Founded in 1944, Sellen Construction is the largest locally-owned General Contractor (GC) in the Pacific Northwest. The firm employs more than 350 professional staff and up to 600 field personnel, building iconic projects Including Amazon’s new Seattle headquarters, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation campus, Seattle Children’s Hospital additions, a variety of arts and culture spaces, and millions of square feet of tenant improvement projects every year.
As one of the region’s top contractors, Sellen is known for improving the lives of others by building mission-driven projects with safer and more sustainable practices. To continue their positive impact on the construction industry, Sellen underwent a digital transformation in 2017 to standardize their digital technology ecosystem, define their approach towards innovation, and create a culture of inclusivity and learning to support the adoption of new technology.
“We wanted to look at how things are connected beyond point solutions to deliver better projects, empower our workers, and collaborate with the industry,” says Jenny Moshea, Head of Technology at Sellen.
To support their digital strategy and vision, Sellen partnered with Autodesk and select partners to adopt technology solutions that allowed them to:
A lack of standardization was leading to inconsistent workflows. To enhance collaboration, communication, and efficiency, Sellen created its “Digital Core”, which includes Autodesk Construction Solutions. The goal behind Sellen’s Digital Core was to enable standardized workflows across projects, connecting construction data and processes across design, preconstruction, and construction.
“When I joined the company, jobsites had isolated and unique technology components,” says Moshea. “We needed to standardize and consolidate to improve our practices to help build better for our people, clients, and the industry.”
By taking an outcome-focused approach, Sellen defined where they wanted to be, and worked backwards to develop their technology strategy. “When kicking off new projects, we start with the end in mind and assess which technology within our Digital Core will be most beneficial for project scope,” says Moshea.
With their technology stack in place, it was time for implementation. However, Sellen knew that technology was only one element of their strategy. They needed to consider how the technology would integrate within their company culture. Instead of making demanding mandates, they decided to try a unique approach with the roll-out.
“To have a little fun, we reimagined our Digital Core as a board game,” says Moshea. “The game is a visual representation of our Digital Core, and the way that we engage with and train project stakeholders on new technology and when it should be implemented throughout the project lifecycle…And who doesn’t love a good game?”
The Sellen Technology team brings the board game and accompanying cards and game pieces with them to every project kickoff. Each tool within the Digital Core maps to a function. The game is a catalyst of communication and collaboration between project stakeholders to understand who needs to be trained on what product and when.
Implementation of this methodology has helped improve the preconstruction process for Sellen.
The team imports the BIM model directly into Assemble, where they can assess and condition the model for better quantity takeoff. This has translated to a more accurate project scope when determining schedule and cost and has also improved the bidding process.
“As Assemble is entirely web-enabled, our estimators can visualize the geometry as they develop their estimate – which improves understanding,” says Moshea. “Often times early estimates have very preliminary details in the schematic design drawings, so viewing the models is highly informative for understanding design intent.”
This methodology has also allowed Sellen to engage in a little co-opetition with other General Contractors.
Sellen teamed with another GC to execute a mega refresh and modernization project for the headquarters of a world’s leading local technology company. To take on the project, Sellen shared their digital strategy. “We’ve pulled back the hood on our digital core and how it’s used,” says Moshea.
BIM 360 has proven to be a game changer for collaborating with others in the industry on project execution. That same project team uses BIM 360 as the single-source of truth for authoring models. Every individual authoring within Revit is connected to this platform. A single cloud-based environment has enabled more collaboration between stakeholders as models are updated in real-time, reducing the risk of project teams working off an outdated model.
With five generations in the workforce, training and development is key to retain good people. Rapid changes in technology makes this even more urgent. “I’m always thinking about strategies to mix work and play because that’s how you grow. With so many generations in the workforce, coupled with the labor shortage, it’s important to get creative and make learning fun,” says Moshea.
This summer, a Sellen intern majoring in Applied Math and Electronics Engineering Technology with a minor in Computer Science and a specialization in Artificial Intelligence developed an integration between Navisworks and a popular gaming console to review models. The integration enabled easier navigation, allowing users to fly through model reviews with advanced, customizable controls. Gamification has lowered the barrier to entry of using new technology, helping to drive adoption and make people more engaged.
“You can’t toss technology over the fence and think it’s going to be adopted and accepted, which is why we are gamifying the process,” says Moshea. “Given the multi-generational workforce, new techniques are needed in order to engage and teach new skills.”
In addition to advancing learning and continuous improvement with the current workforce, Sellen is also committed to developing an equitable future through fair hiring practices and ensuring opportunities are available to a diverse group of subcontractors. Sellen has operationalized programs that create a welcome environment that reflects diversity, promotes opportunity, and values inclusion.
An example of this is demonstrated during Sellen’s preconstruction phase – specifically, how Sellen is breaking down bid packages in order to make it easier to engage the community, attract talent, and build new relationships. With BuildingConnected, Sellen can prequalify subs, allowing them to be more inclusive, specifically focusing on Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs).
Sellen has found that digitizing construction can be a challenge for smaller subs, and the key to success is breaking it down into “attainable chunks”.
“For two mega-projects, Sellen’s Project Management teams thoughtfully chose which scopes of work would be the most available for diverse vendors,” says Moshea. “For example, we wanted to identify subs with division 10-specialties, specifically fire extinguishers. Using BuildingConnected we were able to invite only diverse vendors to bid, allowing for 100% participation for this specific scope of work.”
Using Sellen company tags, we can direct decision makers towards those vendors who are diverse by adding diversity tags on the subcontractor’s profile.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to connect with historically underutilized subcontractors and help bridge the gap to entry into a number of our larger projects,” says Moshea. “By attending industry outreach events, we build relationships and encourage the vendor to join BuildingConnected. This helps us to facilitate that space and build more relationships, develop new skills, and engage the industry.”
With a technology strategy in place, Sellen is now working on centralizing and storing data with the goal of furthering their connected technology strategy. With centralized project data, the team will be able to connect the dots of project data to drive more predictable and successful project outcomes.
“That data is especially useful when it comes to identifying areas of improvement such as being able to measure ourselves and our subs in the areas of quality and safety,” says Moshea. “Our people and partners are our greatest asset, so we need to make sure that safe, quality outcomes come first.”
By connecting their construction technology beyond point solutions, Sellen has been able to deliver more consistent results, empower their people, and collaborate with the industry. They also show that the path to connected construction is unique to every organization and needs to be implemented in a way that achieves goals and aligns with values and teams. “We’re all in different parts of the journey. It’s not defined by one model or one workflow,” says Moshea.
With their Digital Core, Sellen has woven consistency across jobsites and throughout the project lifecycle, connecting projects today and laying the groundwork to reap the rewards of connected project data now and into the future.
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