Project Management Trends: More Than Simply Technology

By Andrée Iffrig, LEED AP
Published in the June 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

The facility management (FM) world is marked by constant change. Handling these changes in a manner that satisfies occupants, CEOs, and various authorities is the ultimate goal of effective management practices. Speed of execution, often based on willing compliance from all parties, is a key factor in successful execution. Technology can abet this process, but even the smartest software may be no match for surly employees or demanding business owners.

Problem Areas

Most facility managers (fms) will be familiar with the following scenarios involving cranky stakeholders:

  • Employees from one floor are being relocated to another. They are balking at the move and can see no possible advantage to the disruption being forced upon them.
  • Wayfinding is an issue in a large commercial building. Visitors complain that the maps posted at strategic locations in the corridors are confusing and do not help them understand where to egress in the event of a fire. The last fire drill confirmed the fact that occupants need help in exiting in an orderly fashion. [See Charles Carpenter’s FM Frequency contribution this month, “Exit, Stage Right.”]
  • There is demand for a higher level of security in the facility. The fm has been told to prepare a presentation for the board of directors, indicating how security has been improved. The last PowerPoint presentation delivered by the fm was not well received, and there is no budget for a video to demonstrate new measures.
  • HR has handed the fm a brief recommending more agile office, or open space, planning. The goal is to accommodate four generations working together in space that is currently configured for individual offices. The fm knows the Boomers and veterans in the office are not going to be pleased by this major change to the floor layout.

Resolve Technology’s Shortcomings

Current standards in Building Information Modeling (BIM) software such as Revit® provide essential information for new construction and renovations. Design practitioners, civic authorities, and fms have no problem understanding 2D plans and sections or the kinds of 3D drawings generated by this technology.

By David Atwood, Chris Hoell, LEED AP, and Kevin Hallahan, PE, LEED AP

In 2007, Shire Pharmaceuticals constructed new office space for a laboratory facility. As the project approached completion, a change was made that required several of the new offices to be demolished; thus, new mechanical and electrical equipment had to be installed.
This costly change led Greg Lewis, Shire’s associate director of facilities planning, to research a more cost-effective solution to this scenario in the future. Based on Lewis’s research, modular construction would provide his team with the ability to reorganize office space as needed to fit with ongoing corporate changes. The decision was made; Shire’s next office construction project would be modular.

Shire began its foray into modular construction with movable walls which could be moved and rearranged by the in-house facilities team. For this relatively young and growing company, modular office space would provide an ideal level of flexibility and adaptability for changing staff levels and other future unknown variables.

This project was the first experience with modular construction for the project architect, engineer, and client. With thoughtful and early planning, the project team gained insight into how each role needed to change to work with this relatively new product and installation process.

The first step for the project management team was to understand how Shire might rearrange the wall systems in the future so the architect and engineer could design an appropriate level of modularity into the system. The team then analyzed how past changes occurred at Shire’s facilities, and then asked many “what if” questions about future organizational possibilities. The answers led to the creation of three design scenarios:

Scenario 1: Two standard offices can combine to create one senior vice presidents’ office.

Scenario 2: Three standard offices can combine to create two vice president’s offices.

Scenario 3: Three open office area workstations can combine to create two standard offices.

The modular wall product was then tailored to provide the most efficient utility delivery system and maximize flexibility. Several different panel types were assembled. In each scenario, the considerations were complex and ran the spectrum from:
• adding or removing a door or wall;
• coordinating the addition or subtraction of lighting controls and power;
• providing the appropriately located supply and return air diffusers;
• providing the code required number and location of sprinklers in each space;
• lining up partitions with existing window mullions; and
• ensuring the vice president and senior vice president offices incorporated a thermostat (which were placed in one of every three offices).

Other items that needed to be coordinated included supply and return ducts, light fixtures, and ceiling grids. The design scenarios were also carefully coordinated with mechanical zones to streamline future changes.

The goal of this intense process was to enable Shire’s facilities department to manage any possible future changes in-house. The design team determined that a three office “control zone” would maximize Shire’s flexibility and therefore yield 100% flexibility within these specific, predetermined banks of offices.

The project team then tested the three scenarios repeatedly—architecturally, mechanically, and structurally—and with each hiccup would return to the design, make revisions, and test again. The extensive up front planning time was balanced by the construction and installation consuming slightly less time than they would during a traditional construction process, as the walls arrived on site, pre-manufactured, and only needed to be installed. In total, the design/build for the 20,000 square foot Shire project took 10 months to complete.

The early involvement of the modular product manufacturer’s representative was key to maintaining the fast track schedule. The representative worked with the team to identify the differences in the installation sequences and to understand the ways the modular components interface with the conventional construction.

