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Processes and Efficiencies| Learning from the Feedback Loop: Dan Helmick

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How Internal Efficiencies Deliver External Benefits

Dan Helmick is the Executive Vice President of Project Development at FINFROCK. For more information, visit FINFROCK.com or email dhelmick@finfrock.com.
Dan Helmick is the Executive Vice President of Project Development at FINFROCK. For more information, visit FINFROCK.com or email dhelmick@finfrock.com.

FINFROCK is unique in the design-build world. We only work as a “Single Source of Responsibility.” In other words, compared to typical design-build teams that bring architecture and construction functions together for a single project, we are a vertically integrated design-manufacture-construct company, where we’re also the largest subcontractor on every project as well as the contractor, architect and structural engineer. To make the process efficient, we designed a feedback loop that is inherent in the process, because we control so much of the process internally with our own employees.It starts with the conceptualization of a project, then runs through the design, then the manufacturing of structural components, then the construction phase. And since every building requires ongoing maintenance, we created our own maintenance company, which gives us an opportunity to look at many other buildings, not just our own, and increase our knowledge on what works well and what needs improvement — knowledge that can benefit our next client. By controlling all of those different phases, versus the industry standard delivery method, where they are all handled by different companies – we find we benefit our clients most by managing all of those
disciplines under one roof. This enables us to incorporate this newly acquired knowledge to the benefit of our clients. That allows us, the next time we conceptualize a project, to design those improvements from the beginning. That is the feedback loop.

Simple Efficiency

Building those types of efficiencies into the process allows us to construct projects faster at a lower cost and a higher quality. In general, for an owner we’re working for, it lowers their risk. It allows us to guarantee pricing and schedules early on and it gives them a higher quality product at the end of the day. One of the other inherent benefits in our process is that it’s always the same team. In the traditional design-build team approach, the contractor hires the architect to deliver a project to the owner with the contractor being the responsible party. They may work together regularly, but more likely, they don’t work together on every project they do. FINFROCK’s design and construction companies have all of the exact same projects on their resumés. In this way, they are able to share the knowledge they’ve built together.

processWith us, it’s always the same team. It’s always our own architects. It’s always our own engineers, always our own manufacturing and construction personnel. There are many efficiencies we see from that, because we have all those companies in-house. Our engineers do training for our construction department and manufacturing department and vice versa. As a result, there’s an inherent understanding of the downstream effect of the work each does, from architect to engineer to erector to subcontractors. Everyone really knows what it’s like to be in the shoes of their counterpart team members. They can see it from all different angles and all different viewpoints and ultimately reach the end goal more efficiently.

We like to expose all of our new employees to most aspects of what we do in all our different companies. What another project may have as seven, eight or nine separate companies, we do all in one – we want to send someone new around, to have them gain an understanding in all those different facets. It affords the employee and the company an opportunity to explore the roles in which each employee will best excel. This cross pollination that the feedback loop provides could be used in any business, especially manufacturing or process driven businesses.

Benefits

The feedback loop has allowed us to focus on providing more value to a customer rather than spending time reinventing the wheel on every project. Being able to simplify that process by working around the known quantities, such as the same team and the same structural product – two things that are always constant for us – allows us to gain efficiencies because you’re starting with less variables in a project.

One of the items that is very time consuming and consistent in the construction industry are requests for information (RFIs). We use those on our projects to exam how to avoid them in the future. On most projects, if there’s a question on the drawings, the contractor will submit an RFI and the architect will answer.

We do the same thing, but then at the end of the project, we all get together – the architects, the engineers, manufacturers and the construction department – to analyze what worked well and what didn’t work well. We use those RFIs to say, “How can we answer these questions in the beginning, the first time, rather than having to go through and impede the process issuing and replying to an RFI.”

It’s partly about making the building better and the process better, but it’s also about providing more information up front so that fewer changes are necessary and information is more accurately and efficiently communicated.

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