Plan first, then automate

Major pharmaceutical manufacturer Roche needed a solution to manage costs, quality and deadlines in large construction projects.


F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG (Roche), headquartered in Basel, is not only a major pharmaceutical manufacturer, but also an important building owner and investor. The company constructs laboratories, offices and production facilities on almost every continent.

In order to manage large projects in such a way that costs, deadlines and quality requirements are met, those responsible have been working with Thinkproject | CDE CONSTRUCTION (formerly CONCLUDE CDE) in Wuppertal since 2006.

Roche employees benefit from excellent working conditions in laboratories and offices as well as at the very diverse production sites all over the world. That is why the company is also a building owner and investor. Employees all over the world are involved in planning and managing construction projects. The teams represent Roche’s interests as a building-owner and investor in dealings with external architects, planners and contractors.

The Project Management Services in Basel, headed by Stephan Kilchmann Simonius, provides processes, resources and tools for the project teams. It also defines standard procedures and control points for verifying whether the specified milestones have been reached.

The software required for this purpose was evaluated and rolled out worldwide in collaboration with Hansruedi Jenni (global head of COE Project Management).

Building 1
  • 41 floors
    3 basements
    170 metres high
    2,400 employees
    72,000 sq. floorspace
    €500 Million construction costs
Building 2
  • 50 floors
    3 basements
    205 metres high
    3,100 employees
    85,460 sq. floorspace
    €500 million construction costs

Today, Marcel Hammler works in the Project Office. His project is the new landmark of Basel, the Bau 2 office tower, now the tallest building in Switzerland.

In addition to around 2,400 office workplaces, zones are also planned to promote communication and collaboration. Modern meeting and video conference rooms as-well-as two cafeterias are also planned on various special-use floors. Bau 2 is a major construction project in Basel, with the construction costs expected to total CHF 540 million (approximately EUR 500 million).

Marcel Hammler uses the tools provided by Project Management Services. He knows that “every construction project is also a change management project, because things are constantly changing. We have to be able to control these changes so that the price, deadlines and quality are ultimately correct.”

  • “La Roche AG achieves its cost, schedule, and quality targets in large construction projects with the help of Thinkproject.”
    F. Hoffmann-La Roche AG, Basel
  • “The platform can also be used without any problems via an additional server in Hong Kong for projects in Shanghai.”
    Hansruedi Jenni
    COE of Project Management
  • “We are responsible for ensuring that our buildings are constructed meeting the full quality requirements, within the targeted time and at the planned cost.”
    Stephan Kilchmann Simonius
    Head of Project Management Services in Basel
  • “If I send a question or a suggestion to Thinkproject in the evening, we know that we’ll at least have an answer by the morning – and often a solution on the table already!”
    Marcel Hammler
    Project Controls Manager at F.Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd
  • “Every construction project is also a change management project, because things are constantly changing. We have to be able to control these changes so that the price, deadlines and quality are ultimately correct.”
    Marcel Hammler
    Project Controls Manager at F.Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd
Construction projects are change management projects


Hansruedi Jenni, Stephan Kilchmann Simonius and Marcel Hammler have been working for years to identify software that simplifies change management in construction projects.

This systematic work began shortly after the turn of the millennium, with their own database solution based on MS Access. The database was used as an isolated solution in large projects for all cost control processes. But it was not possible to use it to consolidate individual projects. “It was not enough in the long term. We had to search the market for a system that met our requirements,” recalls Stephan Kilchmann Simonius. But they were hugely disappointed: not a single system was able to map the processes that make our projects so successful on one platform.

Joint development project


However, one of the providers was willing to take a closer look at Roche’s ideas and set up and expand its own software to meet the requirements: Thinkproject.

The collaboration began in 2006 with a framework agreement and a solution for document management. Marcel Hammler recalls; Based on this, the modules for cost control and change management were also adapted and expanded according to Roche’s needs. “At the time, Thinkproject contributed comprehensive software expertise, and we were coming from the other side and brought-in our process expertise from major projects.”

