Dec. 22, 2021

Owner Driven Lean Construction Project Culture with John Zachara

John Zachara leads the program and capital budget management of a multiple-site acute care healthcare organization. He uses decades of project management experience to deliver a wide variety of project types including commercial, retail, hospital, clinic...

John Zachara leads the program and capital budget management of a multiple-site acute care healthcare organization. He uses decades of project management experience to deliver a wide variety of project types including commercial, retail, hospital, clinical, research, educational, and religious facilities. When opportunities arise or problems come up, John knows how to leverage Lean Construction principles and techniques. He is an active member of the Lean Construction Institute (LCI) Chicago Community of Practice (CoP) and a member of the first Integrated Form of Agreement (IFOA) project in Healthcare in Chicago.


John’s Roles include:

  • Owner’s Representative
  • Owner’s Advocate Lean Coach Lean Presenter - presented at over 50 local(Chicago) and national conferences since 2016
  • Life Long Learner
  • Lean Construction Institute - Chicago Community of Practice Leader
  • American Heart Association - Heart Ball Board Member since 2019
  • YouthBuild Lake County Board Member since 2021
  • YouthBuild Lake County Apprenticeship Task Force 2021

Connect with John via

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Website at 

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Today’s episode is sponsored by Bosch RefinemySite. It’s a cloud-based construction platform. Bosch uses Lean principles to enable your entire team, from owners to trade contractors – to plan, communicate, document, and execute in real-time. It’s the digital tool that supports the Last Planner System® process and puts it all together in one simple, collaborative ecosystem. Bosch RefinemySite empowers your team, builds trust, creates a culture of responsibility, and enhances communication. Learn more and Try for free at 


Today’s episode is sponsored by Construction Accelerator. This online learning system for teams and individuals offers short, in-depth videos on numerous Lean topics for Builders and Designers to discuss and implement, just like on this podcast. This is tangible knowledge at your fingertips in the field, in the office, or at home. Support your Lean learning at your own pace. Learn more at


Today's episode is sponsored by the Lean Construction Institute (LCI). This non-profit organization operates as a catalyst to transform the industry through Lean project delivery using an operating system centered on a common language, fundamental principles, and basic practices. Learn more at


Today's episode is sponsored by STRUXI. STRUXI is happy to help the EBFC Show fight the good fight for improving construction productivity. Built on 50+ years of construction-tech innovation, STRUXI replaces outdated-paper timesheets and production reports with software that updates you on labor productivity in real time – without disrupting how you already run your job sites. STRUXI does this by providing a simple user interface, so your foreman can accurately allocate time without being stuck behind a computer. This data is also easily connected to Power BI for rich reporting and forecasting. Learn more at


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Felipe Engineer  0:00  
What do you recommend for people who get scared or fear dread when they hear the word lean? Do you believe it's a singular bad experience? Or maybe they had a consultant experience or something else?

John Zachara  0:12  
Yeah. And I would say it's all the above. I think they just the word itself they don't like. And I would say that they didn't have the right consultant or owner. Working with them. That's why they feel like they went what went poorly?

Felipe Engineer  0:29  
I agree. All right.

John Zachara  0:30  
I mean, there has to be we were I was talking about this with James piece the other day, because we're doing our presentation for LCI Congress. And we're saying, owners don't like lean because it means they have to do more work. And they don't want to do the work, right. I don't that's that's my feeling.

Felipe Engineer  0:49  
Or do work period.

John Zachara  0:50  
Do work period. We're working on a project right now. And my partner, my business partners were like, hey, we want to get trade partners involved early on, like, excellent. That's great. They're like, Well, what we got to know what the value is of that. I was like, How come you don't know what the value of getting people involved earliest? Why are you still questioning this? What are you afraid of? You know?

Felipe Engineer  1:11  
It's exponential payback.

Unknown Speaker  1:13  
That's what you get. Yeah. Yeah. 

Felipe Engineer  1:16  
Tell them to watch episode of The EBFC Show with Mike Williams and season one, where he talks about, he's like, I didn't want to have like, he's like, I'm a designer. I don't need to talk to people that are going to build my stuff. Right. And he realized over a course of time how invaluable those meetings were at conversations and friendships. He's still friends with people from that project to this day. 

Welcome to the EBFC. Show, The Easier Better for Construction podcast. I'm your host, Felipe Engineer-Manriquez. This show is all about the business of construction. Today's episode is sponsored by... 

Sponsors  1:53  
Bosch Refinemysite is a cloud based construction collaboration platform that applies Lean principles to enable your entire team to plan, communicate and execute in real time. It's the digital tool that works in tandem with your Last Planner system process and puts it all together in one simple, collaborative ecosystem. This easy to use platform is available in English, German, Spanish, Portuguese, and French and can be used on desktops, tablet and mobile devices. According to Spencer Easton, scheduling manager at Okland Construction, Refinemysite, in my opinion, is the best leanest tool on the market for the Last Planner. Here's what our users have to say. We've looked at three other digital scheduling platforms and none compared to the straightforward approach refund my site takes from milestone planning all the way down to daily tasks. This program gives every general contractor and their trade partners meaningful collaboration, accountability and KPIs. Register today to try refined my site for free for 60 days.

Today's episode is sponsored by Construction Accelerator.

