“How can I Big Room successfully?”

This article first appeared in Construction Dive, June 21, 2022. It’s author, Tammy McConaughy, is a long-time colleague and friend in the Lean community. Global Director, Lean Delivery at CRB, a Kansas City, Mo.-based engineering, architecture and construction firm with offices across North America.

The ideas presented here are fully consistent with LCI’s curriculum (which Dan Fauchier helped develop and has presented often) and with the Construction Accelerator® 3-video Topic “Big Room”

A Big Room is more than a space. It’s a state of mind

How to improve team collaboration and optimize project outcomes using a Big Room setting.

Today’s multi-faceted construction teams find ways to break down silos and tackle challenges as a fluid, single unit. In the face of mounting issues such as supply chain and labor shortages, a problem-solving attitude and openness to new ways of thinking is no longer a “nice-to-have.” 

But how can teams foster this culture while continuing to work at speed? Meet the Big Room setting, an idea that stems from lean construction principles but can benefit all types of contractors and projects.

A Big Room has little to do with location or space. It’s a smart approach to collaboration that leverages the talents of a cross-functional team. 

So, to get up to speed on this effective approach, the question is not “What is a Big Room?” but “How can I Big Room successfully?” 

Big ideas, big collaboration, big results

In a traditional working session, you might have a room full of people, with each person taking turns reporting to the group. This one-way flow of information fails to engage participants and hierarchy reigns. As a result, everyone and no one owns challenges. Issues pile up and stagnate.

Not in a Big Room. Everyone has an active role, knows the agendas and expects collaboration. A Big Room creates an opportunity for project teams to advance work rapidly.

A Big Room transcends seniority and title. Built on a foundation of trust, a Big Room fosters a culture of respect for team members and the work they bring to the table. It celebrates successes big and small, continuously motivating the team and its individuals to improve.

Where does a Big Room happen?

Although we’ve established that a Big Room does not need to be a big space, teams do need to congregate. There are a few models that work:

  • Co-location: Big Room participants are physically located together in the Big Room, with no virtual attendees. This could be a permanent space onsite or in an office or a company HQ.
  • Virtual: It will come as no surprise that Big Rooms have frequently been located on Zoom over the last few years. Collaborative digital tools can support the virtual environment.
  • Hybrid: A combination of in-person and virtual attendance by select participants.

Every project can benefit from a Big Room mindset

It’s never too early to put a project into a Big Room, and it should run throughout the lifetime of the project. Big Rooms can solve issues that might have halted a project in the past: scheduling, supply chain impacts and design challenges all vanish in the face of a well-run Big Room. And bonus points: they foster a positive team culture.

When the Big Room is working well, people want to be there. They find value in it, because it helps them move work forward; it’s not just another meeting. Make this commitment to a project, to the team and to working together, and it will pay dividends to the process, and importantly, your end result.



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