lean, as collaborative working is promoted here.

The process behind Design Thinking is divided into 6 phases. These must be run through at least once in order to achieve the desired success. In practice, however, it is usually the case that individual phases are run through several times, since design thinking is user-centered and demand-oriented, and comments are successively incorporated. At the beginning of every goal-setting process there is first of all understanding, because if the problem and the journey to the goal are not clearly defined and understandable for everyone, everyone usually runs in different directions.

Information Retrieval

Once everyone involved has understood the problem, the second phase is to obtain the necessary information. For our construction projects this means: What are the framework conditions and what do we want to achieve with the project? What kind of benefit should it have? In order to obtain this information, it makes sense in the construction industry to ask the various stakeholders and "affected parties" directly. What are the concerns of local residents? What does the target group of the construction project want? What are the concerns or requirements on the part of the city? These aspects should all be considered and taken into account during the observation phase of Design Thinking in order to avoid working in the wrong direction.

After this admittedly often large amount of information has been collected and discussed with the team, the third phase, the synthesis, is about filtering and sorting the most important information on which the project should be based.

Idea generation

The next phase is the brainstorming phase. In practice, this means that the most important objectives are defined here, taking into account the comments made in the observation phase and summarised in the synthesis, in order to satisfy as many stakeholders as possible, ideally all of them, of course. Once the project team has defined the objectives for the construction project, it is of course necessary to check whether these are in line with the ideas of the groups of people affected by the construction project, or whether it is necessary to start rethinking the initial situation and assumptions. For this purpose, first rudimentary "prototypes" should be made, which can be simple drawings, formulated concepts or image presentations / films that make the idea visually imaginable. Based on the feedback received, further changes can then be made in the next steps until a clear goal has been defined towards which to move.

Through this structured and transparent procedure, it is possible to define the concrete direction in which the project should go even before LPH 1. This should actually be the rule, but as I mentioned earlier: The clear project goal is usually not the rule in the construction industry!

Collaborative Projects with Lean Construction and the Last Planner System

Collaborative Projects with Lean Construction and the Last Planner System


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