The design and construction industries come up with and build great things. But we also build and waste in how we do those things, in our interactions in our contracts in our logistics. So what does this do for our bottom line, or our next project? The best firms maximize their value by removing that waste, and only doing what's essential to the work what makes them money. Construction Accelerator will train you to see the waste and give your teams to lean tools and experience to remove it immediately. All online. Construction Accelerator is made up of three to nine minute videos that can be watched again and again, in the field, at the office and at home. All broken down by topic. Need to learn pull planning, we have videos on the process, how to set up a room and how to kick off a team need to set up a target value delivery project. We discuss all the aspects of TVD especially cost or maybe you just need to brush up on 5S as well. We have videos on that as well. You can download and print reference materials to use on site to immediately translate watching into doing subscribe today at Let's build an industry, not just a project.

Today's show is also sponsored by the Lean Construction Institute. LCI is working to leave the building industry and transforming its practices and culture. Its vision is to create a healthy and thriving industry that delivers outstanding project outcomes every time for everyone. Check the show notes for more information. Now to the show.

John Zachara  4:42  
Architects know how to design something to be built. Why not look at constructability that's the main reason I want them in the room is I want to construction then we had the GC talking about prefab but saying it'll be faster but it won't. It won't. You won't save any money. Right? We could deliver the project two months early. This is a huge project. It's like $100 million project. They're like, we could deliver it a couple months early. But if we do prefab, it's not gonna save you any money. It will just save time. Like, how can you save time and there's we're spending 100,000 or more a month on GCS, and you're telling me we can't, we're not gonna save money. Like, that's not our ultimate goal, but still, like, what? Time is money?

Felipe Engineer  5:29  
Anyway, time is money. That's where people don't understand. And I gotta get on a soapbox for a second. But there's so many in the business, John, they get swept up into the day to day like what they do. And they forget that everything that we do, we're solving a problem for an owner, like the building we're building solves a problem for them, that helps them with a business need, or a social need, depending on you know, what kind of client you have. And the sooner we can bring that need to fruition where they can start benefiting from it, the better.

John Zachara  5:58  
I mean, the toughest thing, hospitals is the fact that they can't hire people, they're not ready. If we've delivered early in this case, they may not be ready for us. So then it may sit there for months waiting for them to actually occupy we've had that happen multiple times where we've done things so efficiently, we get done early, and they can't bring the they don't have the troops ready to to take over the building and use it for the purposes intended. So we delivered it early. And then they came two months later and use the buildings like why'd we rush so fast? You know.

Felipe Engineer  6:31  
everybody's hedging their bets. This is the lack of trust. I mean, the everyday construction project is late. Oh, I know. Yeah. Across planet Earth. I mean, the projects being late is just so rampant. It's the it's the normal, it's the norm, it's the norm. Nobody expects it to finish on time,

John Zachara  6:48  
Right? Without any kind of certainty. So when they say we, we had a build out, which was February, we had we got schematic diagram on July 1st. 17,000 square foot build out, we had to be done. We finished by December 15. Ready to occupy we had to buy an elevator, two air handlers, and a decorative staircase for this second floor build out. We had no design of anything, no procurement done on July 1, we finished December 15. So that's it. We did with an IPD contract went through the permitting process everything right. So we did that, then they occupied in February. So you're writing because they weren't ready?

Felipe Engineer  7:23  
So don't believe it. It's too good to be true. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And that's just the team's got to get, you got to bring the people closer in the stakeholders. If you're, if they're coming in closer, and they're seeing the progress and they start to see everything come to fruition, it's going to change how they plan, it's going to pull them ahead too.

John Zachara  7:40  
They even said we want to be done and ready to go on January 1. So we said well give it to you on December 15. You can do all your IT shake out and everything else for the next two weeks and be ready on January 1, we kept telling them we're going to be ready and they're like, well, we're not gonna be ready. 

Felipe Engineer  7:54  
That date sounds so funny. It sounds like a financial budgeting calendar cycle daytime. Right, rather we need.

John Zachara  8:03  
It was a merger acquisition when doctors were coming on board on Jan for Jan, one after a merger and acquisition of their organizations.

Felipe Engineer  8:12  
Its financially driven, which is not terrible. But no, this be real people. Let's let's be honest and transparent. Right. 

John Zachara  8:20  
But I like the story of getting done, you know, five months anyway. So I'll I'll take that all day long. I'll do jobs like that all day long and get them done early for him. So they then it's up to them to occupy? We did our job.

Felipe Engineer  8:31  
Yeah. And how was the the punch list on that? 

John Zachara  8:34  
What punch list? So we had one, we've had one issue I'm going with that building, we had an air to air handlers on the first floor that had been a real like headache for us, and it kind of killed our whole, it's killed the whole I tell the story all the time about this building. Initially, it was our first IPD contract was the first one in health care in Chicago and it the hard part was that we've had these two air handlers that have been like lemons on this building, since we built it. We've had issues with static pressure drops that would cause the air handlers to shut off. We've had hot and cold spots all over the building, because these air handlers haven't been working correctly, fit moisture problems in them burned out all the circuit boards at different times. And just you Could you name it, something's happened in that building with the air handlers, we had issues with the boilers. So these are all manufacturer related. But then we've had to go back and try to fix them. So it's been kind of one of those things where it's been, I think, a beacon job for us, but also a one that's dragged us down because we've had to keep going back and the client looks at it as a kind of a black hole, not a not the beacon that we think it is. So there's kind of that running joke about that building, which kind of sucks for us because I hadn't. I thought it was a great project. So.

Felipe Engineer  9:54  
It's tricky just shows you how complex with a web construction is today. There's so many interconnected parts It's no longer the simple construction. It's just very complex.

