August 29, 2018

Better together: Why owners get more value when contractors and architects collaborate

When you’re on a tight schedule, you wouldn’t set out for an unfamiliar destination without first consulting a GPS or a map.

Yet that’s what many owners do when they construct a new facility using the design-bid-build model. In this situation, owners hire an architect, complete the design drawings, and then go out to bid for a contractor. In the process, they lose out on valuable guidance early on in the project, when errors and oversights are far easier – and less expensive – to correct.

But when owners engage the general contractor at the same time as the architect, they gain a team that is invested in their success from the start. With a collaborative model, owners have the right resources in place to guide them before they set off on a new project. Everyone understands the desired destination and works together to get there.

Benefits of the collaborative approach

Scope, schedule, and budget are the foundations for every construction project. In a design-bid-build model, all three are typically set before the contractor gets involved. As a result, expectations on paper do not always match reality in the field.

But with a collaborative approach, the architect and contractor team up to ensure all three are in harmony. This benefits the owner in several ways:

  • Alignment of expectations – The design-bid-build model can set up the architect and contractor to be in opposition. But having both parties on board when defining the project’s success factors guarantees everyone is aiming for the same target. This is key to setting – and meeting – a realistic budget and schedule. It also provides the construction team with a better understanding of the intent for different spaces, which improves problem-solving in the field.
  • A more accurate budget – Sure the design looks great, but can it be built within the desired budget? By engaging the contractor early, accurate pricing can be worked into the planning process. This is key to reducing sticker shock and budget overruns when material costs and subcontractor bids start coming in. Moreover, the contractor can help drive out unnecessary costs by steering the design team toward less expensive materials, systems, or processes.
  • Less risk to schedule – Owners are consistently surprised by how much time is required to build a new facility. Involving the contractor at the outset will give the team a jump start on the process. Contractors can get started earlier on preconstruction activities, such as permitting, zoning, and even material purchasing. In addition, contractors can help owners navigate past common pitfalls that can sideline the schedule.
  • Shared accountability – In a traditional design-bid-build model, finger pointing between the architect and contractor tends to ensue when change orders add up or the schedule goes off the rails. But in a collaborative approach, the architect and contractor have shared ownership for delivering the project. There are fewer surprises in the field because the contractor has been verifying constructability from the start. Moreover, a solid process will set up checkpoints along the way to make sure all stakeholders are on track and in agreement with the project’s direction.

Finding the right firm

Adopting a collaborative approach largely takes a price-based selection of the contractor off the table. Instead, owners need to use a different set of criteria for selecting their construction partner. In this case, due diligence should lean heavily on references, financial stability, and culture. Owners should ensure that the contractor:

  • Has a proven track record of delivering on promises by checking the references of both past clients and subcontractors
  • Has the financial stability to guarantee longevity, so that warranty items will be addressed down the line
  • Will be a good fit for the owner’s culture and will act as an extension of the team

For many owners, taking on a major construction project might be their largest expenditure of the year – or even the decade. Setting up a collaborative relationship between the architect and contractor will deliver a higher return by plotting out the best, most efficient, and least risky route ahead of time. In this way, owners will put themselves on the best path forward to a new facility.

Ready to launch a new project? Contact Adrienne Ruebusch at 513.774.8400.

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