Cooperative Construction,  A Summary

December 2017

On The Shoulders of Giants

My vision of the future of the construction industry is already visible to many.  The following is the list of modern processes that are being used now and how the elements of cooperative construction are utilized by each. 

  •  Lean Construction, (Lean)
  • Integrated Project Delivery (IPD)
  • Game Threory

These processes, among many others are already underway and well developed.  While the adoption of these processes is underway it is also uneven in its adoption.

Simultaneous to my research into cooperation, I was reading James Gleick's biography of Newton and I came across a section describing a letter from 1675.  Newton wrote to Thomas Hooke in the flowery way people did at the time, saying,

“If I have seen further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.”

The image was in common use when Newton used it.  The image was of a Dwarf climbing on the shoulders of a Giant and actually seeing farther than the Giant could see.  

I may have seen a future of the construction industry that is developing now.  If this is true, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of the following Giants:

  • Greg Howell, the founder of Lean Construction with Glenn Ballard.  Retired and living in Ketchum, Idaho, Greg was very helpful in getting me started on this adventure.   
  • John Nash, recently deceased as I write this.  A Nobel Prize winner in Economics and Inventor of the concept of Nash’s Equilibrium, now used in market design and analysis around the world.
  • Richard Sennett, author and professor at London School, whose book, Together, The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation, and a brilliant lecture at Harvard, “The Architecture of Cooperation” provide the mental construct necessary for successful cooperative leadership.
  • Will Lichtig, attorney, business executive, speaker and current President of the Board of The Lean Construction Institute, who generously served on my Thesis Committee and has advised me throughout the development of my work in Cooperative Construction. 
  • Richard Axelrod, mathematician and author of Evolution of Cooperation and Complexity of Cooperation, both fundamental in understanding how cooperation can be our organizing principle for the future of the construction industry.  Mr. Axelrod is a leader in the study of Game Theory. 

This is Lean

Lean Construction and the Lean Construction Institute, founded by Glenn Ballard and Greg Howell in 1997, are the prime movers of How To move the construction industry its path out of inefficiency and contention to productive, coordinated performance.  A new book, This is Lean, by Niklas Modig and Par Ahlstrom tackles the central principle of Lean Construction, called "The efficiency paradox."  The concept compares the results of focus on maximizing the utilization "resources" or maximizing "flow."  A deceptively simple concept, they study the difference between utilization of a machine, for example, or the efficiency of a process.  While this is much more elaborate than a fellow in a long white lab coat with a clipboard and a stop watch, the focus of the project delivery at the highest level is maintained on the project, not the performers and tools used in the project.  

Lean Construction is now the leading force in the construction industry today for improvement.  This book delivers the mental construct behind this and other new processes. 

Lean Construction, developed by Glen Ballard and Greg Howell, is key to the concept of Cooperative Construction.  Lean Construction is essentially the elimination of waste. We mean all waste. Wasted time, resources, money, materials, labor and hundreds of categories buried in the complexity of large projects.  The tools developed to accomplish this difficult task, developed and fine tuned in elaborate detail by the Lean Construction Institute have a powerful impact and a curious personal nature to them.  In my book we research this personal nature in detail. Cooperation is the heart of the personal nature of these Lean processes. 

A recent book, This is Lean, by Niklas Modig and Par Ahlstrom, contains a forward by Greg Howell, one of my Giants, (upon whose shoulders I stand.) This is Lean describes an essential element of Lean Construction, called “Flow efficiency."

An extremely simple concept, Greg describes the significance of "Flow Efficiency" in the Forward.  Had he and Ballard known this concept, Greg says that the entire first few years of Lean construction would have been different. 

Of course, both Resource and Flow efficiencies need to be maximized and that is the work of the project staff at a construction site.  Historically, Flow Efficiency has been under emphasized.  It is the fundamental concept behind avoiding wasted time on a large project.   In the new paradigm of balancing the interests of the individual while maintaining the interests of the group of stakeholders working together, Resource efficiency is the analog of the interests of the individual and Flow efficiency is the analog of the interests of the group as a whole. 

The galactic complexity of time management in a construction project became one of the primary thrusts of Lean Construction.

The Games

It turns out that Cooperation is fairly difficult to measure in day-to-day interactions between construction professionals.  There are tools and guidelines for cooperative behavior, but how are we going to tell if it was the cooperative attitude or some other factor that influenced the project? 

The answer is the modeling inside Game Theory.  Originally an attempt to make actual mathematical equations out of human interactions, it is thorough the studies of Robert Axelrod (See the Book Summary: On The Shoulders of Giants) and others starting in the early 1980’s that show the impact of cooperation in games. 

While games have always utilized competition, some games have been designed to measure cooperation inside competitive situations.  To make the studies in this area work, the game is extremely simplified and played over and over.  The repetition is important in the development of a reputation for each player.  In construction projects, a team is assembled and then those same people work together over and over for months or years to complete the project.  They develop a reputation of their behavior on the jobsite or in the design studio and it affects the overall job significantly they bring a cooperative approach to the job trailer everyday. 

In my upcoming book, Cooperative Construction, Game Theory will be analyzed in elaborate detail because it can be used to show the power and mechanisms in cooperative behavior.  The analysis will include many recent variants on the observations of Mr. Axelrod in 1980.  For now, suffice it to say that they have proven that cooperative behavior begets cooperative behavior and that it is the most successful strategy in the long run.  Many individuals, businesses and institutions around the world have researched these topics in the most rigorous detail.  Many major business associations, commodities markets, partnerships and joint ventures have been developed to the mutual benefit of those businesses that have partaken in cooperative strategies.  Now, despite our own set of resistances and inconvenient circumstances, the construction industry must adopt these attitudes if we are to utilize the new processes that will correct our ills. 

Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is a system of tools that can bring together parties in an intentionally interwoven relationship where the success of one is integral to the success of all.  Hundreds of articles since the turn of the century have promoted the idea.  The Construction Users Round Table, (CURT) is one of the most enthusiastic organizations analyzing its use.  Sutter Health is one of the largest users of this project delivery system.  

Similarly to the game design in Game Theory research, the contract system in IPD is set up in advance to allow for and reward cooperative behavior and business practices.  One of the objectives of this website is to show what IPD tools are available, how their utilization has worked on specific projects and the details of how to use these tools.  

Connections to Cooperation

Richard Sennett's book, Together, is a milestone in the understanding of how an approach can effect the outcome of an interaction.  This site will be an homage to Mr. Sennett's book; just done in construction language.  Together is perhaps the most complete treatise on the basic human process of cooperation in the English language.  

The connection between construction and cooperation requires a view out into the future. The time has come where we need to build a new construction industry where there is no waste and less contention.  Mr. Sennett's book shows cooperative behavior, its origins, its depth and its effect on business transactions. It is plain to see that the interactions in Together mirror the systems in Lean Construction, Game Theory and Integrated Project Delivery.