John Zachara  10:04  
Everything's Yeah, we actually after that building we stopped going to putting in boilers. In that way. We've done electric reads because the boilers we knew were so problematic. They caught this condensation that happens in the flue pipes that was leaking and causing all these issues were actually drained back down somehow into the boiler shut it off. And then we had all kinds of problems like that too sweet. It's completely changed our style of how we design and build buildings is because of this project.

Felipe Engineer  10:33  
Welcome to the show, John Zachara. John, you are the first lien champion for me at my first Congress ever, when I was presenting on digital evaluations of Last Planner system software, and or pull planning, as most people know it, and you were just such a professional, I think it was, was it the first time that LCI was trying poster sessions or a second time?

John Zachara  11:00  
It was the I think it was the first official lean lab poster session.

Felipe Engineer  11:05  
And like for everybody that doesn't know I mean, John's project management skill set is next level, he got a bunch of rowdy construction people to get their stuff together. So that come game day, at Congress, we were all ready with posters printed somewhere else, presentations ready to go. And everybody had very specific time envelopes to hit. And we had hundreds of people coming through that session. I still get asked questions about that even now all these years later. So testament to your skills, John, for to organize and lead, which is different than manage.

John Zachara  11:44  
That was interesting. I mean, that was I forgot that we I had you guys send me all of the printed documents or the documents, and I got a printer to print them for everybody. I kind of forgot about that didn't I?

Felipe Engineer  11:56  
lI would expect nothing less than somebody from Chicago to expedite and make sure that everything is smooth. To have a guy you gotta have a guy. Yeah, the guy likes Oh, you're gonna get this presentation? Who's your guy? Yeah, John, I gotta get Yeah. Johnny on the spot.

John Zachara  12:13  
Right. Exactly, exactly.

Felipe Engineer  12:14  
So John, please introduce yourself to the audience. Let them know who you are everyone listening across planet Earth, you're in for a treat. John is going to inspire you for what is possible today and change your mind about how construction projects are delivered. Take it away, John.

John Zachara  12:32  
Thank you. What an intro. What an intro. So, John Zachara. I work for a company called integrated facility solutions. I'm the vice president of that company. We're an owners rep Program Manager up in the Chicago area, like Felipe said, born and raised in Chicago, felt like this was a place I never wanted to leave. I ended up going to Purdue University getting a construction engineering management degree. It was kind of an interesting story, because I was looking in the construction or architecture world. And I went and talked to a few folks and they said do not become an architect. You don't want to be an architect. No money in architecture, unless your name's on the door, there's, you know, it's a struggle. It can be a struggle, and I've seen that with my architect friends, it's tough. It's a tough job, you know, and I think I was really built to not be an architect. So I'm glad I didn't choose that path. I don't know if I would have been successful doing that. So I looked at I actually had a seat at a table, a drafting table at Kansas, University of Kansas, in their architectural engineering program. So I was able to get in, I got the thing, I was like, Alright, I'm going to Kansas, this is it, you know, and then I hear this, I get this kind of piece of advice, don't go in architecture. But then I switched and I'm like, Alright, construction engineering, then I got it. Let's find out what that is. And there was only a handful of schools at the time that were offering anything like that Iowa State was one. So I looked at Iowa State first. And when I went there, they talked a lot about their program. But they also talked about Purdue's program, as I thought was very interesting that they brought up that Purdue also had this program. There were one of like I said, a handful in the country. And after I left I was stata said I'm going to Purdue I'll check it out. And I when I went down to the campus, I was like this is love the campus. And what drove me to Purdue was the Construction Engineering Management Program had a required internship. So it's three years of you had to have three summers of work out there in the field doing the actual work, or the work of a project manager, let's say and so I was like that's it I'm sold and that that that sold me completely from Iowa State I was they didn't talk about program like that didn't tell you when an internship. I was like I want to work. That's what I wanted to do to see if I really thought it was a beneficial career path for me. And of course me being the Chicago guy like you said I had a guy so I didn't want to go work at like Los Alamos National Laboratories or somewhere else that they were going to put I found my own internships. So I found companies that would sponsor me from Chicago in this program. So for two summers, I worked for a company called Globetrotters Engineering. Basically an owner's rep for the Illinois Tollway system. And we were building roads. Well, after the second summer that I was like, I know I'm not not geared up for road construction, like constructions dangerous enough, and then you then you go into road construction. And it's like a whole other the things I saw on a road construction project, the accidents, the things like that we I mean, it's just incredible how dangerous that is. And I'm like one of those idiots that probably still goes too fast to a construction zone because everyone does it. And but it's it's so inherently dangerous. We had one time where one of our concrete trucks was coming around a corner and pulled in too tight, like too quick, tipped over into the hole with a full barrel of concrete in the in the drum. They had to get two different cranes to lift this truck out of the hole. And if somebody was standing there, they would have been completely obliterated. So definitely, it was not my calling to go into the construction world on road construction. So I got in touch with another friend of mine in Chicago, who led me to a mechanical contractor, Hill, mechanical and Hill was Warren Hill was very kind to introduce me. He said, You know, you really don't want to be a mechanical contractor. I think you really are thinking general contractor just based on what I hear from me, you know.

Felipe Engineer  16:36  
It's also funny how I mean, but general contractors I mean, I'm a recovering general contractor myself, right? We definitely there's a stereotype for us 100%.