The contractor needed to plan ahead and work with the wall manufacturer to ensure the walls were shipped with the electrical wiring pre-installed. The contractor also needed to coordinate with the engineer to be sure the junction boxes were located appropriately to connect to pre-determined lengths of electrical wiring as part of the modular panel system.

The project team also had to give careful consideration to the placement of items that should not be relocated without consultation, such as fire extinguisher cabinets or horn strobes for the fire alarm system. The solution was to locate these items in the few column enclosures or fixed walls in the space.

With the completion of its first modular facility, Shire will be able to reorganize its space in the future without the need of an architect, engineer, or outside contractor. The walls, tel/data, power and HVAC are all configured so that the in-house facilities department can easily and quickly move areas of the office space and transform it as needed. The clear benefits of the modular approach are this flexibility and adaptability for future change, as well as the minimal disruption for staff and clients as space changes are made. While there is a small premium on the cost of the modular products, it will pay for itself and justify the slight premium after only one space change is completed in-house.

Atwood is general manager of Integrated Interiors, a commercial architectural/engineered products and construction services company based in New England. Hoell joined Payette in 2007. Hallahan is an HVAC engineer with Vanderweil.

Unfortunately, technical drawings and models are often incomprehensible to laypeople (like building occupants and maintenance staff)—the very people fms must convince to embrace change. They have no experience in reading and understanding floor plans or BIM generated 3D views. When it comes to illustrating how to egress during a fire, or why that move from the 10th to the fourth floor is desirable, some other tool is required.

New software solves this dilemma by merging with existing BIM technology to create compelling 3D virtual tours. With the click of a mouse, an existing Revit design can be captured with a new kind of software to produce a rendered fly through that members of any skeptical audience can understand.

Design professionals using conventional technology platforms can easily share their experience to help their FM clients understand the 3D qualities of buildings, mechanical systems, and interiors. This technology can also create a virtual experience of AutoCAD, 3ds Max, or Google SketchUp Pro models.

More Like Play Than Work

One of the distinguishing attributes of this technology is its use of video gaming technology, which simplifies navigation and contributes to a virtual reality experience. So essentially, this software instantly transforms geometry from the BIM design into content for a virtual tour. Creators of these tours can annotate them with relevant information.

For example, fms should consider the previously mentioned scenario with the 10th floor employees who are less than excited about a pending relocation to the fourth floor. By acquainting these employees with their “home,” fms could use annotations in the model to describe the features of the newly renovated space and walk occupants through it. The addition of artwork to walls, people using the space, and furniture in place would all contribute to occupants’ ability to gain a truer sense of their new environment.

The challenge of explaining how to egress during a fire is easily resolved with an enhanced tour that uses data from the BIM file to demonstrate to occupants of each floor how to leave their offices and safely exit the building. The model would make them feel as though they were in the space, walking their way to safety. New security features in a facility can be illustrated in a model that takes all building occupants on a tour of the lobby and other sensitive areas.

The requirement for more open office space planning can be transformed into a presentation that shows employees, young and old, how their various work styles have been accommodated in a new floor configuration. They could cruise the virtual halls and collaborative work areas, find a touchdown spot to rest, or locate a quiet room for more reflective tasks.

How It Works

Capturing 3D software in this type of new technology takes seconds. A model with guided tour is then produced, the file is published to the Internet, and a link shared with a recipient via e-mail. The recipient requires no software; all that’s needed is an Internet connection. Downloads typically take about two minutes to complete. (In comparison, conventional AVI video files can take hours to create and download.) Images can be viewed on a PC, Mac, and (depending on the size of the file) even an iPhone.

The transmission of these virtual models in no way compromises the original BIM data. Once captured, the model is published to a secure Website launch area.

No one viewing the model can tamper with the original design, and the creator can choose to limit viewers or make it public. For fms who manage dispersed properties, this means the model of a renovation can be securely sent via the Internet to occupants in other buildings without requiring everyone to sit down in one room together.

Creating this kind of virtual experience is not difficult and costs a fraction of what renderings and video would. Its low cost and ease of use make the software suitable for fms who are mindful of investing more money in expensive project management technology.

Streamlining the decision making process is one of the many benefits of the latest project management software. The compelling nature of the 3D virtual tours could make it easier for fms to present information to stakeholders.

Change may be here to stay, but it does not have to be painful. The key is recognizing that most stakeholders require visuals they can easily grasp. The latest project management technology builds on the fm’s existing toolkit to produce affordable presentations that anyone can appreciate.

Iffrig is a graduate architect and writer. She works at Ice Edge Business Solutions in Calgary, AB, Canada.

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