What the Series Was

In January, Bricker & Eckler kicked off the Bricker Best Ideas Series, four roundtable discussions spread over the first four months of 2007. Each roundtable gathered experts from the construction industry for a particular purpose. In January, we focused on the best practices of project Owners. In February, it was the Design Professionals’ turn. In March, we called on the Contractors. Finally, in April, we put an Owner, Design Professional, and a Contractor on the same roundtable.

By any standard the roundtable discussions were a success; our experts were able to share their experiences with a receptive audience, and the casual roundtable format allowed those in attendance to ask questions and get answers.

The Bricker Best Ideas Series was so informative that we didn’t want to confine its lessons to those who could attend. Why not recap the highlights for everyone? The entire Series consisted of four luncheons, each two hours, so it is nearly impossible to reproduce all of the great ideas and practices shared. However, our notes from the discussions provide a good overview of some of the information discussed.

Owners’ Best Ideas for Successful Projects (January 12, 2007)

Our first panel was made up of construction “Owners,” a unique group because of its diversity. Each panelist had a different background. Their current positions were also different: one represented a school district, another a private hospital, and another a county government. As you would expect, each panelist had a lot of experiences and insight to share. Here are the participants:

• Ralph Linne – Director of Facilities, Hamilton County;

• Edd McGatha – Director of Facilities, The Children’s Medical Center – Dayton; and

• John H. Carr – Chief Construction Officer, Dayton Public School District.

The panel spent most of its time discussing how to align the Owner’s team for a successful construction project, tackling a variety of questions.

• Building the Team

How should the scope of a construction project be defined and communicated to the members of the construction team? According to John Carr, an Owner should bring the entire construction team together as soon as possible and make each member part of the process. Mr. Carr suggested a meeting to explain the project to the entire team, providing insight into the Owner’s reasoning and decision-making processes that may prevent miscommunication in the future.

Once the team members are assembled and understand the scope of the project and their roles, the next step is to have frequent meetings. The project architect should take the lead role in facilitating these, and the right people should attend, in case a decision has to be made.

Mr. Carr also suggested involving the public. Giving the public input into the construction project could build public support and recruit the public to be part of the team.

What should an Owner do to help all team members understand the project? One suggestion was to prepare a 3D rendering. However, an Owner should first confirm that what is shown can be built within budget, and that the Owner can accept what is shown in the model.

• Budget and Cost Control

How does an Owner prevent “budget creep?” Edd McGatha gave his ideas on how to avoid budget creep, which occurs when the project budget increases as the building design progresses. According to Mr. McGatha, an Owner should create a thorough scope statement. A budget should then be created using the scope statement. The scope statement and budget can be used as benchmarks to monitor and control the actual budget.

Additionally, Mr. McGatha emphasized the importance of using internal cost reports to compare actual costs to the budget. Tracking the current construction costs lets the Owner monitor the project and avoid wandering down a path that may, because of expense, become a point of no return.

Mr. Carr suggested that Owners have a fulltime estimator available to review all design changes and provide real costs for all design revisions, thus allowing an Owner to make informed decisions and providing budget control.

• Design Coordination How can an Owner get better coordinated drawings? Ralph Linne lets his building managers review the drawings before the drawings go out to bid. Mr. Linne’s building managers are well trained and familiar with the mechanical and electrical systems within the building. Further, Mr. Linne’s projects are mostly renovations, and each building manager is familiar with the conditions that will be uncovered.

Working for a private organization has it benefits, as Mr. McGatha explained, including the ability to have a “next job” policy when it comes to design coordination. What is the next job policy? Do a good job, and you will get the next job.

Project Closeout

How should an Owner manage Closeout? First, an Owner should address any quality of workmanship issues as they arise and not wait for the items to be addressed by a punchlist. Further, someone needs to stay on top of project closeout. The process should be managed from day one. Owners should consider a reduced liquidated damage when closeout documents are not completed timely.

What is the single most important act an Owner should perform during a project? Be an active Owner, because the Owner must live with the building after the project.

Design Professionals’ Best Ideas For Successful Projects (February 16, 2007)

Our next panel, a group of design professionals, included two architects, a mechanical engineer, and a structural engineer:

• Alec Carnes, P.E., LEED AP, Heapy Engineering, LLC;

• Ronald Hicks, AIA, LEED AP, Vice President, Steed Hammond Paul;

• Robert Hayes, AIA, Hayes and Associates; and

• James Miller, P.E., Vice President, Steven Schaefer Associates, Inc.

