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A Seat at the Table


When initiating work on a new building, it’s easy to get ahead of yourself. You’re eager to see progress on site — breaking ground and building — because that’s a tangible way to view the progress of a project. However, following a proactive approach to planning and utilizing preconstruction services as a valuable tool will help avoid common pitfalls of a project down the road. Early partnership helps ensure a more effective process.

The Importance of Pre-Planning
There are a few guidelines to follow for owners beginning to think about a project.

  1. It’s all in the details. Some things might seem like minute details now, but having discussions with your internal team early on about everyone’s wants and needs for the project can save time and money down the road.
  2. Be open to suggestions. You have your vision, but the beauty in finding the right design team and early contractor involvement is that experts in each field can influence the design, layout, and phase-in sequence. This results in a smoother, more efficient process for everyone involved.
  3. Choose a decision maker. Every orchestra needs its maestro. When there are too many people in charge of making decisions, it’s counterproductive. Establishing a point person helps keep projects from getting hung up.

Expect Creativity and Innovation
You have a checklist you use when deciding who to partner with on a project. One of those items should be “How will this team member add value?” A good partner always looks for ways to bring value to the project and thinks outside the box.

“When we work as a design-builder or on any project with early contractor involvement, we’ve found that we have more opportunity to identify win-win solutions and find cost and time savings for the project simply because we’ve been brought on board early enough to effect change efficiently,” said Todd Winnerman, president of MW Builders. “It’s actually a fun challenge for our team and an opportunity where we can apply our experience and knowledge, which often results in the best possible outcome.”

In the design development stage, each team member determines how their design elements will work best in the space. A well-coordinated approach and timely decision making lessen the chance that the group will run into design issues once the actual construction has commenced. A collaborative approach to early contractor involvement, starting during this stage or earlier in the process, can be very effective in maintaining the project budgets and schedule, and avoiding extensive value engineering at the tail end of design.

“The two greatest benefits to preconstruction services are the development of more accurate budgets and thorough review of design documents,” said Wayne Gondeck, president at DRG Architects, LLC in San Antonio, Texas. “These elements provide the Owner with a more realistic idea of the project cost and provide the bidding subcontractors with more complete documents, resulting in more accurate bids.”

Quality Drawings Result in Quality Outcomes
The bidding process can be difficult to navigate. Bidder assumptions can vary and for many owners, this process represents a “moment of truth,” when project budgets meet firm pricing. No set of plans is perfect, but when blueprints have relatively few clarifications by addenda, it indicates that there is a clear, common understanding of the requirements.

Tight groupings with similar bid amounts should increase confidence. Wide disparities between bids for similar scopes of work may reflect bidder uncertainty or problems within the documents. This may also be a red flag for design challenges ahead.

“The most frequent issue under traditional bidding is a wide variation in bid amounts for similar scopes,” said Gondeck. “This leads us to be concerned that the bidder has left a substantial amount of work out of their bid and will not be able to successfully complete the work. Even in the case that the contractor could complete the work, a shortfall in estimating or pricing may cause diminished quality in the work.”

Opportunities to problem solve don’t end with the completion of construction documents or receipt of bids. Effective negotiation and questioning often reveal differences between bidder assumptions, which may then be addressed contractually.

Setting the Project Up for Success
A collaborative approach is the ideal path to ensure a positive project. Owners can have more ownership over their own budget success by managing the design process efficiently. Engaging an experienced contractor and early integration of team members promotes more efficient design, construction, and decision making, which ultimately translates into a more successful project.