Digital Builder Ep 86: DPR Construction’s Approach to Innovation, Technology, and Predictability

No matter your role, if you work in construction, I'm willing to bet that you value predictability. From scheduling and cost management to safety and risk reduction, having a certain level of trust and reliability means teams can execute projects confidently—not to mention sleep better at night. 

All owners and construction teams benefit from having predictability, but how exactly can we increase it?

DPR Construction's Director of Innovation, Tim Gaylord, and Chief Technology Officer, Atul Khanzode, are here to answer that question. With their experience leading teams and implementing construction tech, Tim and Atul have unique perspectives on technology adoption and team dynamics.

I had the pleasure of speaking to both at AU 2023, and we had a lively discussion on how construction teams can adopt the right technology, improve collaboration, and see better project outcomes. 

Watch the episode now 

You can also listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, and anywhere else you get your podcasts. 

On this episode

We discuss:

  • Why consistent predictability is a challenge in construction
  • How to maintain employee confidence when implementing new processes or technology
  • How to win support for IPD
  • DPR’s approach to technology deployment
  • The advantages of specialization and how subject matter experts can bridge the gaps between various business units

Why is predictability so elusive for many construction teams?

Everyone wants more predictability, so why do so many struggle with achieving it? 

One answer lies in the fact that construction is, by nature, a dynamic field. As Tim puts it, "When you think about a construction project, there's just a thousand moving parts. From supply chain to shortage of skilled labor to weather, there are so many unforeseens."

But the lack of predictability isn't always tied to things we can't control. Sometimes, unpredictable situations arise due to a lack of collaboration and planning. 

"The biggest cause of the lack of predictability is not having key stakeholders like builders, GCs, and subs involved early in the design process. This adds to a lot of missed opportunities to incorporate their knowledge into the complete design to be buildable—because that's where predictability happens," says Atul.

He continues, "There's obviously other causes these days, especially related to supply chain disruptions, but not having the right people involved at the right time is really the biggest cause, in my opinion."

How can teams bring more predictability into their projects?

We've covered the challenges with predictability; now, let's discuss the solutions. Here are some of Atul and Tim's recommendations for enhancing predictability and project outcomes.

Bring in people early 

Atul emphasizes the importance of early stakeholder engagement.

"Bring the right key players as early as possible on a construction project, even during the design phase," he says.

When essential stakeholders are involved early on, teams can align their expectations, anticipate issues, and gain valuable input sooner rather than later. 

"Incorporate their knowledge into the coordination process so you can knock it out of the park during construction," Atul adds.

Leverage lean construction methods 

Atul also recommends adopting lean construction approaches. Aside from helping teams deliver projects more consistently, a lean approach can also enable firms to navigate the labor shortage. 

"Our industry will continue to face the lack of a skilled labor workforce. The pressure on the project teams is not reducing. The owner is going to demand the same type of performance. The only way to do a lot of this is to bring that manufacturing thinking into the construction process," he says. 

Adopt (the right) innovations and technologies

Tools and methods like BIM, VDC, and other solutions can digitize your processes and integrate your workflows, empowering teams to execute projects efficiently. Of course, innovation and technology success will only happen if you leverage the right tools, which is why it's critical to identify and test the most optimal solutions for your needs. 

According to Tim, the best way to adopt technology and ultimately achieve more predictability is to start by identifying the issues you'd like to address. 

"First, focus on your challenges. We can match the correct solution to the problem, but if we don't have a good grip on that, it's easy to get distracted instead of leveraging the tools," says Tim. 

The next step is to look at the impact (not just ROI) of adopting technology. Tim says the distinction between impact and ROI is important because the outcomes of innovation aren't always tied to a financial metric. 

"When I use ROI, people immediately think of financial returns. Yes, we always want to improve financial returns, but we also want to look at things like well-being, experience, productivity, quality, and safety," he adds.

You'll want to set a baseline for these metrics so you can validate and measure them later on. Beyond these steps, Tim says organizations should also consider cybersecurity and the scalability of a process or solution. 

For best results, run a pilot to evaluate effectiveness and prepare for broader implementation.

Tim explains, "We usually focus on the piloting, the testing itself, and get either excited or bummed out quickly. But we need to test it on quite a few different projects in different regions to understand if it will scale and if it's something that can be deployable."

How integrated project delivery paves the way for predictability in construction

Aside from technology, an organization's approach to collaboration and project delivery can have a massive impact on predictability. To that end, Atul is a big fan of integrated project delivery (IPD), which encourages design and construction stakeholders to be more collaborative and transparent. 

Unlike traditional delivery methods, IPD involves all parties in the project from the beginning, and everyone shares risks and rewards equally.

"Fundamentally, people in construction want to do good work, and they want to collaborate. What I believe IPD does is it sets those conditions for collaboration," remarks Atul. 

IPD is an interesting approach, but because it deviates from how most teams work, implementing integrated project delivery can take a lot of persuasion.

Atul points out, "You have to convince people who typically make money by hiding things. IPD fundamentally requires you to be transparent, so it's hard. It's hard for our people, it's hard for the subs, it's hard for the designers."

He recalls a project that utilized IPD. According to him, folks were initially skeptical about working together in such a transparent manner. But as they conducted monthly surveys to check the project's progress, the team's skepticism turned into satisfaction. 

"People were extremely happy that they had an opportunity to participate because the project was so successful, and nobody was suing each other. They were able to contribute what they brought to the table, which was appreciated," says Atul. 

Future trends and technologies that can impact project predictability and productivity

Achieving predictability can feel like an uphill battle, but the good news is that there are ways to overcome these challenges. In addition to some of the solutions and methods discussed above, teams can look forward to several emerging trends and technologies that could have a positive impact on project outcomes. 

Tim is particularly excited about robotics and says that DPR is setting its sights on using robots to enhance construction work and improve safety. 

"We are hedging our bets on robotics for sure, supplementing our craft, removing them from harmful conditions. We like to think big and crazy and want to take construction to the moon and space. I think robotics is going to be big for that."

He is also looking forward to developments in augmented and virtual reality. 

"They've been around for a while, but I think we're only scratching the surface of what it will allow us to do once the hardware catches up. I think the software is there but allowing data to be readily accessible—through smart visors and glasses, where everything's just right in front of you—will be a game-changer." 

He continues, "Think about if you're building with LEGO blocks and could see exactly where the next piece needs to go instead of looking at the paper. We could do that for a building, but we're not quite there yet."

Atul, for his part, is enthusiastic about artificial intelligence and machine learning.

"We are at an interesting crossroads in the industry where a lot of wasteful processes could be automated using AI and ML. My prediction is in the next five years, they're going to be mainstreamed into the products that we are currently using. That's going to help improve the outcomes and people's productivity."

New podcast episode every week

Digital Builder is hosted by me, Eric Thomas. Remember, new episodes of Digital Builder go live every week.

or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Eric Thomas

Eric is a Sr. Multimedia Content Marketing Manager at Autodesk and hosts the Digital Builder podcast. He has worked in the construction industry for over a decade at top ENR General Contractors and AEC technology companies. Eric has worked for Autodesk for nearly 5 years and joined the company via the PlanGrid acquisition. He has held numerous marketing roles at Autodesk including managing global industry research projects and other content marketing programs. Today Eric focuses on multimedia programs with an emphasis on video.