The projects affected include large infrastructure projects such as the international airport in Berlin or refurbishments of famous cultural institutions such as the Stuttgart State Theater. That this cannot continue has been recognized at the most senior levels, and has led to activities such as in the Federal Ministry of Transport: By 2015, a ‘Manual of Large-Scale Projects’ is to be drawn up containing the recommendations of a panel of experts with aims including improving cost truthfulness, cost transparency and schedule stability, as well as the transparent presentation of risks.

But there is no need to wait that long. As most of the reasons for the malaise are home-made, they are basically already known.

They are:

  • User processes and incomplete planning specifications
  • Principal’s organization and responsibilities unclear – Unrealistic cost expectations, failure to perform projections, and lack of risk analysis
  • Ineffective planning and construction processes, excessive project duration
  • Lengthy approval procedures and project interruptions
  • And finally, lack of transparency and an incorrect assessment of the general public.

Generally, any one of these issues is sufficient to derail a complex project. When several occur at the same time, they often amplify each other. But this could be avoided: Known issues are also solvable – if everyone puts the interests of the project as a whole ahead of self-interest.

As Drees & Sommer’s practical management experience shows, cost-effective, timely, high-quality execution of largescale projects is indeed possible. Numerous examples, including the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin, the new Trade Fair Center in Stuttgart, and the complex refurbishment of the Deutsche Bank headquarters in Frankfurt demonstrate this.

But an optimal process can only be achieved if the principal is prepared to meet the following conditions:

  • Define objectives clearly
  • Adhere to defined objectives
  • Establish a professional organization
  • Make quick and clear decisions after appropriate preparation.

If these conditions are met, project managers and engineers can ensure a project is completed on schedule, within budget and at the required quality:

Effective project management with Lean Management

Modern project management is based on the principle of lean processes during every phase of the project. The entire process is based on lean management principles, which facilitate continuous improvement throughout the project period. The goals of lean management are driven by the principles of the value creation process:

  • Maximization of value-add
  • Reduction of waste in all processes
  • Perfection of processes

Lean management is derived from kaizen, a philosophy developed by the car manufacturer Toyota. Kaizen is translated as Continuous Improvement Process (CIP). To prevent ‘waste’ such as defects, cost overruns and project delays, project management has to delve significantly deeper into content and processes. Initially, of course, this is more time-consuming than a conventional approach. But this extra effort is definitely compensated many times over by reductions in time and costs in the double-digit percentage range.

Stage 1: Conceptual Consulting

The basis of every successfully executed project is a clear definition of objectives – before planning starts – derived from the client’s core business. For project managers, this means first up helping the principal to decide what they really want. [more]

Drees & Sommer analyzes clients’ ideas for the expansion or optimization of their core business with the objectivity of an external consultant. With our strategic process consulting, our clients make the right decisions for successful processes. This includes the development of business cases from marketing, commercial, operational and real estate strategy point of view.

Early definition of objectives

The decisions made in Phase Zero have far-reaching consequences for the economic, ecological and architectural quality of a construction project. That’s why we provide professional support even at this early stage: Our experts ensure that clients can optimally implement their operational processes. To do this, we work out the construction task as part of requirements analysis, and define project objectives.

We then establish the scope of the project and represent this in a space and function design. We use a space allocation Modeling to determine the gross area and gross volume – and our experts cost the project on this basis. If the return on investment matches the client’s expectations, we support the architects commissioned to realize the design concept, or conduct an architectural competition or investor selection process. Short paths of communication and quick decisions are the key to success.

Professional organization

But how can a complex project subsequently be optimally organized and controlled? This is achieved by founding a temporary company – a virtual company with departments, assigned functions, decision-making structures, and a powerful, fast-acting team. Clear structures are drawn up for all involved – with definitions of who must fulfill which task, and what authority they need to do this.

Proper communication

Only a project that is viewed favorably by the public can build up a positive image, prevent delays, and save time and costs. But new construction projects often bring changes that are rarely accepted straight away. This results in demand for information to which project communication and construction site marketing must respond at an early stage. For this reason, the creation of a comprehensive communication concept is an important part of project preparation. Drees & Sommer can establish communication for clients with little time and cost.


Stage 2: Economic Planning

When it comes to planning, one first thinks of technical drawings and the German schedule of services and fees for architects and engineers (HOAI), but it is essentially a communication task: Throw the conventional planning process overboard! [more]

With PCS, you have data and information exchange under control

Principal, architect, future users, and often over 50 planning offices and more than 200 contractors: This is the rule rather than the exception for major projects. How do so many parties communicate with each other without chaos ensuing? In the past, plans and documents were sent to and fro through countless, endlessly long rounds of coordination, often with erroneous results and huge consumption of paper.

