Transitions in construction

Transitions in construction

Whatever you thought, think again.


Developing a building product

IndustryPosted by Dan Engström Sat, November 05, 2011 00:32:41
Sometimes, things just come together. I'd like to tell you about this neat sports hall we've developed at NCC. We made a deal with the Swedish Handball Federation that we'd develop a simple sports hall for kids practicing handball. Being the guy that was actually given that task, I am still amazed as to how successful we were simply by applying product logic to a task we normally would perform as a traditional project. Its homepage in Swedish is here.

It is in fact a product in that it has an given organisation behind it, it is designed to fit a brief we wrote to cater for a defined market segment, prepared modular options to chose from for the client and systematic improvements between projects. The key is repetition. What would we do if we were to build this over and over? We'd be prepared.
We started out by writing our own brief: "A simple sports hall for practices and lower-tier matches, for handball and similar sports, with focus on young athletes". It looks better in Swedish, but you get the idea. So, next we identified what traits in the hall are needed for it to live up to the brief and still be a worthy sporting environment. Using our personal experience from handball, and from maintenance and production of sports halls, we decided that it needed a full sized court, proper lighting, the right sports floor and a handful of other traits. We did not save any money on them, we just tried to be smart. But. We scratched everything else.

Read that again. We scratched everything else. If it wasn't needed for a worthy, functional sporting environment for kids playing handball, it went out the window. The end result is a fine sports hall for exactly the brief. If you want something else, my colleagues will be happy build it, but we will not be able to match the price we ask for this prodict, which typically is half the price of a traditional sports hall.
It all sounds well and dandy; getting a great sports hall for half the price you expect. But, the other price you pay is that you get a hall that ideally suits the brief we wrote, not the brief you might expect to write. This is the key to the product logic. We learn the drivers for the clients in the market segment we are looking to address and design a product that should be perfect for them. This is a product developed before there is a site set. Because of this, we might miss out on business beacuse our product is not well suited to local conditions. But that is a risk that is inherent in product thinking - in order to utilise the learning curve over several projects, we must standardise.

In order to mitigate the standardisation we were forced to make, we have prepared optional extras. Since the inception of this hall in 2006, we have had the privelege of building this product in different versions for about thirty clients. The different versions we've built get included in the product as options, so for every one we build, the next client has another option to choose from.

But you as a client might want something outside of the scope of our options. With the strict product logic that comes with large series of manufacturing, we would decline that contract. But since this product has long servicelife and gets built in small series, there is room for customisation by the client even slightly outside of the prepared options. And so, another version is born.

This is somewhat of an experiment, turning the tables like this on our regular processes. So far it has been successful and we aim to keep it that way. It had - has - its share of teething problems, so it might serve its purpose the better here as illustration to the logic of products.

Finally, I'd like to share with you what happened when we offered a municipality a hall for the first time. We submitted a parallel tender to the design/bid/build brief and offered our product at half the price of the one in the brief, almsot without changing the brief. Almost. Well. The municipality stopped the procurement process, redesigned the hall to fit the specifications of our product and restarted the process. The contract went to a competitor. They were marginally cheaper because they saved on the worthy environment part.

We're trying hard to improve. We do not always succeed. But municipalities reading the law of public procurement like the devil reads the bible does not contribute to ... well ... anything.

Images: Torvalla sports hall, images by NCC