John Zachara  16:47  
There's a stereotype, the stereotype he's like, Well, you You seem more like you want to be in that kind of holistic world not in the one sector right. I was not going as a mechanical engineer to school and he'll the whole group is a huge supporter of Purdue. So I felt like there was a really good connection. He got me connected with a general contractor and Chicago gave me a lot of good advice about how to dress like buy a suit. These guys are professionals the whole thing really amazing and we did all this either by phone or by letter. I never met Warren Hill. I have hired his company for the past 25 years. I have some of my best friends work at this company and I never met Warren Hill. He just passed away a few days ago, unfortunately, but what a what a great story of somebody that really likes that was a people person wanting to make connections and help people without even knowing who they are. So I think that's a an important thing that I took to carry on in my life. How can I teach people how can I give a little bit of myself when I when I when they when people need it the most. So got me hooked on this general contractor and really felt like that was kind of the path. There's a good path to walk down. Did a couple of more summer internships with them and I finished up my schooling and I came back to Chicago because I was like I'm not I don't want to leave I love the city and don't want to leave. Went to work for Blaine Andrews for about four and a half years on some like just crazy projects. I mean the first project out of school I was on was a was the was a convent. Believe it or not. I don't people still built conference we moved the convent from a corner site back to a back lot behind another school. But this is a huge project and there's acres of land we had a precast bridge that went over this pond I mean, you're talking pretty extravagant building to be on right out of college. And you know, interesting lessons learned from that whole scenario about the relationship between general contractor and you know, at the time when people call them as subcontractors and how how that relationship works I've really realized that especially the electrical contractor is almost if not more important than the superintendent on a project that electrical foreman or superintendent they are kind of in my point of view as I've seen this in my career almost set as equals because of the amount of inflammation electrical engineer electrical contractor needs to know. And I didn't realize that right? He was asking me for like mill workshop drawings once I'm like why do you need mill workshop drawings? I'm so dumb kid. Like you don't need that you're not that mill worker and he's like how am I supposed to know where to put my outlets above the counter and all this other stuff there's coordination that happens so deep into the job and I wasn't smart enough to listen to it until I you know, you had to learn these are lessons learned that I took with me all the way through so that was a really important one and then kind of moving up from there. I went to work for a flooring, trade contractor. So completely different shift in my life, not necessarily planned but really interesting because it, then it, you know, you talk about leadership. And where that brought me that that was a very small company, there were only five of us in the office, there were 12 guys out in the field. But we had some huge accounts with like the biggest department stores in Chicago. At the time Marshall Fields, we did all the flooring work for Marshall Fields. Nordstroms Neiman Marcus, you know, had some great client accounts. And it's actually where I work. Now I started my career at Blaine Andrews and I did one of my first jobs on my own was, I want to ifs was the owner's rep. So that's how I met them initially was like 25 years ago, or 20 years ago. And then when I got to this flooring contractor, same thing, they were looking for a independent flooring contractor that could come and just do projects in the hospitals. And so they hired me. So I now had a nice long four your connection with people, they're doing projects, with a good general contractor background to help them. But the leadership I learned was really about how to manage manpower in the field. So this takes a lot of special care to schedule, the people that go to work every day, when you think about the this was a 12 person field company. I can't imagine what McCarthy goes through every single day trying to place hundreds and 1000s of people on these project sites, what if something gets delayed, right? If something gets off a little bit, if people got to sit at home, where do they go? What do they do, and I never wanted to have people sit at home. One of the most stressful things I've ever had to go through in my entire career was scheduling the manpower at this company, because I'm affecting people's livelihoods if I can't keep the work going. So how do you push to keep the work going? How do you bid enough jobs? How do you it just is very stressful to run a small business like that.

So then from there, I moved into another general contractor position for about three years before I got to IFS and so I got to IFS right after the economic downturn. So 2010 is when I when I got here, and they weren't really looking for anybody, but they knew me. So they said, Well, you know, you're a known commodity, we know who you are. And we have some big projects coming up. So might be good to have your experience here. And I think one thing that was has been really important with my career, and IFS was this idea of mentorship. So our founder used to when he was still working with meet with each one of us, every every employee every quarter, every quarter for breakfast. So individually that that takes that's a lot of effort. Yes, we're not rolling, you know, 20 people in a company, but still, that's 20, breakfasts, that's, you're having these conversations, and one of the things I put on my goals sheet was to become a leader in a company, you know, I was I was asking for it, I wasn't going to wait for somebody to hand it to me or to do anything. I was asking for that leadership position. It's kind of been, it's permeated through my life that I was gonna, I wanted to be a leader. And so I asked for it. And it was granted just and it doesn't, it doesn't just get given to you, you have to earn it. That's right, you have to earn it. But I think having good kind of these different career blocks, I thought I was like, There's no way I'm going to work for four companies in my entire career. There's no way that's crazy. I didn't think I'd move that much I'm a loyal guy, I felt like I there's no way and then as I went along, I was like each one of these moves, helped so much in the development to get me to this stage where I'm at today, I wouldn't be the type of owners rep kind of lean philosopher, whatever you want to call it without having all of these diverse, this diverse experience in the past. So it's really kind of helped play in and build me up as a owners rep project manager, Vice President getting into business development, this Lean coaching stuff that we're doing all of those things as a presenter, as a lean champion, I mean, that all I needed all of that other stuff in order to be able to do this now. So it's really an interesting career path when you go back and look at it and you're like, Oh, I learned something there. You know, I learned something about I had a superintendent once tell me that you treat the subs, like blank because they are blank. They're crap. subs are crap so you treat them like crap. And I was like, what? Like, why would anyone say that? Now granted, this is 20 years ago but still like that's not there's a more than what it was like almost 25 years ago but that's not that's like one of the first things I heard out of college that is completely wrong and every single you know way you can think about it. And this guy was that cut out to be a superintendent obviously. No. So just kind of an interesting reflecting back on it is it's very telling how all these different experiences play into your kind of where you stand today. And what what were you be able to produce what's your legacy going to be? And that's what I'm still working on that.

