June 17, 2015

Trust: Building a Sound Foundation

Last year I purchased a small used pickup truck so my three boys could safely learn to drive in Michigan winters. I remember my experience at the dealership and the used car salesman smiling from ear-to-ear telling me everything I wanted to hear. He agreed to all my pricing demands, gave me what I wanted for my trade in, payments and APR…yet while I sat comfortably at his desk feeling quite accomplished, the manager was quickly drawing up papers that did not coincide with any of what the salesman and I agreed to, which lead to conflict and a breakdown of trust.

This made me pause and think about the professional world in which I operate. It seems that there is often difficulty for clients to extend trust to design build contractors, given there are just as many fast-talking general contractors and construction managers as there are slick car salesmen. Unfortunately, this results in breaking down the ability for clients to extend trust to anyone.

What’s the basic difference in construction delivery methods and why should I care? A little knowledge can go a long way in building trust. I've provided some helpful tips on what's what below. 

General Contracting

  • Hard bid general contracting, typically provides the lowest initial bid cost.
  • This low bid process, however, typically places the owner, architect and contractor at odds, leaving the process wide open for change orders.
  • The owner is quickly at the mercy of the lowest bidder: how well the construction documents were completed, whether the contractor interpreted the construction documents correctly, and then for the grey areas, how well the architect is able to mitigate the tide of potential issues.
  • As the contractor continues to submit changes for items not accounted for in the original bid, skepticism creeps in as the owner wonders if they’re getting gouged.

 Construction Management (CM)

  • While CM offers a more cohesive teaming atmosphere, it is not as cost effective as lump sum hard bidding due to higher overhead by the CM.
  • There is much more up-front effort on the owner’s part to ensure proper selection of the CM.
  • Once selected the CM becomes more of a paper pusher, coordinating schedules for the entire project and passing costs through change orders.
  • The CM is not integrally connected to the design intent of the project, but is merely responsible to oversee the construction based on what is on the documents.
  • If the owner’s design intent is not properly indicated on the documents, it is not built without a change order. If the CM identifies issues, the architect has to agree or disagree, and a change order must be written.

Design Build

  • Design build includes elements of the methods above but has one major differentiator: a single point of responsibility for the entire project.
  • That single point of responsibility can be either an asset (with the right design builder) to the client or a big mistake (with the wrong design builder).
  • But it is not the method of construction delivery that is the issue, rather the motives, talent, and ability to integrate design and construction by the design-builder that will build and maintain the needed trust.
  • With a trustworthy design-builder, the project will result in a synergy that exceeds the owner’s expectations and can far surpass the other construction delivery methods.

Without trust, no matter the option chosen, you will merely end up with a head-nodding yes man trying to make a sale, and a disappointing project at the end of the day. However, when you have trust as a fundamental relationship building block, design build will provide a superior construction delivery method and project every time.


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