Join: Collaborative Project Delivery Platform

Join is a cloud-based platform that brings together contractors, owners, and design teams to facilitate decision-making throughout the lifecycle of an AEC project. While Join made its start as a preconstruction solution (see AEC Technology Updates, 2019 for a brief overview of Join when it was launched), its use by construction firms has expanded to both earlier on in the project lifecycle in the planning phase as well as later in the execution phase. Throughout, it provides a shared space where the OAC team (owner, architect, and contractor) can work together to hone in on the details of a project in order to meet the budget and schedule requirements. It also allows firms to get key insights across all of the projects they are deploying Join on, making it a compelling solution for leading construction companies such as McCarthy, DPR Construction, Swinerton, Clark Construction, Barton Malow, and LEMOINE (Figure 1), many of whom are now using it enterprise-wide.

Overview

Decision-making is at the heart of any AEC project. These decisions can range from a few tens for a small project to thousands for a large project, from high-level questions such as the energy-saving strategy for the design all the way to specific details such as which specific material for an element to choose. Also, in most cases, the decisions need to be made in collaboration with others on the project team, including the owner, designer, and contactor. In the absence of a solution like Join, the decision-making process is very disjointed, relying on emails, phone calls, spreadsheets, meeting notes, etc., that do not integrate to provide any kind of coherent picture of the issue that is being discussed or of the information that is needed to decide it.

What Join does is provide a platform for collaborative decision-making on a project that is accessible to anyone on the team, where multiple items can be proposed and debated upon by the different team members and stakeholders to determine if they should be accepted or not. Any team member can put forth an item for consideration, and it can be supplemented with relevant information such as drawings, models, spec sheets, etc., as well as estimates that would capture its impact on the budget at different stages of the project (Figure 2). The process can be initiated at the start of the project and can continue throughout each of its milestones such as schematic design, design development, construction drawings, etc. Since each item that is being considered has an associated budget, its impact on the total project cost can also be seen right away, which can help the team to decide if it should be accepted or rejected.

Since all the team members can access the project in Join, they can weigh in on the discussions, provide any relevant information on any of the items under consideration, and work on the item if it has been assigned to them. Those on the team who have the permission settings to act on the items can approve them, reject them, or keep them pending. The complete history for an item — including all the comments and changes — is recorded and can be seen, effectively providing the audit trail for the project as a whole. Team members can be notified of any activity in the Join project by email and they can also respond by email if they choose — it will be automatically logged in Join.

Other useful integrations include the ability to import estimates from leading estimating applications as well as a Forge-based model viewer that allows Revit files to be viewed within Join. There are also a large number of report types that can be generated, which is especially helpful not just for detailed reporting on individual projects but also for key metrics across all the projects that a firm is deploying it on. With regards to the type of firm deploying Join, this would typically be a construction firm (as shown earlier in Figure 1), and they would invite the owner and the architect to be on the team for the project they are deploying it on as well as specify the different permission settings for different kinds of users.

Project Dashboard

Moving to look at some specific aspects of Join’s functionality, let’s start with the Dashboard of a project, which is the first thing a user would see once they log into Join and select a project from the list of projects that have been created and to which they have been granted access. The Dashboard provides a concise snapshot of a project which includes its Cost Trendline, Estimate, and Items. Each of these has additional options allowing the information to be viewed in different ways. So, for example, the Cost Trendline, which shows the running total of the project in relation to the budget, can be seen across all the project milestones that were defined for it (Figure 3) as well as for a specific milestone (Figure 4).

The All Milestones trendline graph, shown below, let you view overall project trends across multiple milestones. You can hover over any milestone to learn more about how the costs have trended for the project and where they are headed.  

The display of the Cost Trendline for a specific milestone, as shown below, captures the upper and lower bounds of all potential items under consideration, and also the current status of each item and its impact on the budget. It includes all the updates and changes to the items in real time as they happen, so it always reflects the current state of the project.

The Estimate graph in the Dashboard lets you analyze and present cost estimates for the project in a clear and concise format. The data can be grouped and filtered in many different ways, as shown in Figure 5, allowing it to be viewed and understood by all the different stakeholders depending upon their area of interest and what is relevant to them. Also, hovering on an item in the graph provides more details on it, as shown below.

A similarly concise snapshot of all the items in the project is available on the Dashboard as well, with the ability to group the items in different ways, as shown in Figure 6. They are color-coded based on their decision status: Pending, Accepted, or Rejected.

Other Key Functionality

Other key capabilities of the platform includes the ability to group, filter, and sort the items in the Items list (shown earlier in Figure 2a) by any work breakdown structure or category on the project; import estimates in XLSL, XML, and ZIP formats, which covers Excel as well as leading estimating applications like DESTINI, WinEst, and Sage; and allow a Revit model attached to an item to be opened in a Forge-based model viewer with the ability to create markups and save views (Figure 7).

And finally, Join includes the ability to generate many different types of valuable reports from all the data that has been input into the system, both across a single project as well as across a number of selected projects that it has been deployed on. An example of the former is shown in Figure 8, where a Milestone Summary Report is generated for the “75% Construction Drawings” milestone and subsequently printed with the option of including the cost summary. Any type of report like this can be customized to show or hide columns to display the exact data that is required at that time by the team or the project stakeholders.

Another example of a report specific to a project is the Variance report, where you can select two milestones and specific values within them that you want to compare, the units of measurement you want to see in the comparison, and how the report should be displayed. Figure 9 shows a Variance report comparing the Running Total at the “100% Design Development” milestone versus the “75% Construction Drawings” milestone, with the data grouped by MasterFormat division and the subdivisions within them. This type of quick Variance report showing key analytics can be very handy in understanding how the project is progressing and guiding it accordingly.

For a firm that is using Join for many, if not all, of its projects, there is the ability to generate Insights reports showing key analytics such as project value, project type and location, budget gap, current status, the number of open items and which are becoming due, etc., across its entire portfolio of projects (Figure 10). It is also possible to generate a Project Comparison report showing all the key metrics for all the projects of a specific type, for example, to provide some benchmarks and guidelines for a new project of that type that the firm is embarking upon (Figure 11).


Conclusion

Overall, I found Join very comprehensive in its functionality as well as easy to set up and use. Using an integrated collaborative platform to make all the critical decisions that are invariably involved in an AEC project rather than relying on disjointed emails, phone calls, and spreadsheets seems like a no-brainer — it promotes cooperation amongst the team, reduces friction, improves transparency, and makes the process less litigious. It can also help to keep the team on task so that the project can proceed on schedule rather than being derailed or held up because of the delay in making decisions.

And, of course, with the cost display in Join front and center, updated in real time and therefore always current, the impact of any decision on the budget is immediately visible and can guide the project team to work on moving the project cost as close as possible to the budgeted cost.

The AEC industry is fortunate that technologies like Join have emerged to address a need that wasn’t even properly defined earlier — which is why there haven’t been solutions for it — but which now seems very obviously critical for the successful execution of a project.

About the Author

Lachmi Khemlani is founder and editor of AECbytes. She has a Ph.D. in Architecture from UC Berkeley, specializing in intelligent building modeling, and consults and writes on AEC technology. She can be reached at lachmi@aecbytes.com.

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