Felipe Engineer  25:04  
Hey, you still find you're on your adventure just got started. And I think for John, you and I are about the same age when we grew up, and I grew up in Chicago, too, on the south side, but I'm a Cubs fan through awesome marriage.

John Zachara  25:18  
North sider, I live about a mile from a mile away from Wrigley Field as a kid. So.

Felipe Engineer  25:24  
I know you don't have that. That Southside accent, there's a different there are different accents in Chicago there are and you could tell the John's a good North sider. But I was, as we were growing up, John, you and I both we had our parents and the people were entering the workforce with their their normal every day was to work for like one company their whole life. Right? That was super normal. And I remember being in construction early in my career. And there were some people that had changed jobs every couple years or so. And I remember people in the company looked down on them because they weren't loyal, and they were changing companies. And it, it, it wasn't like they're changing companies for bad reasons. Or it could be different opportunities. You know, like, sometimes you outgrow what the company has, or sometimes you realize, after a couple years that you don't fit with the culture of where you're working, right. But the predominant thinking at the time when we were coming in, like 20 plus years ago was that you get one place you stay at one place forever. And that's it.

John Zachara  26:25  
Yeah. Also, you're viewed as, like jumping companies to chase the money or whatever. But you're right there, there comes a point where either the company decides you're not a good fit right now. And that's right or wrong, it's a business decision that they have to make. And I was that happened to me twice, I got laid off twice in my in this stretch of my career, I didn't think I'd get laid off. One was really based on both of them were really based on what was going on in the marketplace at the time and the shrinking of certain companies and the need for that. But it taught me a lot about that. It taught me a lot about myself what I needed to do better. It showed me who I could be loyal to and trust and who I needed to be more guarded with too. So it does, it teaches you a lot of things. But there's no reason why.

Felipe Engineer  27:15  
Hey, real quick.

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John Zachara  28:07  
That's why I say that young kids take the internship opportunity to work for a number of different companies. If you work for the same company for three or four straight summers. Do you really know that may be great, maybe a great experience, maybe your lifelong company? But how do you what if you found something else in this path that was more interesting or fit you better and you didn't know it? So I encourage young students to go out and work for a few different organizations and not just three different general contractors go work for a trade contractor and see if you really like it. Because specializing in something is really interesting. You know, I was doing the flooring work, it was really interesting to key in on one specific thing all the time, and how can you perform that the best way possible? And so I was really that was really an interesting kind of path or portion of my career that I didn't think I'd ever have. So.

Felipe Engineer  29:02  
No, it is and then you're right. I mean, the experiences we have when we're early in, like you had that superintendent experience, where you're hearing this guy telling you like he's telling you this advice like it's you just need to follow it. Don't even question it. I had a different experience with a superintendent early in my career is probably five years into construction. And I'll never forget the superintendent was Jeff Hope. And he said, I was like, Oh my God, you know, Jeff, what a small world. Yes, Jeff was a major influence on me. And he told me, he said, he's like these people that work here. They trust us to help them. And so we have to reciprocate that trust and make an environment so they can be completely successful. He's like everything we do as a general contractor is to support their success. Because if they're not successful, we're not successful. And I learned that I mean, I was like, I consider myself blessed have gotten that, you know, five, five ish years in the business. I carry that with me forever. And that's always paid dividends. 

