The Master Builder is dead, long live the Master Builder.

The Master Builder is dead, long live the Master Builder.

Blog Author: Ben Callam, Innovation Lead, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in a fantastic LCI Design forum panel where the topic of the “Master Builder” came up in a discussion about how teams work together. The theme of the panel was roughly: tight alignment and communication across a project delivery team enables industrialized construction and these techniques are (generally) beneficial to all parties, including design. Sounds great right?

Yet standing in the way of these important innovations is an ancient mythical figure, a bogeyman – “The Master Builder.” They are everywhere: in architect’s offices, construction trailers, fab shops, and client meetings alike. Curiously, each lays claim to the same throne yet are all ego-driven illegitimate.

We must kill the idea of a singular “Master Builder.”

Because, as our panel yesterday pointed out, a legitimate “Master Builder” already exists — in the form of a well integrated project delivery team — a smoothly operating network of specialists.

Even if you haven’t been fortunate enough to experience this magic (dare we say ‘synergy?’) throughout an entire project, you’ve likely seen a glimpse here or there when things just click between project stakeholders. While still in its infancy, this new Master Builder is truly a beautiful thing and also (somewhat ironically) the savior of our industry.

Analogies aside, where does one find this legitimate “Master builder?” Any project focused on Integrated Delivery a good place to start. Is the team actively collaborating to avoid uninformed assumptions? Are their goals and priorities clear? Are they sharing openly?

Already, even within traditional AEC companies, functional roles are blurring. Trades are designing. GC’s are self-performing and financing. Designers are fabricating. Owners are subcontracting. The permutations go on. Who actually contractually controls what aspect of a project may vary wildly by market, locality, client, etc. Well considered, this flexibility is our (collective) opportunity as it allows for more deliberate alignment with the project requirements, more direct collaboration, more innovation. This flexibility is also more efficient.

Teams can and should consider multiple modalities – there is no “one size fits all” – and that is, in fact, completely logical. This does not mean reinventing the wheel, rather, refining it – maybe we need more treads for off road, or a lower profile for speed. Let the flow manage the processes as the saying goes.

That said, even as delivery typologies blossom, we (as an industry) are objectively terrible at capturing and describing what we’ve done and why one approach might be better than the next project-to-project. Despite nearly identical requirements, each project is still (at least on paper) a snowflake for now.

We (collectively) need to develop a clear language to catalogue and evaluate evolving delivery typologies. We need *common* descriptors for how teams interface with one another and what they contribute. Similarly, we need comparable terms for how the elements of a building are organized and come together. I believe this might look similar to what the W3C has done for the web and that Industrialized Construction and Integrated Delivery are the keys to creating such as standard. (More on this in a follow-on post.)

On this last point, I (and our teams at McCarthy) are deeply motivated to connect with others who are also thinking about this “language barrier.”

  • How are your teams working together and how well?
  • How are you describing these modalities?
  • What are you measuring and how?
  • How does IC help (or inhibit)? How do we use LEAN across project boundaries? 

Thanks again to LCI for putting together event’s like Design forum and provoking such great discussions.

Long live the Master Builders.