Integrating operational knowledge in design of new buildings to improve facility performance - A comparative study of building and large ship projects

Helle Lohmann Rasmussen

Research output: Book/ReportPh.D. thesis

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Some new buildings do not live up to expectations when put into operation. For example, research has revealed a gap between expected and actual energy consumption. Other important parameters, such as indoor climate, maintainability or functionality, can also be disappointing in new buildings. This has negative consequences for the activities intended within such buildings, for their occupants’ quality of life, for the cost of operation and for their environmental impact. Both researchers and practitioners have found that difficulties can be reduced if building clients ensure that the future operations of buildings have already been considered in the design process of new projects. This requires that knowledge obtained from buildings already in operation be transferred to the design process of new buildings. A number of tools and methods have been developed to achieve this: some include the direct involvement of experts in building operations, while others are not based on such direct involvement but on codified knowledge instead. The underlying assumption of previous research has been that the more knowledge that can be transferred – e.g. by involving operational staff or using other tools or methods to transfer knowledge from operation to design – the more future operations will be taken into account during design, resulting in enhanced facility performance. The ambition to integrate operational knowledge into design is not unique to building projects. It is also relevant in the design of large ships. Here, negative consequences also occur if operations are not considered from the beginning. Therefore, this study compares how operational knowledge is integrated into the design of buildings and large ships. This approach aims, on the one hand, to see whether there are tools and methods that can be shared, and on the other, to see what new knowledge this comparison reveals about integrating operational knowledge into design. Thus, the overarching purpose of this study is to investigate how operational knowledge is integrated into the design process of buildings in comparison to that of large ships, aiming to improve facility performance.

As a second approach, the phenomenon of knowledge transfer from operation to design is studied through the lens of theories on knowledge transfer from knowledge management research. Here, two perspectives on knowledge transfer are dominant: the technocratic and the behavioural approaches. The technocratic approach recommends that knowledge be codified and stored in order to be applied in a new context, whereas the behavioural approach focuses on the ‘people side’, stressing that much knowledge is tacit and can only be transferred through interaction. This thesis is paper-based and consists of six published research papers in addition to a synopsis. The papers rely primarily on qualitative methods, including a single case study, expert interviews, workshops and focus group interviews as well as a multiple case study on how operational knowledge is integrated into the design processes of buildings (2) and ferries (3), respectively. Additionally, one paper is based on a questionnaire survey. As a starting point, the study focuses on building projects. Here, the research shows that a large number of tools and methods to transfer knowledge from operations into the design process have already been developed, described and implemented in practise. Moreover, the findings indicate that operational staff is, to a large extent, involved in the design process of the investigated building cases. Three main parties within the building client were found to be responsible for the successful transfer of knowledge from operation to design: the top management, the building client division and the operations division. Moreover, this study shows that facilities managers are not only concerned about the performance parameters, such as energy consumption or operation and maintenance, of their new buildings. Two of the research papers included in this thesis describe the diverse difficulties related to the operation of new buildings. A typology of 12 performance gap types in new buildings, as seen from a facilities manager’s perspective, is developed. Additionally, the thesis identifies 35 specific difficulties that facilities managers in new buildings experience. Based on the responses to a web-based questionnaire conducted with facilities managers of new buildings in Denmark, the difficulties are ranked from ‘most often experienced’ to ‘least often
experienced’. The difficulties most often experienced concern digital material from building projects. Other high-ranked difficulties include unexpectedly high energy consumption due to the lack of commissioning of technical installations and difficulties with indoor thermal climate. In view of the identified performance gaps, in many projects, it is insufficient for project managers of new building projects to limit their focus to, for example, energy consumption and operation and maintenance. A project manager needs to consider the purpose of the building in a broader sense and must balance many types of performance. In the cases examined, where project managers had a strong focus on operations, less attention was paid to, for example, user experience and aesthetics, and less focus was placed on managing a large project. This means that if, for example, user experience and aesthetics are important in order for a building or a ship to meet its purpose, then the solution does not appear to lie in appointing a project manager with a strong focus on operations.

The multiple case study brought to light a correlation between on one side the number of tools and methods used to ensure the integration of operational knowledge into design and on the other side the affiliation and focus of the building client’s project manager. Perhaps, in contrast to what one might think, fewer tools and methods were used in those cases in which project managers had a stronger connection to operation and a long-term interest in the new building or ship, while many tools and methods were used in those cases in which project managers’ connection to the operations was weaker. However, nothing suggested that operations were less taken into account in the cases where the least tools or methods were used – the opposite actually seemed to be the case. One possible explanation for this is that when operations are a matter of concern to the project manager, he or she ensures that operations are taken into consideration with limited use of tools and methods. Additionally, in some cases, project managers had prior experience in operation; thus, it was presumably redundant to transfer knowledge – since it was already there. In those cases in which project managers did not have a strong connection to operations, the study showed that extensive resources went into transferring knowledge about operations into the design process. Unfortunately, design processes are rather complex today, and the literature even describes an ‘information overload’ in projects, thus indicating a risk that some knowledge might never reach a project manager’s attention, for instance, and be consequently wasted. This study includes examples in which the requirements outlined in detailed design guidelines were not incorporated into the projects. Hence, this thesis, like certain parts of the body of knowledge management literature, points out that the question a building client needs to ask him or herself is not how more knowledge can be transferred to the design process but rather how various project actors pick up knowledge and integrate it into, for instance, the design or decision proposals. Therefore, how individuals are motivated to seek out and integrate knowledge about operations into the design processes they participate in is one of the questions that future research and practice must answer. Furthermore, it is also necessary to discover how the knowledge that they need can be made accessible at the relevant time and place in order to limit knowledge waste resulting from ‘information overload’ in projects. Moreover, how key actors, such as project managers, balance numerous
performance parameters whose hierarchy of relative importance is contingent on a project’s purpose.

This PhD project has been supported by the Danish Maritime Fund through the Copenhagen School of Marine Engineering and Technology Management, Sweco A/S, Center for Facilities Management – Realdania Research (CFM) and DTU.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages246
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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