Globally accepted


An important milestone was the user acceptance test in 2014. The solution that Thinkproject had developed for cost control and multi-project reporting had to prove itself to globally active project control engineers from the headquarters in Basel and from locations in Germany, China and the USA, who had gathered in a remote location.

The solution was presented and tested during this “retreat.” Minor adjustments were still necessary afterwards, but overall it was clear to Roche that the Thinkproject solution would continue to be the cost management tool of choice in the future.

SaaS for more flexibility


Since then, the range of functions and performance have grown steadily – not only for Roche, but for all companies that use the modular software. Thinkproject CDE CONSTRUCTION is available as SaaS (Software as a Service), which means that it operates the modules in its own data centres in Germany while also maintaining the highest security standards. “We access software and data via a cloud solution,” says Stephan Kilchmann Simonius.

This has several advantages. On the one hand, the software is available around the clock and anywhere there is an Internet connection. On the other, all processes and data relating to the construction projects are stored independently of Roche IT. Since Roche operates in a strictly regulated market, expansions and changes would require extensive internal IT projects. Thanks to the cloud solution, these can now be implemented quickly and “leanly”. Time-consuming security training, which all users of the Roche IT platform have to undergo on a regular basis, is thus no longer required for external project partners.

Another advantage is that there is no need to worry about updates, as users always have the latest software version. Marcel Hammler adds an example from the current Bau 2 project. The architect’s proposal to add a metal curtain to a cafeteria came relatively late. This was entered as a change request via Thinkproject, and then the software’s automatic systems kicked in – the general planner was informed and had to report back on the consequences of the metal curtain for structural analysis and costs. The client’s representatives used this information to decide whether the change in plans should be carried out. The architect and structural engineer adjusted the affected plans or digital model; the material was ordered; installation times were provided, etc.

Thinkproject ensures that:

  • All requests are sent
  • Responses are received on time
  • Follow-ups if necessary
  • Provides information about changes
  • All processes are documented

Plan first, then implement

Even software, which makes no mistakes, forgets nothing and creates maximum transparency, can’t do all this on its own. “You don’t just get out a software like Thinkproject, install it and be happy. You have to carefully analyse your own processes and set up the software accordingly. You have to put a lot of brainpower into it once, but then it always works out,” says Stephan Kilchmann Simonius.

Roche, supported by the consultants at Thinkproject, put a lot of brainpower into defining standard processes and saved them in the software. A kind of task-force with employees from Roche and Thinkproject initially discussed and documented the requirements step-by-step in joint “sprint meetings” and presented and tested each further development step. “A textbook example of scrum,” adds Stephan Kilchmann Simonius.

For each new project, all that then needs to be done is to specify the project participants so that the software can take over their management tasks.

From project planning to hourly reports on the construction site


Today, Thinkproject ensures maximum transparency in construction projects at Roche. Planning and document management, cost control, reporting and multi-project reporting, monitoring of pending items and processing of warranty defects are all used. Recently, management reports have also been processed. “There are no more timesheets, which is wonderful,” says Marcel Hammler happily. The workers or the foreman record the hours spent in the construction office directly on the computer. This means that all the values are available for calculations. For site managers and foremen, the tablet PC is now part of the normal “toolbox”. Damage or defects are photographed and immediately saved with a corresponding message.

Leaner project management, shorter lead times

Looking back, Stephan Kilchmann Simonius and Marcel Hammler conclude that Roche has learned from the (expensive) mistakes of the past. Comparing the Bau 1 and Bau 2 skyscraper projects shows clear progress. There are five years between the two projects, during which the further development of control functions and SAP interfaces have made great strides. The introduction of workflows now makes it possible to work almost paperlessly.

Competent support

It is clear that learning is a continuous process. The process of continuous improvement is visible in every project. Regular workshops are used to record the experiences, and the processed findings are made available to the construction specialists throughout the company. This also optimises the use of Thinkproject and saves a lot of time and money.

The close cooperation with Thinkproject’s support and development teams continues. In Thinkproject, we have found a reliable partner who responds to our needs promptly, be it in first level support or when it comes to implementing new functions. Because the cooperation works so well on a personal level, new innovative ideas can be developed together.

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