Many years ago, Drees & Sommer took an important step by developing the Project Communication System (PCS). Without PCS as a powerful data and communication platform, project communication would still be uncoordinated and the provision of information and documentation would be associated with huge overheads. PCS has defined digital planning and all its components with the necessary consistency. In projects where we use PCS, the parties are contractually bound to use the platform.

In this way the number of interfaces is reduced to a manageable level. For example, users’ responsibilities are reflected in user management to this end.

With PCS, the planning process can be much more precisely controlled – which improves the quality of planning and, in particular, leads to early completion. In addition, the tool takes on essential exchange of information during the planning and construction, serves as a document management system, room book, and project archive. PCS is lean management in the truest sense.

Better workflow with Building Information Modeling

A further step in the direction of a comprehensive lean planning system is the generation of a complete digital model of the building using Building Information Modeling (BIM). BIM creates a comprehensive digital representation of the planned object with great depth of information, significantly improving workflow. Reason: Each planner only needs to deal with the information pertinent to their task. So the structural engineer, for example, is only concerned with data for load-bearing elements. BIM enables highly targeted – in other words ‘lean’ – access to the specific aspects currently required.

Thanks to the three-dimensional representation of all elements, collisions – for example, between pipes and cables – can be identified and eliminated. In addition to graphical representation, physical properties and specific costs can be captured. BIM also acts as a detailed catalog of predefined elements such as walls, pillars, windows and doors. Prioritization makes Target Value Design possible, whereby less costly and technically simple items are changed first, and more difficult and costly elements last. 

In contrast to conventional planning methods, the BIM-based planning process shifts the planning effort into the early stages of a project by creating a comprehensive digital Modeling of the design. This results in the benefit that initial simulations and calculations can be performed at this early stage.

This allows various design options to be explored in detail, which reduces the workload in later planning phases and results in higher design quality.

Project management PCS and BIM complement each other

Project management of a construction project is dependent on reliable information to ensure that it meets its control obligations. This information can be obtained from Building Information Modeling. As BIM coordinators, trained project managers can control cooperation of the planners and workflow in detail, and coordinate plan delivery to meet the requirements of material and capacity planning and of the construction site. This approach is also known as a ‘pull’ construction site.

BIM also offers project management the possibility of simulating planning scenarios, as this allows all scenarios to be tested for adherence to budget. In conjunction with the PCS, BIM can be expanded to a powerful lean planning system with huge benefits for even more effective project management. Conversely, BIM can only become an effective tool as part of professionally conducted project management.

An additional turbo-boost for project management is that BIM allows teams to work together in a so-called Big Room. Target Value Design develops the virtual plan for the building with an interdisciplinary approach based on budgetary constraints. This allows any necessary changes, such as updated client requirements, to be easily implemented.

One of the biggest barriers that the introduction of BIM still has to overcome is the current version of the German schedule of services and fees for architects and engineers (HOAI). This is because the current fee structure makes the early development of a comprehensive digital model unattractive to planners.

Simplified specification of services

Planning with BIM facilitates the specification of services. A full specification of services can be developed through the comprehensive mapping of construction- specific items, types and details of digital plans, and links to rooms and functional areas. This information is also relevant for assignment to the installation area and thus for future logistics and delivery planning.

If Building Information Modeling were used by all project participants and the content were fully coordinated, this would result in specifications that would be largely error-free. However, in some trades – especially in fitout – it is necessary for contractors to be able to submit suggestions for quality and production optimization, and thus to cost optimization.


Stage 3: Effective Building

A special challenge for project execution is the management of the countless small-scale activities involved in construction. Even today, construction processes have a reduction potential of 20 to 30 percent. [more]

This means:

  • Move back the start of construction
  • Reduce the available storage spaces
  • Set the production targets for the building significantly higher than usual!

 Lean Construction Management (LCM) – everything in takt

During Lean Construction Management (LCM), Drees & Sommer project managers transfer the successful model of lean management to construction projects and construction sites. By focusing on processes as well as on information and material logistics, these can be stabilized and accelerated. Waste – such as waiting times, defect repairs, and excessive or inadequate inventories – is avoided. To achieve this, each step is exactly planned.

As in the case of lean management, the takt principle plays a major role. Each contractor is given a specific window – two to four days, depending on complexity – during which they can work without hindrance. Material and plans are available on time and trades do not get in each other’s way. During construction, the Lean Construction Management team works closely together with site management and the individual contractors on site. This also means that all trades are involved in the project from an early stage. Close partnership stabilizes the process and increases the chance of achieving cost savings.

Drees & Sommer project managers and process consultants jointly implement LCM as a method on the construction site. This gives project management and site management a powerful tool to control the processes – one which optimally combines the strategic (top-down) vision with operational (bottom-up) execution expertise.

