For Solitair Team, the Proof is in the Pulling

Call it a clich√©, call it a proverb, call it a cautionary tale. If you work in construction, you know these five words pack a lot of punch: “What gets measured gets done.”

Just ask our team at Solitair Brickell Apartments in Miami, Florida. They’ve become experts at measuring (and managing) what matters on this 48-story apartment tower. It’s a job that has demanded a standard of planning precision many industry professionals might go their whole careers without experiencing. But through Lean planning practices and an unwavering will to succeed, the Solitair team has risen to the challenge. 

Though tight sites and compressed schedules are hardly atypical conditions for high-rise multifamily projects, Solitair is particularly formidable in both regards. With a one-inch border on all sides, this project brings a whole new meaning to the terms zero lot line and just-in-time deliveries. And their major milestones, well, let’s just say NASCAR laps seem leisurely by comparison. The team has a mere six months, for example, to turn over the first through thirtieth floors—40% shorter than the industry norm. To provide another benchmark, it’s typical for a 40+ story building to turn over five months after buck hoists are removed. The Solitair team has two. 

From the outset, the team agreed that traditional, top-down planning methods wouldn’t be effective. They needed an “all hands on deck” approach that fostered reliable, weekly targets. By pulling backwards from their milestones—a marked shift from conventional left-to-right or push planning—the Solitair team has achieved that reliability and more. Their first milestone was the demolition and rebuild of an existing site ramp while simultaneously executing deep foundation work. The process was so successful that it transformed even those who would have placed themselves in the “doubting Thomas” camp into proactive believers. 

“Thinking from right to left is a big shift I had to make,” concedes Jeremiah Sizer, senior superintendent for the project. “I never liked dictating schedules and always thought there had to be a better way. This is that better way—it’s practical, safer and gives us more realistic information.” 

And you can count the project’s subcontractors among the converted. Perhaps that’s because they’ve experienced the benefits of engaging in such an inclusive planning process. Every morning, decision-makers from the trades gauge their progress against established target milestones, which are visually represented on planning boards. If a modification to the plan needs to be made, it can be achieved proactively and quickly as opposed to reactively with ramifications to cost or schedule. At Solitair, collaborative, visual planning is viewed not as a required mandate but as a rewarding mission.

Beyond the camaraderie, however, the team has quite a few success stories under their tool belts. The roof was not only the subject of Solitair’s most complex pull planning sessions, but it has also been their most productive thus far. Before the project kicked off, planners identified a milestone date for roof completion to release critical elevator work. Because the team only had two months from buck hoist removal to close up the building, any time they could gain on the elevator to support material flow was absolutely invaluable. 

Balfour Beatty invited every major specialty contractor to these discussions. Through this process, the shell contractor realized its crews would need an additional five days to remove shoring—a complication that wasn’t manifest before the project was underway, since it hadn’t been included in the base schedule. At first, it seemed this milestone was too aggressive. After vetting a vast array of alternative ideas in a series of pull planning sessions, the collective building team was able to formulate a more efficient plan—using metal decking instead of the original CIP slabs. This saved time by eliminating the need to form and shore, ultimately allowing the elevator contractor to begin work earlier. The team not only met their milestone—they hit it five days early.

The Safety Spoke

But Lean processes aren’t just about making work plans more effective—they’re equally focused on positively impacting the building experience for our people, clients and partners. And there’s no better way to achieve this impact than by creating a safe jobsite. Through a number of pull planning sessions, the Solitair team has witnessed first-hand the abiding connection between safe and Lean. 

Take, for instance, impactful discoveries that occurred in regards to setting the building’s cooling towers. Originally, the team had planned this activity to occur three days after topping out—facilitating the start of the 45-day mechanical critical duration. Pull planning discussions revealed that due to the towers’ sheer size and limited roof space, this sequence would actually hinder the progression of other critical work. Ultimately, a new plan was formulated to set the towers at the end of the 45-day period—a decision that rendered the process much safer through utilization of man lifts as opposed to ladders.

These pull planning conversations not only touched on the work chronology but also pre-task planning. Because the mechanical contractor included its rigging company in the pull planning sessions, for example, crucial revelations were made. While the rigger was prepared to provide spreader bars and rigging for a six-point pick, the team reached a consensus that an eight-point pick was necessary. From mitigating potential delays (time to obtain proper equipment) to engineering out risk (a rushed pick using the wrong rigging), this early alignment was incredibly beneficial. 

Zero Harm rewards were also reaped while pull planning the process of setting massive transfer beams. In order to maintain the critical path, the team concluded that ironworkers would need perform their work at night. This finding enabled the team to analyze, plan and preemptively mitigate night work hazards. 

“In the past, if one of the spokes in the wheel got broken, it had the power to completely derail us,” concedes Jeremiah. “Now, we’re able to prevent that spoke from breaking in the first place.” 

Measurements. They’re the lifeblood of the construction industry. Whether it’s cubic yards of concrete or inches of a decorative tile, builders have little room for approximation. Successful project execution hinges upon achieving precision, day in and day out, until the owner is presented with a set of keys. Because it’s what comes after the decimal points that separates good teams from great ones. Through a highly collaborative and Lean approach to executing this remarkable project, the Solitair team is cementing their status not only as a great team but as a prototype of planning excellence.