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Cooperative Design Collaboration for Healthcare Project Success

© © Steffian Bradley Architects/Robert Benson Photography
By Hani Mardini, LEED AP BD+C
June 9, 2017

Collaborative Design, Design Assist, Colocation, Integrated Project Delivery, Evidence Based Design, and so many other buzzwords have made their way into the lexicon of the AEC community and especially on healthcare projects. Our belief is that the future of the AEC industry will require further enabling of a cooperative design collaboration mindset.

Healthcare is an area with great potential for enhanced leadership in cooperative design collaboration; design teams can help owners understand how to achieve better results with increased client, staff, and patient satisfaction, while learning from the teams that build and operate these facilities on how to better implement methods and solutions that meet project requirements.

Typical large healthcare projects involve input from numerous groups, including those from hospital executives, various clinical departments and user groups, facility personnel, community leaders, among many others. Improvements in communication, an empowered workforce, and the ability to continuously innovate is not enough. For that we will need a cooperative attitude towards the collaborative process, especially by the multiple stakeholders that will typically be involved.

Being collaborative does not necessarily mean that teams are being cooperative, and vice versa. We constantly encourage our team to adopt a cooperative attitude to the collaborative process. In order to promote and encourage collaboration, there has to be an explanation of why the collaborative process has been selected, the benefits and reasons for the effort, and a definition of team success. This allows a combined focus and a committed team that can continue to move forward with developing designs that meet the client’s needs.

A confidential project that Vanderweil is currently designing has involved members from the Owner team, Owner’s Program Manager, Facility Operations, User Groups, Construction Manager, and Subcontractors, in addition to the standard team of Architect, Structural Engineer, Civil Engineer, and other design specialists, since the early stage of the design. We encouraged our team to engage with the larger project stakeholders and, most importantly, to listen.

Building Codes and relevant industry design guidelines are referenced when developing a design, however, these should not be the only path to developing the MEP solution for a facility. There are valuable lessons to be learned about “likes/dislikes” and “pain” experienced in existing buildings from facility operations personnel, user groups, and construction managers, and this provides an opportunity to improve overall constructability.

Taking the initiative (and time) in teaching the owner’s teams about multiple available options for different systems proved beneficial. By focusing on Target Value Design and establishing targets for all building components that can be adjusted collaboratively, we can maximize value for the owner. We also had no issues collaboratively modifying proposed solutions to resolve issues based on contractor’s past experiences, and accepting constructive critiques from every stakeholder in order to help reduce costs and construction time. This effort essentially intended to minimize issues that may come up during design and construction, and to lead a flexible design that will provide customer satisfaction and staff/patient comfort for many years of occupancy.

Cooperation in a collaborative environment helps various stakeholders to learn from each other, develop ideas that suit the project, and design and construct a successful and healing environment. Teams that are willing to constructively share experience and information, and have contract terms to allow the ability and flexibility to align goals and resources, will be successful. A cooperative design collaboration approach allows all team members to crowd source issues and concerns, enabling everyone to find the best and most cost-effective solutions to meet project goals.