This group focused, not surprisingly, on Design Documents, change orders, and Commissioning.

• Quality of the Design Documents

What quality of design drawings should the Owner expect? The first comment was that “no set of drawings is perfect.” According to Ron Hicks, it is the Design Professional’s responsibility to explain to the Owner the Design Professional’s standard of care in preparing design documents. The Design Professional must explain how design document clarification during construction will be resolved, and more importantly who will be responsible for the costs of the clarifications.

What affects the Quality of the Design Documents? According to Gerry Hammond, a member of the audience and President of Steed Hammond Paul, Owners need to be aware of the design time being allotted for the preparation and coordination of the design documents. Compressing the time allotted may have a negative effect on the quality of the Design Documents. Mr. Hammond was quick to point out that when an Owner compresses the time allotted for design development, the Design Professional is still required to meet the required standard of care. A Design Professional should consider saying “no thank you” to a project if the design development schedule is unreasonable.

The panel agreed that all design document revisions fall into five categories: unforeseen conditions, owner directed changes, code required changes, value added field coordination, and non-value added field coordination – or errors and omissions.

• Design Professional’s Role after Design

What are the benefits of Design Professional review of change orders? The Design Professional can review the costs and protect the Owner from inflated change orders and can also enforce the notice provision in the Contract Documents regarding claims.

What is the benefit of having a third-party estimator on the design team? First, a third-party estimator may prevent a project design from being so far over budget that it must be rebid. A rebid wastes time and money. Because the drawings will not be fully developed, it is important that any thirdparty estimator be familiar with the Design Professional. At this stage, the third-party estimator must perform some conceptual estimating (including things that are only implied on the documents).

• Commissioning

What is Commissioning, and how should it be implemented? According to Alec Carnes, Commissioning is done to verify that a system such as the HVAC is what the Owner paid for. The rapid increase in technological advancements in the mechanical systems of buildings has increased the need for third-party verification. Alec suggests that the Owner hire the commissioning agent directly, to avoid conflicts with the Design Professional or the Contractor. The commissioning agent should be involved with the project from the very beginning. This will permit the commissioning agent to review the HVAC systems during the design and make alternative design suggestions.

Contractors’ Best Ideas for Successful Projects (March 2, 2007)

For our third roundtable, we gathered a group of Contractors to discuss their best ideas:

• Denny Humbel, Vice President, Turner Construction Co.;

• Joel Preser, A.H. Sturgill Roofing, Inc.;

• Mark Luegering, Messer Construction Co.; and

• Marshall Sidwell, Debra-Kuempel Mechanical-Electrical.

They, too, started their comments with a look at the documents.

• Quality of the Construction Documents

How can a Construction Manager improve the quality of the design drawings? According to Mr. Humbel, the Owner and Construction Manager should set firm “completion dates” for the Architect to meet in preparing the construction documents, the deliverables. This will ensure that there is enough time for the proper review by both the Owner and Construction Manager.

Preconstruction Services

What are the benefits of Preconstruction Services? Two benefits of preconstruction services were discussed in some detail. They were the constructability review and input on the project budget. What is a constructability review? It is a review of the details within the construction documents to confirm that each detail can be built as designed. Why is a Construction Manager best suited to perform the constructability review? Because the Construction Manager is able to draw upon its past experience with similar projects. Further, Construction Managers usually have enough experience to recommend alternative designs to an unconstructable detail. Of course, the Owner should never accept a contractor’s constructability suggestion until the suggestion has been reviewed and approved by the design professional.

Second, a construction manager can also provide input for the construction budget. What makes the construction manager capable of helping with the construction budget? Again it goes back to experience. A Construction Manager typically tracks material and market conditions, providing Construction Managers with insight on the costs of the labor and material that will be used on the jobsite.

How should an Owner utilize mockups? Mr. Humbel explained the proper way to use a mock-up. Everybody knows what a mock-up is, but not everyone knows that mock-ups can be used for more than just aesthetic purposes. For example, a mock-up can be used to verify that flashing and other critical components of the building are installed properly. Mr. Humbel described these mock-ups as “in-place mock-ups.” To best facilitate an in-place mock-up, an Owner should simply require the Design Professional and the Contractor to review the installation of a critical building component immediately after installation begins. This will allow the Design Professional to determine whether the installation is in conformance with the plans and specifications, and allows the Contractor to correct any defects before any further defective work is installed.

