If you are the client on a building project, whether it's a capital improvement project or a real estate development specification project, you probably have at least one ulcer by now. Many people think it's the architect who manages the process of getting a building designed and built, but in fact the most important member of the team – the person who determinates whether a project succeeds or fails – is the owner. If things are not going well on your project, here are the five most likely reasons:
1. Low bidding – Bidding uses competition to keep prices reasonable. But when you select based purely on the lowest bid, you force contractors to undercut each other to capture work. This leads to excessive change orders to make up for their thin profit margins.
Of course, the contractor is entitled to increased funds if something really is not irrefutable from the documents or something at the site really differs from documented conditions. But when you push people against the wall, they often start abusing the Change Order process.
There are better ways to procure a building than through low bidding. Some examples include Negotiated Design-Build, CM-at-risk, and Integrated Project Delivery. If you must do the traditional Design-Bid-Build delivery method, you can make low price just one of several factors when choosing your contractor.
2. Pitting your architects and contractors against each other – The owner has huge influence over team dynamics. If the owner sets up an expectation that the design team and the construction team work together in a professional manner for the project's benefit, that's what you will get. If, on the other hand, the owner expects architects to guard suspiciously against the contractor's dirty tricks, the process will devolve into pettiness that extremely costs the owner money.
For example, when the architect receives a submittal from the contractor that is not totally complete, it is within their purview to reject it without review. Each time a submittal is returned, the mailing fees get passed to the owner. And if the architect has to review the submittal more times than allowed for in the contract, he can legitimately ask for additional services. If the architect and contractor have a great relationship, however, the architect is much more likely to make a phone call and give the contractor an extra day or two to send in the missing parts, so saving everyone money.
3. You change your mind or make decisions too slowly – As time progresses, changes become more difficult, more time-consuming, and more expensive to make. The schematic design phase and the design development Phases are where “design” should be happening. The construction documents, permitting, bidding, and construction phases are not appropriate times for the owner to be making design changes. Late changes cause huge ripple effects because all elements are inter-related.
Equipment is a great example. If you do not tell the architects that you plan to use tall coffee makers that require plumbing until you have entered construction, you will be facing both an additional Service from the design team to add plumbing and re-design the cabinets as well as a Change Order Request from the contractor. It would have been free if you'd decided on that coffee maker back during the schematic design phase.
4. You rush your design team into getting a permit too quickly – It's a lot cheaper to “build” things in an electronic model than it is to build it physically. Many owners think they can shorten the construction period by rushing to permit, but it ends up making things worse because the documents are not finished. Thing are incomplete or conflicting These are also known as “errors and omissions,” and they turn into change orders.
If you want to do this, do it right. Do a phased plan review that breaks the project into succinct packages like foundation, structure, and interior. Allow each of those packages to be fully designed before sending it to permit.
5. You do not trust your team – You hired your team for their professional expertise. They have degrees, years of training, and state-issued licenses. You have to walk a fine line between being fully engaged and inserting yourself where you are not qualified. Let the architects interpret the documents, and let the contractor decide on their means and methods. Unless you truly believe the team is unqualified or dishonest, it should be a rare instance where you ask people to justify their daily actions. You quickly become the bottleneck if you insist that everything go through you. And when you become the bottleneck, you make the project go slower and open yourself up to claims for delay.
You are the true team leader, and the one with the most to lose or gain. Lead with inspiration, trust, and a firm but fair demeanor and your project can team can amaze you.