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Team members share benef its and challenges of the Big Room

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by Angela Gismondi

The is the second of a two-part series on the Big Room, a tool used in the Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) process, to bring team members together on a regular basis to collaborate on all aspects of a project. In this article, various members of the group chime in on the value of Big Room discussions.
The Big Room, part of the Integrated Project Delivery process, involves a large, open space where team members working on a project can get together to collaborate on all aspects of the project. The Big Room for the Southeast Oakville Community Centre project is held in an old post office in downtown Oakville. Owners, contractors, architects, engineers, subtrades and other stakeholders attend the weekly meetings.
The Big Room, part of the Integrated Project Delivery process, involves a large, open space where team members working on a project can get together to collaborate on all aspects of the project. The Big Room for the Southeast Oakville Community Centre project is held in an old post office in downtown Oakville. Owners, contractors, architects, engineers, subtrades and other stakeholders attend the weekly meetings. - Photo: ANGELA GISMONDI

Read part one here.

Team members working on the Southeast Community Centre project in Oakville, Ont. say the Big Room and the IPD process are most effective when all participants fully commit and engage in the process.

"You can't go just a little bit into IPD," explained Nicole Wolfe, the manager of capital projects in the facilities infrastructure management department for the Town of Oakville, the owner of the project. "Everyone has to jump full into it and be fully committed to it. There is the challenge of working as a team that needs to develop. You do have to embrace it."

Craig Hanley, vice-president of preconstruction at Birnie Electrical Contractors, one of the contractors working on the project, said participating in the Big Room every week helps with the flow of information, eliminates communication barriers and saves time.

"The only problem I could see with the process moving forward is if people stay within their own silos, if they don't bring up questions, concerns and information to the team when we're all sitting together. If we're all just going to hold our cards this is not going to work," he stated. "If you have a question or idea, throw it out there. It doesn't hurt because it might generate other potential ideas or other potential problems that people haven't thought of."

Duane Waite, executive vice-president and principal at Crossey Engineering, added the process ensures everyone is on the same page from the beginning.

"Just because I am the electrical engineer doesn't mean that I will only focus on that aspect," said Waite. "Working with Craig, our trade partner on the electrical side, it allows us to actually discuss issues concurrently through the whole process and come up with ideas to allow us to meet the fiscal guidelines of the project."

There is a benefit to getting everybody under one roof, explained Laura Zwier, a senior project co-ordinator with Graham Construction, who is working on her third full IPD contract. She said getting everyone into that space means they are available "right when you need them rather than having to follow up with them after."

"We're trying to prevent that waste of time of people designing what they think the owner wants. Instead, you're having that upfront communication so that you actually get the design you want and you're not going around in circles," Zwier said.

Rebecca Jansma, project manager for Graham Construction, described the Big Room and the IPD process as "relationship-based construction."

"They know the scope of work, they know what the expectation is. They're defining the scope and they're doing the design," explained Jansma of the team. "That way when we go to site, there aren't any schedule impacts because...they knew what they had to allocate and budget for. From a construction standpoint, you are able to deliver the project as designed because everyone knows what they are getting into."

Stakeholders agree one of the biggest challenges with the entire process is changing the mindset of the industry.

"The industry has been confrontational over the years," said Bryce Jones, construction manager for the mechanical special projects division at Modern Niagara, the mechanical contractor on the project. "There is an element of trust that is required here which, in this industry, is hard to find sometimes. You have 30 years of experience on some guys that have been doing it a certain way."

He said the key is making sure team members understand why it's necessary to participate in the Big Room.

"They start to realize, 'this will actually help me and if I do this properly, everyone in front of me will actually move along smoothly and we can have this train moving at a good pace,' instead of doing your thing and walking away," Jones explained.

This is the Town of Oakville's second IPD project, the first being Trafalgar Park. Wolfe said the town was eager to enter into another IPD contract due to the success of the first one.

"In a typical design-bid-build, we think we know what we're getting but we often find that as we go through...the user group is really not getting what they needed," said Wolfe, adding one reason parties enter the process is to add value into the project. "Certainly with Trafalgar Park, we did realize real value added into the project and we're going to realize the same thing here. It is also a more enjoyable process in general, it's not adversarial."

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