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Redefining Capital Project Delivery for Higher Education


With the uncertainty caused by financial strain and months of suspended projects, capital delivery methodologies are continually being tested and re-evaluated. This urgency for change often leads to further experimentation with new technologies and processes, including digital twins and artificial intelligence– (AI–) enabled planning algorithms.

However, truly redefining capital-project delivery requires more than targeted actions to affect overall value.  In some cases, poor technology and process implementation can even add additional complexity and confusion. Redefining capital project delivery in this sector involves methodology, management, and, most importantly, strategically allocated team members.

We have identified five fundamental changes that could transform project performance for higher education.

Applying these underlying principles to large capital projects in the higher education sector could significantly increase quality outcomes and team-wide performance, with the potential to reduce actual project cost and time by 25 to 30 percent. Nevertheless, many institutions continue to struggle with overruns on cost and schedule, mainly due to a lack of strategic reassessment in capital expenditure allocation, along with underestimating, poor scope management, and insufficient resources.


The pandemic has heightened the urgency for change. Construction programs have been pushed back months or suspended indefinitely due to lockdowns, staffing shortages, and supply-chain delays. In the wake of recovery, Higher Education institutions are rethinking future project plans as the likelihood of prolonged uncertainty remains a threat.

Many large projects being announced to launch in 2021 have less than ideal resources. At the heart of the sector’s setbacks is a project-delivery methodology that has stayed virtually constant for a quarter-century or more. This model is often burdened by inefficiencies, including a lack of integrated systems thinking, a preference for short-term cost management over long-term results, poor stakeholder communication, and rigid planning systems that can struggle to define and adjust to changing demands.

Ultimately, the higher education sector may lack the scope to manage large-scale capital projects with current delivery methods. Project leaders should carry out a thorough risk assessment to counter these risks at the beginning of a project. This assessment ensures that qualitative aspects are more explicitly examined during tender evaluation, specific task requirements are in place, and all change events are thoroughly examined for eligibility.


These five fundamental changes introduce a redefined approach to capital project delivery in higher education. Incorporating these strategies into a broader set of changes— including reassessed allocation of capital expenditure, streamlined constructability process, a data-driven operating model, implemented lean construction techniques, and aligned contract deliverables— promises to harness the full potential of capital projects to deliver long-term return.

Over the course of forty-five plus years in the higher education industry, we have examined the methods of several top institutions and saw firsthand how they have dealt with similar obstacles in the delivery of large and complex projects. Upon studying the most effective components of their models, our team has identified five concepts that could serve as building blocks for a better approach:

REASSESS – the strategy behind allocating capital expenditure.

A revised planning and budgeting approach that connects project funding to the institution’s strategy and future opportunities strengthens the portfolio.

STREAMLINE – the constructability process to generate savings.

A straightforward and thoroughly documented monetary savings model to analyze impacts on budgets and ensure accuracy, namely economies of scale relating to materials and project management resources.

SIMPLIFY – the construction process with a data-driven operating model.

A robust digital architecture to catch waste and conflicts across all project teams.

IMPLEMENT – lean construction techniques.

An approach that maximizes project value while reducing waste and cost for time-critical and corridor projects while eliminating labor shortages in a given area.

ALIGN – your specific needs with the correct contract deliverables for the project.

A tested contract assessment tool that provides superior contract execution and counter-claims management, resulting in greatly reduced litigation risk.

Because capital project delivery involves high risk, it can sometimes be challenging to pursue significant changes to previous methods comfortably. Often a shift in the project delivery model is included in institutions’ agenda—yet most choose to scale down either the number of changes or the dispersion of actions to address any current inefficiencies.

Transitioning to the traditional capital delivery approach starts with using the right resources. Agility and resilience, combined with a stable backbone of disciplined processes, progress monitoring, and superior management, result in a transformed model that is built to last in higher education’s ever-changing landscape.


The five adjustments outlined in this article require a significant shift in how institutions develop and execute capital projects. This will entail senior leaders setting high goals and communicating a clear objective. In addition, they will want to move quickly to seize early wins and plan the rollout of longer-term measures. By chasing the redefined approach with fervor, project leaders can invest well-suited resources to drive measurable results on the ground – strengthening the institution’s resilience across all facets.

In this effort, project leaders will want to draw heavily on insights and expertise gained from direct experience in the industry. Choosing the right partners to help monitor and implement their transformation will be critical in unlocking and maximizing value. To utilize third-party project management means constant and committed experts working to reassess, streamline, simplify, implement, and align your entire project delivery process with ease and familiarity. By having these necessary pieces, institutions will put themselves in a position to reduce project costs and schedules by 25-30 percent, resulting in transformed project performance and long-term return.

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