March 22, 2011
Forget the buzz words, and the fads. "Nothing has greater impact on the success of a project than the delivery system," said Steve Bannes, program director for graduate studies in construction management at Washington University.
"For example, the people at Walmart understand better than anyone what they need in their stores, so design/bid/build is probably works well for them. But if you are doing something unique that requires a lot of coordination, like a lab building at Washington University, you need time for pre-construction services that design/bid/build doesn't provide. You need to assess the needs of the project, the desired outcomes, and the owner's resources and tolerance for risk to determine the best delivery system and build the team around that," he said.
Greg Kantares, worldwide engineering major project manager at Solutia and chairman of the St. Louis Council of Construction Consumers' Best Practices Committee, said, "No single strategy works for all projects."
Solutia uses the Construction Industry Institute's Project Delivery and Contracting Strategy (PDCS) tool to help find a way through the thicket to the most appropriate contracting strategy for each project, he said. The PDCS incorporates 12 alternatives for project delivery and contracting. As the user selects criteria that would best achieve the owner's project objectives, the PDCS narrows the choices to the three most beneficial alternatives.
"Selecting the team is probably the next most important piece," said Tim Gunn, project director at Alberici Constructors.
"You should do the research and understand that companies are only as good as the individuals who will do the work," said Zachary Hamilton, vice president, Kwame Building Group. "Look at the individuals who will be assigned to your team, not the company history. A great company can have a poor project manager, and a poor company can have a great one," he said.
And interview the specific people who will be working on the job. "You have to get the feeling that you can work with them and they are the right fit for your job," said said Lauren Talley, commercial project manager for Kozeny-Wagner Inc.
Clay Goser, president of Symphony LLC, says talking to the right people is good, but asking the right questions is better. Goser was director of planning and construction for BJC Healthcare for 15 years. When BJC had a project in St. Peters, MO, he experimented with a different way to procure construction services. He was so pleased with the results, he started Symphony to educate the industry about that new procurement method.
"We start every single construction project striving to find the most talented individual team members, but the secret to the success of (BJC) St. Peters is we tried to find the most talented team," he said.
The request for proposals BJC sent out for the St. Peters project was unusual, Goser said.
"It read, 'if you were going to deliver a project differently, tell me how you would do it, and there are no rules'," he said.
BJC invited three architects to assemble teams to respond the the RFP. "They were all good, qualified guys who had designed, built or managed large facilities," Goser said. "From the three teams, we got three very different answers. We graded them on their ability to deliver the project, and they were all good. We then looked at the strategic differences of the teams and the problems they were trying to solve," he said.
"Pratt Design Studio proposed a team with Tarlton and mechanical and electrical specialty contractors. They added in a steel fabricator, a steel erector, a roofer, a glazier, and a mason early on. They said we needed people who did steel, because of OSHA rules about working around an occupied building. We needed envelope people, because we didn't want leaks. The other architects proposed teams consisting of the architect, an engineer, and a general contractor," he said.
"We started getting things in the (Pratt/Tarlton) proposal we had never thought about," he added. They told BJC it wasn't a $13 million job they were contemplating, but a $17 million job. "They told us, 'you haven't thought about how you maxed out your Ameren power or your chiller capacity. And by the way, in the drawings, you can't go up three more stories with steel, you have to go all the way down to the ground with bracing. If these are important to you, here's another plan to get your objective,'" Goser said.
"Tarlton had never done a health care project before. They would not have been pre-qualified to work for BJC, but they knocked it out of the park. That was one of the smoothest running projects integrated into a working facility I had seen in my 15 years.
"It was incredible to see how intellectually nimble they were, how flexible, and how quickly they solved problems," he said.
"What I started to find was that this was a team that was thinking not only about how to operate, they were identifying risk and involving the owner. They were not waiting until they got the contract to spring bad news. They were saying, 'if you have to shelve the contract, do it now.' That demonstrated to me that this is what different looks like. You can't wait until four weeks before starting to sling steel to bring an erector on to see if it feasible," he said.
His experience with BJC St. Peters convinced Goser that, "If there is one thing with the ability to change the industry, it is how to build integrated teams and how owners can provide leadership that allows teams to come forward and do the job differently. A lot of people think if they just bring contractors on sooner, they will get it done. But, if you don't understand how to build teams, you can bring contractors in as early as you want, and you will have as great a monumental failure as design/bid/build," Goser said.
A good team helps with scheduling and avoiding disruptions in the flow of work, said Brian Satterthwaite, president of Brinkmann Constructors. It also enables designing for the exact value the owner wants, "not more nor less," he said.
The Sisters of Mercy Enterprise Data Center offers another example of a successful collaborative team.
Sisters of Mercy initially was looking for a construction manager to guide their data center project. S.M. Wilson went to them with a design/build team that, in addition to S.M. Wilson, included an architect and plumbing, electrical, mechanical, and fire protection design/build contractors. S.M. Wilson and the other contractors had worked together on a previous data center project, the Schneider Electric/APC Technology Center. The project managers all knew and liked each other from that job and worked together well, said Amy Berg, S.M. Wilson's vice president for business development.
"We went to them and said, 'we have this team assembled, so why don't you go design/build'," said Fred Jaeckle, vice president for pre-construction & estimating at S.M. Wilson.
A free-standing data center is basically "a mechanical and electrical project covered by a raincoat," said Jaeckle. Sisters of Mercy "recognized that they had never bought a free-standing data center before, so they changed their mechanism of thinking to buy it differently from how they bought other projects," he said.
The S.M. Wilson-led team, "planned, planned, and planned, and then construction was pretty seamless," said Berg.
For Landco Construction, the owner is a key member of the collaborative team, said President Ron Landoldt.
"We identify options for the owner and we review subcontractor bids with the owner and architect. The owner has a lot to say in this process. Corporate clients who have tried this like it," he said.