College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

‘Parade of Trades’ a popular method to teach construction management

Shift plastic chips, and roll a single die. Do your part to maintain flow of a project.

These are methods Iowa State University construction engineering students use in Parade of Trades, a game that demonstrates “how the consistent flow of work, or inconsistent flow work, impacts the progress of a construction project,” said Larry Cormicle, senior lecturer and Glenn H. DeStigter Scholar in Construction Engineering.

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Larry Cormicle, senior lecturer and Glenn H. DeStigter Scholar in Construction Engineering

Plastic chips symbolize a project’s work. Each team member represents a contractor responsible for a portion of a project. When someone rolls a die, the outcome commands how many chips the team member must pass to the next person. This symbolizes work completed by one contractor who passes a portion of the project to the contractor responsible for the next component.

A standard die symbolizes six progressive output levels, which create higher chances of inconsistent output. Like some games of chance, some teams roll a rigged die. A die of just threes and fours, which warrants 50 percent chance of two similar levels of output, allows relatively consistent output. Differing scenarios simulate challenges construction managers face with reliable and unreliable project partners.

The goal of Parade of Trades is to show that even a slow contractor can slow down the faster contractors of a project, which reinforces teamwork to complete a project on time. “It is a very current, leading-edge way of planning and matches what practitioners use on real-live projects,” Cormicle said.

Lean Construction Institute, a non-profit organization that promotes lean construction project delivery, developed Parade of Trades in 1998. It illustrates what impact work-flow variability has on the performance of construction trades and their successors, according to a report from the 1998 International Group for Lean Construction Conference Proceedings.

Cormicle teaches the game in his CON E 441: Construction Planning, Scheduling and Control class. As one may expect with games of chance, students display a range of reactions to their opponents’ moves. “There’s laughter. There’s frustration. There’s kidding,” he said. After the class activity, students reflect on the experiences and apply what they learned to project management concepts.