John Zachara  30:05  
Look at the advice you got, and look at the advice I got, right, completely different. The advice you got, I had to unlearn that, to learn the right way to think about this. If and I look at it now as an owner's rep, and I say, if the comments, I say the same thing from the owners perspective now saying, I want my contractors, architects, trade partners, vendors, I want everyone to be successful, make a profit, because I know I'll get a good project outcome. You don't hear a lot of owners rep say that you're like, I'm gonna beat this guy up. And I've never heard that. I got that one, you know, where I'm saying, if I beat him up somewhere along the line, I'm going to get something that I don't want in that building, I'm going to get a cut corner cut, I'm gonna get something taken off in order to make up the profit that I just cut out of it. So if I treated fairly and with respect, then I think I'm going to get I know I'm going to get better outcome, right? I mean, that's so like I had this might one of my first projects that IFS was 125,000 square foot building on this hospital campus. So this was we're basement, four stories up buildings expandable to another three storeys, so this is a really big project, right? A lot of build out. Heavy mechanicals down in the basement and radiology equipment, everything else you can think of right and we had 18 months to do this. The building was placed in their main parking lot. So we did displace all the parking, we had to phase this thing, we built a tunnel across the road that connected us to the Mechanical Plant central plant, my first day walking into this project with my team that we were able to negotiate and choose. So we picked our team as a handpick team. So the sounds very lean. But it's this was 2010 or 11. Right? So we're not, we weren't in a Lean journey yet, we were just in a let's work together because it makes sense type of That's what I said. So I sit down with the team project manager from the GCS side, the architect engineers, and I said, here's the deal, we have, this is a massive project for us on this campus. I want to have fun when I come to work every day, right? I want to enjoy this. And I want all of you to enjoy this too. If we come to this meeting, and we're fighting with each other, that's good. That's a waste of time, we should not do that. So let's have let's, let's enjoy this, right? Let's make sure that we understand what we're what we're trying to deal with here, which is, don't bring me change orders that You know, are garbage. Just don't even present it. Right. I trust you, general contractor to not bring me garbage, if you haven't looked at it, but don't pass it on to me yet. And so there there was that teaching element there that I was trying to coach a culture to say, we're going to enjoy coming to work every day and working with each other on a massive project that's highly complex, that's going to upset a lot of people because they're gonna have to park in different spots, there's gonna be traffic, things we're have to deal with all the time. There's I mean, you know, mechanical shutdowns to tie in piping this whole road going across the, this road cut through the hospital campus, and we put a tunnel directly across from that. So we did divert all the ambulances, the emergency department while we did this, I mean, you're talking massive amounts of work. But the key element was we're going to enjoy this right and so I remember the GC brought me a change order once and he knew it was not like, John only. Like, I shouldn't even show this to you because I already know the answer. But let's talk about it. We went through it was like, we both agreed that it wasn't appropriate, because we had a 3D model of the building and the guys didn't do something correctly and when they got out to build in the field it was it didn't match the model. I was like what that's not me that's that's fine, you guys, but the whole the whole way through we had allowances that we were able to negotiate the only change orders I wrote in that job were were deductive change orders, right or internally moving money from one line to another change order kind of thing. So it was it really brought in the concepts of cost certainty, schedule certainty, collaboration without calling it a lean contract that that's exactly what we did, though. We kind of contract was it it was a GMP. So you know, you take a IPD contract and you just scale it one step down to a GMP and GC had the GMP so that all the mechanical trades. So we had a lot of the elements of what would be ultimately become our IFOA. The integrated form agreement, contracts that we ended up using later. We had it all there except all the savings went back to the owner. That was really the major difference and there so there wasn't this incentive pool of profit pool but we finished in 18 months, right on schedule we moved in and four consecutive weekends we move people from all over all of these buildings, consolidate them on this campus, it was a it was a crazy amount of this move matrix was incredible. And at the end of the day, like, we walked, we walked away from that job being being very satisfied. And I remember the the CEO of the hospital organization at the time came up to me said, you know, you, you built a world class building, right. And so he's recognizing that was really cool for him to recognize that say that to me, because it didn't, it we delivered exactly what you were talking about, which was, this project will help them become a better healthcare organization, we could take care of people here in enhances their vision of what they want to do with this hospital campus. And so it saved them money in the long run, by consolidating all these people in this building. There's a lot of different factors there that really help their business model. And it's because of how we built the project and the team and the culture that we built. That was that's what got it done. So successfully. So really cool project that kind of taught me a lot about where we should be going in our construction world away from conflict and towards collaboration, I like that, you know, I don't, that's, that's really what I was all about is like, make my make my life easy, a little bit easier by not fighting with each other. That would be a good thing. You know.

Felipe Engineer  36:24  
What I love most about that story, John, is that you had a simple idea, this project is going to be fun, not it could be fun, it's going. And you I mean, as a leader, and with a lot of influence on the job, you set the tone for how the project was going to go, because it could have gone 1000 different ways. I mean, everyone in the hospital would not be upset if it took a little bit longer, because that's what everybody's used to. And so that that's a testament like ladies and gentlemen, once again, John said he finished on time, they collaborated a high level, they could talk to each other with honesty, trust was given and earned. And it finished saved money, it didn't cost extra to deliver what was planned. I mean, that is why making things easier is so critical. A good attitude, positive leadership makes a big difference. And even even if you're on a job now, that's not going as good as it can be you listening, watching, have some influence on how things are going. And you can absolutely take a page out of John's book and start to have fun at work.

John Zachara  37:33  
I remember having these jobs previous in my career where I almost didn't want to get out of bed in the morning to go to the job site. Because it was going to be toxic, it was going to be bad. And once that starts to infect the job site. So hard to stop it. Because everyone's there seeing Oh, if the superintendent doesn't care, why should I? Right? Right? So the superintendent is like, yeah, forget it, don't worry about it. Don't telling people not to they don't have to clean up after themselves and keeping a good, you know, building how you're keeping your house clean, whatever, the super tenant doesn't care about it, it's going to permeate all the way down through the entire. And it really could start with the owner site. So when I walk through, and I'm asking questions, and I'm looking at it, I have to set an expectation of what I want the place to look like. And so it's we but then we have to follow through. So my not afraid to pick up some garbage that I see on the floor thrown in a dumpster, I could do the same thing like anyone else can. So lead by example. Right? Instead of sitting up on your high horse, I had a one of my our young project managers, we were talking about that recently. She's like, I kept calling the superintendent asking for a schedule. But every day I call it where's my schedule? Where's my schedule, right? And I said, Why don't you go the opposite way? And call him and say what can I do to help? Get the schedule done? Do you need something for me? Do you need information from me lead times whatever for the equipment that we're buying? What can I do to help you get this done instead of just barking at him to get it done? Get in the trenches with him. So he knows you're in this right? I can be the hammer as an executive level. But you got to get in the trenches with this guy and talk to him about what's really going on the project in the form a bond. You'll call them every day and say, Hey, how did we do today? What happened today? Where are we? Where are we at so I can give the client an update. So really develop a bond that you're at your equals not your project manager yelling at the superintendent, I said, Let the project manager for the general contractor do that hammering right. You need to be like right here symbiotic with this with this guy. And it'll go a long way for them to for him to say wow, this person really cares about what I'm doing. Instead of just yelling, phone or through email. Right? A lot of tech places now young the young folks are saying why send an email. Well, that's not good enough. You can't just send an email and hope that it's gonna. I mean, depending on who you are in this business, you're getting hundreds or more emails a day. I mean, you don't have enough time to sift through it to understand which ones are the priorities and which ones aren't. So pick up the phone call, text them something else, to try to catch his attention. And, and like I said, get in the trenches, and really make it feel like you are a part of this thing. As an as an owner, as project manager, I feel like you have to do that in order to be successful. And I see a lot of people that don't do that. And that's why they're, they have these heart these rough moments on their projects, because they're like, oh, yeah, we'll just let we just give them the keys and let them go. Right? That's never been our philosophy, we want to be in depth, because we think that it's going to help the process.