Integrated overall process planning

First, project management develops a conventional overall schedule using empirical values. The managers then examine the entire process from the perspective of LCM, including vulnerabilities and risks, as well as approval and objection proceedings, possible subsoil problems, and the transport and delivery situation. Following evaluation of these points, an overall project schedule is created. The entire construction process is then defined with the planning disciplines involved. Drees & Sommer experts focus equally on optimal line balancing of the construction site and the overall process. The goal is a consistent implementation concept.

Further, major projects should be divided into logically grouped subprojects – a segmentation that can extend right down to individual work packages. These are then subject to individual control by the appropriate project manager. Finally, the logistics concept is developed.

The construction process for the next four to eight months is defined based on these criteria. The managers consider the entire supply chain during this process, in this way ensuring that – from planning and production to the logistics chain – all steps receive the necessary information and the required material on the site in good time.

Board planning as a construction schedule and visual work scheduling

The most visible LCM tool on site is the planning board for detailed planning. This day-to-day construction schedule has a range of four weeks and is used by site management and the contractors as an active control tool. It provides detailed and stable work scheduling, and shows everyone on site the interfaces, dependencies and processes.

The work card on the planning board represents work to be performed in a defined area on a particular day. Problems – such as missing information – are visualized by means of problem cards. This makes it clear at a glance, how many problems, if any, need to be resolved to ensure a smooth process, and whether stable work scheduling has been achieved. A quick daily update of the construction schedule on the site ensures high stability and reliability.

Focus on people

In conjunction with Building Information Modeling, LCM links the ‘real world’ closely to virtual planning on the building site. Overall process analysis and process planning define the processes that are implemented virtually in BIM. This allows construction processes to be checked and simulated, and any bottlenecks and execution issues to be detected and resolved even earlier. Also, as a result of the high stability of planning and the link to execution steps over the next four weeks, it can be ensured that the right quantity of the right material is in the right place at the right time.

But regardless of all the tools, people remain the most important factor: The fact that close personal coordination takes place between the parties involved during the construction process, that are all very close to the action, and that they see rebar installers, smell concrete, and hear circular saws. These impressions add impetus and are the best possible combination of virtual planning and the real world of construction. Collaboration between creative young designers and managers and experienced builders is also optimal. Such a ‘think tank’ becomes the control center for all major decisions.

During actual construction, too, the lean construction managers work closely together with site management and with the individual contractors on site. This means that all trades must be involved in the project as partners at an early stage. Close cooperation stabilizes project execution and increases the chance of achieving shared cost savings.


Stage 4: Prepare Operation

As part of project management, BIM also supports defect elimination and commissioning. The technology can even be used to update data over the entire life cycle – from planning to demolition. [more]

And precisely this is one of the enormous potential benefits of BIM: Data can be systematically used beyond the individual planning and construction phases, with the result that timeconsuming and error-prone re-entry of information is considerably reduced. This results in the following tasks: Create the basis for professional operation!

Defect management: Focus on users

Defects are the primary cause of late acceptance and commissioning. Efficient management of defect elimination and a transparent reporting system are prerequisites for smooth building commissioning and handover.

Stringent defect management during construction can considerably speed up defect elimination right through to the acceptance inspection, minimizing intrusive delays after occupation of the building. Here, too, BIM can provide valuable support to project management by geometric mapping of defects and documentation of the required properties.

Commissioning management – the basis for plant operation

Systematic commissioning forms the basis for smooth operation and makes an important contribution to improving the function of building services equipment. Following acceptance, Drees & Sommer synchronizes the individual components of the building services equipment and undertakes initial adjustment.

Commissioning management requires services that start as early as the planning stage, for example in relation to documentation. Here, Building Information Modeling complements our expertise perfectly, as all information can be integrated in the course of planning, tendering and implementation.

Efficient building operation

The operation of a building should be designed to increase profitability in the long term and preserve the value of the property. Together with the building owners or investors, our experts develop individual facility management concepts on the basis of which we create tender documents for the future partners. Special interfaces allow additions to be made to BIM technology, whose content is then updated throughout the building’s entire service life.

Contracts between principal, investor and tenant often face the threat of incalculable schedule and cost risks. For this reason, successful leasing of offices, apartments and function rooms begins with early tenant or user management. This should begin when specification of the basic fitout starts, as the complexity of a construction project increases quickly in the final stage.

The bottom line

Clients supported by Drees & Sommer with Lean Construction Management so far primarily highlight the reliability of processes and cost estimates. The stability of a project execution with LCM is almost twice as high as with conventional planning and construction processes, and avoids expensive catchup payments and ‘task-force’ initiatives. Generally, processes can be shortened and costs reduced. And the quality of execution is right from the outset.

However, the proviso made at the beginning still applies: The principal must actively support the process and reckon with higher fees than usual for project control. But the value-add achieved will certainly be considerably greater.