Construction Phase

How best can a Contractor coordinate its work? Everybody agreed that it is the responsibility of each Prime Contractor to manage its Subcontractors so that the work is installed in accordance with the Contract Documents.

Mark Luegering discussed the various ways that a Contractor can manage its work and the work of its Subcontractors. Specifically, Mark discussed Lean Scheduling or Lean Construction. According to Mark, Lean Scheduling is simply a production planning process. It is unique because outstanding submittals, RFIs, and change orders are not discussed at the planning meetings. It forces Contractors to make production promises to the other Contractors at a weekly meeting— applying peer pressure on the Contractor to complete its work as scheduled.

How can a Contractor ensure that its work meets the quality requirements on a project? Mr. Luegering suggested that all Contractors constantly evaluate their craft force, the tradesmen. This permits Contractors to evaluate the mix of workers they are placing on a particular jobsite and to maintain the proper mix of experienced tradesmen and inexperienced tradesmen, ensuring that there are always competent tradesmen on a jobsite.

Also, Mr. Sidwell warned Owners to pay attention to the housekeeping in and around the project because, from his experience, the lack of housekeeping is generally a warning of other problems. If a Contractor is not paying attention to the cleanliness of the building, the Contractor is probably not paying attention to the work that is being installed either. Marshall suggested that an Owner require a line item for housekeeping on a pay request so that the Owner can monitor its progress.

Change Orders

How do change orders affect a project? The answer was simple: change orders affect projects negatively. In fact, the Contractors agreed that the best projects have very few change orders. Why do contractors dislike change orders? They can be morale killers on the jobsite—creating rework, causing removal of already completed work, and creating a situation where a Contractor cannot complete its work as originally scheduled. According to the panel, it is difficult to make money on change order work because it generally takes so much time to negotiate the price that it eats up the overhead fee permitted by the Contract Documents.

How do you avoid change orders? Mr. Humbel suggested that Owners involve and educate the building users up front before construction. This gives the Owner’s people, the people who will actually be using the building, an opportunity to request changes and revisions before construction starts. The Owner will get the best pricing on this work at the time the project is bid, not through a change order.

Best Ideas for Successful Projects Wrap-Up (April 27, 2007)

At our last roundtable discussion, we had an Owner, a Design Professional, and a Contractor on our panel:

• Denny Humbel, Vice President, Turner Construction Co.;

• Gerald Hammond, AIA, President, Steed Hammond Paul; and

• Edd McGatha, Director of Facilities, The Children’s Medical Center – Dayton.

For our last program in the series, we followed the same roundtable format. The Best Ideas for Successful Projects Wrap-Up focused on one topic: Building the Team. The highlights from our discussion are outlined below.

How should an Owner select the right Design Professional or Construction Manager? According to our experts, an Owner should check references, looking for characteristics that are desirable before hiring a Design Professional or a Construction Manager. Before calling the references, the Owner should make a list of the desirable characteristics, i.e., ability to adapt to changing conditions, ability to adapt to budget issues, ability to give frank and honest answers to difficult questions. Once the list is created, an Owner should probe into the past performance of the professional and select the one who possesses the characteristics they are looking for.

Further, Mr. Humbel added that an Owner should pay attention to any potential Design Professional’s and Construction Manager’s history of solving problems. After all, construction is a problem-solving profession.

How do you get the team to act as a team? According to Mr. Hammond, everybody should be involved upfront, and each party should be honest about its goals for the project. Mr. Hammond suggested that the team members provide incentives for developing common goals, i.e., rewards for not interfering with neighbors, or for having a safe project site. Further, Mr. Hammond suggested that the parties develop a higher level of trust by meeting frequently and developing a personal and professional relationship. The goal is to prevent personal conflicts and solve actual problems. Each team member must commit to the attitude that if one member fails, then the entire team fails.

How does the Construction Manager or Design Professional create a relationship with the Prime Contractor? The relationship starts with the people who are working on the job. The Design Professional should demand that the Prime Contractor’s best superintendent and foreman are placed on the job; a few disruptive personalities can ruin the construction team. The team should anticipate problems and develop a plan to react to problems.

Conclusion

Each Owner, Design Professional, and Contractor will have its own ideas of what works and what does not work on a construction project. We tried to share as many of the ideas that work as possible. Reading through this recap will not give you the experience of being there—you have to supply your own food—but it’s the next best thing.