Raising the Lean Bar in Construction

"Overall, the construction industry collectively struggles with managing the supply chain. We experience a lack of consistency in each client project, each introducing many new hurdles to overcome. Like other construction companies, we’re constantly procuring, developing, and establishing new relationships with new suppliers, subcontractors, vendors, and architects to develop and streamline the building experience."

As Senior Project Manager for DPR Construction, a leading general contractor with offices all over the U.S., Peter Berg says maintaining stability is a continuous challenge in the industry. We interviewed Peter to hear his perspective on advancing supply chains in the construction industry, and how his company is gaining a competitive advantage.


Tell us a little about DPR Construction. What does your company do and who are your customers?

DPR is a national general contractor that specializes in constructing highly complex and sustainable buildings.  We were founded in 1990 by Doug Woods, Peter Nosler, and Ron Davidowski, the D, the P and the R, who were three veterans of the construction industry that set out to build something different in an industry traditionally resistant to change.  During that time the construction industry was viewed as a craft production business, while our founders saw it as a service business.  With $750,000 in pooled resources, lots of determination and unique vision, Doug, Peter and Ron embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and built a company where every employee embodies a well-defined purpose, “We Exist to Build Great Things,” and our four core values, “integrity, enjoyment, uniqueness, ever forward.” DPR is built on shared leadership with roles and positive influence being emphasized while superfluous titles are minimized. People closest to the work are encouraged to make the right decisions without superior approval and are trusted to know when to ask for help if needed.  You do not have a job at DPR, you have responsibilities and are fully accountable for the results of your efforts.  It is empowering and daunting, at the same time.  I have enjoyed it since day one!

DPR specializes in five core building markets; Advanced Technology, Corporate Office, Healthcare, Higher Education and Life Sciences. Our customers range from small start-ups to a “who’s who” list of Fortune 500 companies. Ultimately our customers are people that use the buildings we construct; datacenter engineers, patients, surgeons, students, biomedical researchers, building managers and maintenance staff to name a few.

Tell us a little about your career path – how did you end up in construction and at DPR? Any pivotal or a defining moments of your career?

I live every day trying to be ever forward – I learned early in my career that there’s no slam dunk when ‘it all happens,’ and not to rest on past achievements.  Joining DPR was the defining moment of my career, and it was the beginning of my 20-year and counting journey. My background was studying civil engineering at Purdue, and construction had piqued my interest. It seemed like a more people-oriented industry, which was appealing to me. During a company recruiting event at my university, most of the students were going after bigger, more established, well-known companies, but I liked what I heard from DPR. They talked about striving for a flat vs. hierarchical culture, exhibiting an entrepreneurial spirit, trusting their people and allowing them to make decisions. It turns out that was the best career decision I ever made.

From where you sit, what’s a home run for your organization? How has this home run evolved over time?

Repeat business without competition is a home run. Our business is simple. We get work, we put the work in place, then get more work. A home run to DPR is to service a client, establish a relationship, and become an extension of their organization. We are a relationship-based contractor, and 80% of our work is repeat business. We’ll work with smaller clients and projects that larger contractors may not find worthwhile. Then, we grow with them over time through a partnership. They trust DPR and come back to us down the road because we have been there from the beginning and know the ins and outs of their business.

A recent homerun was for a large healthcare company operating in the southwest U.S. They’re notoriously competitive and expect world class performance from vendors. In phase two of a new hospital campus we achieved Zero Defects.  Zero Defects to DPR, and to our clients, means no punch list at all when we hand over a project; done means done.  They had never experienced this in the history of their capital programs – usually there’s something like touch-up paint, a door that won’t shut, etc.  For their next project, we were exclusively awarded the business, without competition, no proposal or presentation process at all.

From a supply chain advancement standpoint, how is your order fulfillment strategy aligned with your overall business strategy?

DPR does well when benchmarked with our industry; however, with an asterisk. Overall, the construction industry collectively struggles with managing the supply chain. We experience a lack of consistency in each client project, each introducing many new hurdles to overcome. Like other construction companies, we’re constantly procuring, developing, and establishing new relationships with new suppliers, subcontractors, vendors, and architects to develop and streamline the building experience. Whether it’s a new project with a completely unfamiliar team, or an ongoing project with numerous personnel changes, maintaining stability is a continuous challenge. DPR counts on repeat business from new and current customers by exceeding expectations; by definition that strategy requires every project to perform better than the previous. Raising the bar towards lean construction every project leaves less and less room for error which requires us to continuously evaluate and improve our supply chain.

How do you engage your people in business improvements? 

DPR is a learning organization committed to continuous improvement; we seek and attract people with this in their DNA. Our culture fosters an environment where learning through experimentation is celebrated. When you put those things together, our smart and passionate people produce an overwhelming volume of ideas and the question turns away from engagement to “Which improvements, when applied to the value stream, yield more value?” It comes down to everyone in our organization being able to see the value stream and we are not there yet. This is why we are rolling out a lean leadership training and certification course across DPR. The training is a great mechanism for broadcasting value stream thinking and other lean concepts across our enterprise. This way our great people will better understand how to filter and apply ideas that create real value.

Does your organization operate by guiding principles? If so, what are they?

Our founders worked hard to develop a blueprint for our guiding principles from day one; DPR Exists to Build Great Things.  We build and create with integrity, enjoyment, uniqueness, ever forward, and the right people have been, and always will be, the foundation of DPR.  We’re building great relationships, buildings, and products.  We’re also building and developing great people who will deliver those “things” to our customers.


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Posted by LeanCor, A Transplace Company

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We Teach. We Consult. We Do. LeanCor is a strategic supply chain partner that provides managed transportation, supply chain consulting, and corporate training programs. These three, integrated solutions help businesses better serve their customers by eliminating waste, decreasing costs, and building cultures of continuous improvement.

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