Felipe Engineer  40:47  
Absolutely an engaged owner makes a huge difference in John, I want to go back to something you said you're I mean, you're dancing around this deep seated respect for people. And I've known you. So I know that it's there. And we've talked together multiple times. But I'd love to hear some elaboration on what you're doing with Lean coaching, and how you're bringing that into IFS and the broader community there in Chicago and beyond.

John Zachara  41:14  
I feel like the you know, what we did originally in our Lean journey was, look inward, first, do some study, really learn about this ourselves. And we started in like, 2013-2014, when we met, that was at the Chicago Congress in 2016. And arch our president of our company at the time, the founder was the chairman for that event. So he kind of roped us into being champions and helping out and all this other stuff. Funny, you said that about me being a champion for the Lean lab thing that we had, I was a champion for the Lean labs the entire time, the entire history, because of that experience in Chicago, like, oh, yeah, John can do it. Let's give him the Lean lab concept and wrangle 100 people and have him rotate around this room and coordinated all but the Lean coach, I think, the lean coaching thing in the land. So about three years ago, or so a general contractor reached out to me, it was actually through a previous company that I worked for, they were part of a small group that a peer group, and they recommend, they were looking for Lean coach, and he recommended me so it was really nice that my past came back in a good way, not in a haunting way good in a good way where they recommend you to this contractor from Wisconsin, and I've been working with them ever since. So this is a three year journey of me going into their company and teaching them the lean the Lean philosophy. And I think one of the things that really is is a benefit to coach from the owners perspective is, again, it feeds into our entire philosophy of if we can help the owner, we want owners to have good outcomes in our projects, that's our whole goal is an owners rep. But if I can help build up that architecture and engineering and contractor team to be better than the owner is going to get a great outcome. So it really feeds into our core philosophy of helping owners deliver projects, kind of with certainty, certain outcomes. And so if I'm coaching teams, most of the teams, I coach, our contractor oriented teams, and then I'm helping them deliver better projects for their owners. So I feel like I'm achieving a number of goals at the same time. So that started with a company up in Wisconsin, it's now growing and in you really you kind of work yourself out of a job. And you depending on how well you do, it may happen quicker than others. So I worked with a big general contractor in Chicago, teaching them last planner, and I really taught one of their young, really skilled superintendents, and he's kind of taken it as a champion and lead it within their company. So I really haven't been back there in a while to do any more lean teaching, because he took it ran with it. And hopefully is has been successful with this last planner, teaching Last Planner to the rest of their company. So that's been that was really cool element. And then recently, though, I've been asked by, and I've been lucky enough and fortunate enough to work with some older organizations that have hired me directly as a lean coach. One One was a insurance company up in Wisconsin, who was saying he was kind of contemplating actually using the integrated form of agreement contract. I was like, Oh, this is perfect. No, but he had we had to go in there and like try to convince them, but this was the right contract to use. So our experience really benefit from that. So I you're talking about a very risk adverse organization, insurance company, how can we push risk out to everyone else? Right. And they said, We think we feel that the AIA Contract this is their legal team and we worked together for a while that we they really felt like the AIA contracts put risk where it belonged. And I was like no, no, you, AIA contracts all of our traditional contracts, put all of the risk on the owner, yes, 100% on the owner, there is no way that everyone says Why push risk than the general contractor? Well, you don't need it, you know that, if you're gonna put it, if you want to think that you're going to put all the risk on the general contractor, the number just went, the price just went up. And so I started to really look, tell talk to them about the idea that the owner, the risk is always on the owners shoulders, at the end of the day, forget about all this other stuff, the risk is on the owner to do the project to bring the project in. But I said, when you really start to get into this integrated form of agreement, contract, now we have avenues where we can actually display some risk around the table, because now we have an incentive pool. So everyone's going to pull and run the same direction as a team. Because that we've incentivize them to do that, not with a ton of extra money or anything like that. But we've incentivize them to say your profit is sacred, we're gonna we want to leave it in this bucket, we don't want to touch it. But that's a powerful statement to make to a general contractor into the trade contractors working on our job, the designers, everybody, you can profit is sacred, and we don't want to touch it. We're gonna leave it over there. When I'm going to talk about it, right? We're just gonna put it over there. It's on the spreadsheet, whatever it is, let's now talk about how do we make good decisions, right, now we've lowered risk. And we've we're starting to eliminate risk out of our jobs, because we have more good minds in the room talking together. Instead of working in our silos where we design it, we bid it and then we build the job, right? And so what we did was they actually went through a validation process. And in about a call six week period of time, we discovered that there was really going to be a budget crunch on this project, if you had gone and we did that for we did that for a low dollar amount. Wouldn't you consider the scale of this project? A little bit of design work, a little bit of contractor work to put some budget numbers together to validate where we stand? And when in validation? Can I do the project? Can I say with certainty that I can build a certain project for a certain amount of money in a certain amount of time, we came out and said to Bob, this project costs way more than our original thought was, right, they had gotten some budget number from a developer way off on a cost per square foot basis, because there was no thought put into it, we didn't notice this square foot cost. But we spent a small amount of time a small amount of money to find out what we would have found out in a traditional method of design bid build would have taken us like 18 months to figure out that this thing was a problem. And then what were we going to do or 12 months, it would have been a huge issue for us to go through this entire design, give the owner everything they wanted in this design, and then figure out that we there was no way we could pay for it. So that was it. That was a huge thing it helped carry and one of the project managers left that organization and went to another one. And now I'm working up on Wisconsin again, as a lean coach for an organization doing the same thing. And I think it's it's fantastic is what I the first thing I do when I approached lean coaching to make it not seem so scary, right? The word Lean is scary.

