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Maximizing project costs and schedule with construction-driven engineering

Maximizing project costs and schedule with construction-driven engineering
Following our annual Leaders Magazine featuring Canada's Best in Construction, learn more about those who made our TOP 50.  Here is a solution to maximize project costs and schedule by Kiewit, Leader No. 10.

Whether it is the construction of new bridge, hydroelectric facility or a highway expansion, realistic project solutions are in high demand. Project owners need a high-level of confidence and certainty in regard to cost and schedule, at the earliest stages possible. 

“The most common reason for cost and schedule blowouts is that during the conceptual phase of the project, things were missed,” said Dan Lumma, president of Kiewit Engineering Group. "

Lumma has a tenured understanding of how those inconsistencies and missteps happen between design and construction through nearly 30 years of experience on energy projects throughout North America.

"Over the past 30 years, EPC has dominated the power market, so having an in-house engineer has been crucial,” said Lumma. “We became successful because we had a dedicated team that learned how to work together to the point where it’s now hard to distinguish the engineering side from the construction side when you walk on a project or go to a team meeting.”

Kevin Needham, a 25 year industry veteran who manages power engineering at Kiewit, says that even though the company’s professional design engineers are independent from the construction side of the business, being part of the same company has its advantages.

“Through repetition we become closer as a team. We get better at figuring out how to work together and how to drive costs out of our work,” said Needham, who employs approximately 1,000 designers and engineers.

A construction-driven engineering model looks much different than a design engineering firm’s model, which is set up to bill by the man-hour. Through this integrative approach, the goal is to ensure all decisions are benefiting the client or project overall, not just what’s best for engineering, design — or even construction.

“Our business model is to be an outstanding project delivery partner,” said Lumma. “The key element is to drive costs out of the most expensive part of the project, which is typically construction in North America.”

While construction-driven engineering was first applied to EPC projects in the power market, it also adds value to oil, gas and chemical (OGC) and infrastructure projects. A key factor to success is having a repeatable execution model.

“We’ve always done construction engineering to support the work that the company builds, but what’s new is we’re starting to self-perform design work,” explained John Donatelli, who manages design-build infrastructure projects at Kiewit. “We’re in a better position for integration and collaboration and are more aware of where the pain points are for construction.”

Integrating engineering and construction requires a shift in the dynamics of the project team. The silos that may have existed in the past are diminished through open dialogue and transparency. Fostering this level of collaboration requires strong project leadership. It also requires that a project starts with the end in mind.

“Engineering is a means to an end. It’s not the end,” explains Jay Norcross, who leads OGC engineering at Kiewit. “The structure behind stand-alone engineering firms lends itself to engineering for the sake of engineering, with insufficient concern for the end game—which is construction and commissioning.”

What does all of this mean for designers and engineers?

“One of the advantages is that you not only get to be a design engineer,” said Needham. “You also get to see the end product of what you engineered and work on a team with your fellow constructors to make it the best possible project. In some cases, experiencing that project life cycle opens new doors to unexpected career paths between engineer and construction.”

Overall, there is a compelling need for continuous improvement in the construction industry in order to delivery projects better, faster and more cost-effective. Moving toward construction-first engineering that driven by real-world experience of how to actually build the work is a great place to start.


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