To hear that word. They're like, Oh, no, we got to run like this is nuts. Right? We tried that didn't work. First thing I do is I talk to him about waste, elimination of waste. And I write down the eight wastes on a whiteboard or something. And I say, What are you doing today? To eliminate these wastes? Let's talk about what you guys are already doing. As a company, you've been around for 100 years, you have to be doing something right. Let's get it out there. And let's talk about the end be proud of what we're doing. So what I show them is there they are functioning, enabled as a lean organization without even realizing that helps really lower the fear factor to a point where they're like, Okay, this is good, we get, we're already starting it like we're 60% of the way there 40% of the way there, we're not starting at zero, right? And so then it becomes Alright, now we could do this, we can, let's keep the ball rolling, let's tweak what we already have and make it better. I think that's such a great way to coach teams rather than throw everything away that you've been doing for 100 years and let's start over that you can't do that. People that's overwhelming and that that drives people away from the from wanting to function or believe that they are a lean organization. So that's that's really how I approached the coaching method to help be less, like just not as aggressive with change everything. You're doing it all wrong, and I don't approach it that way. I think that's gonna turn everybody off to the, to the entire philosophy.

Felipe Engineer  49:51  
Absolutely. You're and you're working on something where you can immediately celebrate some wins or some positive things and then if people continue eliminating things that are not valuable, you're building in more capacity. So they have a better appetite. And they've got room, they've actually got room to eat, and do some better stuff. So I love that approach John.

John Zachara  50:12  
People always worry about like, well, what if I finished this job too early? Before buying so efficiently? What am I going to do with my guy says, I sent him to the next job. It's perfect. Owners like fan, if the owners can see that you're finishing work on time, like you said, or even early. There's a lot of benefits to that. So let's go and do the next one. Right? I mean, that's what they're gonna find repeat businesses. Great. Everyone loves repeat business. So how do we do that? We do that because we finished projects with certain outcomes without conflict. Clients like to see that and they want to do more work with you if you actually function that way.

Felipe Engineer  50:47  
Absolutely. John, it has been my pleasure having you on the show.

John Zachara  50:52  
Yeah, I really appreciate Felipe. The the time we got to spend today, our friendship over the last five years has been tremendous. So you are a Yeah, I was your champion. But you're you're a definitely a beacon and a leader in this industry. And it's, it's great that I can call you a friend because I like that part of this lean culture that we built. I have friends around the country now because of going to the going to Congress, doing speak this speaking things. And it's been really great to develop this pool of resources, because we're all willing to share. And that's what's so great about it. We're Yeah, we may be in some cases, we may be competitors. But so what that if we all make each other better in this business, right, then, then we're going to be successful, and there should be no harm and me sharing something I've experienced with with anybody, any orders rep. Come, let's talk about it and let's work out how we can be better. That's my ultimate goal.

Felipe Engineer  51:56  
Thank you so much John. Thank you. You've been a pleasure. You did not disappoint the and I am honored to be your friend. 

Very special thanks to my guest. I'm Felipe Engineer-Manriquez. The EBFC show is created by Felipe and produced by passion to build easier and better. Thanks for listening. Stay safe everybody. Let's go build.

John ZacharaProfile Photo

John Zachara

Vice President

Owner’s Representative
Owner’s Advocate
Lean Coach
Lean Presenter - presented at over 50 local(Chicago) and national conferences since 2016
Life Long Learner

Lean Construction Institute - Chicago Community of Practice Leader

American Heart Association - Heart Ball Board Member since 2019

YouthBuild Lake County Board Member since 2021

YouthBuild Lake County Apprenticeship Task Force 2021

Clubhouse - PropTech Club (every Thur. 7-9am CST)

As Vice President at IFS, I am responsible for the program and capital budget management of a multiple site acute care healthcare organization. With more than 20 years of project management experience, my breadth of knowledge includes budget phase through job completion in a variety of projects commercial, retail, hospital, clinical, research, educational and religious facilities. I am an active member of the Lean Construction Institute (LCI) Chicago Community of Practice (CoP) and I was a member of the 1st Integrated Form of Agreement (IFOA) project in Healthcare in Chicago setting the standard for how future MOBs should be built.