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The reality today is that capital projects are often driven by money, not architecture. Owners and developers are looking for great creative designs with excellent function. However, the most important factors in most capital projects are profit, revenue, and/or cost.

Traditional delivery models separate the activities of architects and general contractors. Early project decisions are often made independently and then, due to limitations on time and money, very little information other than a simple site plan, a building plan, and perhaps one or two elevations are communicated to the general contractor for costing purposes. As a result of the limited interaction and limited information, the individual estimator is making assumptions about the project that substantially impact the quality, scope, cost, and schedule of the project. Information related to a project financial performance in the form of project proforma relies on information from both parties in the form of project gross area, site and building costs, and project duration. Decisions about the viability of the project inherently have misaligned and misunderstood project information. Where once upon a time overinflated costs would make up for scope misalignments, today’s pressure on the estimator to make the number as tight as possible often means that once the number goes into the proforma the budget is what the budget is.

As the design progresses the architect develops highly creative solutions and often wows the project owner with their solutions. Somewhere downstream, when the design solidifies, the general contractor will re-estimate the project at which point more detailed and defined quantities and specs are used to build an updated estimate. It’s only at this point that the problem introduced months earlier into the proforma - the budget not aligning with the anticipated quality and scope become apparent. At this time the finger of blame is pointed in all directions but often the owner points the finger at the architect and asks “Why doesn’t my architect care?” Obviously the problem is neither the architect nor the general contractor but rather the process.

New forms of delivery are intended to remove this problem by engaging the general contractor and architect early in a collaborative form of delivery; Design Build, IPD and even CM at Risk have been used to solve this problem. These methods of delivery have the ability to enable collaboration but are more often than not contracts of law rather than rules of engagement and none of these by their sheer nature solves the problem described in this article. The solution is to redesign the process, not the contract. The process should engage the owner, the architect, and the general contractor at the earliest phase of the project to understand the owner’s goals, financial constraints, timeline, and expected quality and scope. The team should collaboratively work on developing not one but multiple solutions. Each solution should not focus only on form or function but engage the entire group in a discussion around cost and schedule. Where difficulties arise the team should jointly solve the challenge and agree on solutions before any scope, cost, or time is used in the project proforma.

A project that implemented this methodology was the Methodist Mansfield Medical Center project in Mansfield, Texas. Denton Wilson, Vice President of Design and Construction for Methodist Hospitals, recognized that the contract was not the most important part but rather the process of engagement and collaboration of the owner, architect, and general contractor. The medical center project had a three phase team selection process: request for qualifications, request for proposal, and request for collaboration. The first two phases (RFQ and RFP) were typical of a CM at Risk project pursuit. The request for collaboration (RFC) was a two-week process that gave the top two ranked general contractors in the selection process access to the owner, architect, MEP engineer, and structural engineer.

The RFC was an intense process allowing the general contractor to dive into the project, work with the team, bounce ideas and solutions around the table, and formulate a plan to approach the project. At the end of the two-week phase, the owner, architect, MEP engineer, and structural engineer gathered to make their decision on which general contractor would be selected to work on the project. This extra step in the selection process allowed the entire team to be confident with whom they are working with and get a jump start on the building process. It also allowed for a greater understanding of scope, risk, and responsibility that is shared by the team.

The project team also implemented Target Value Design through the RFC process. Through the team’s collaboration they were able to develop a conceptual estimate with the architect sitting at the decision table. Discussions were not about finger pointing but more of a conversation of what the project would entail to meet the owner’s goal of their building while being mindful as to what each expert brought to the project. John Reich, Preconstruction Manager of Healthcare at The Beck Group said, “One of the keys as we go through the design process is to move all value engineering and rework from where it is traditionally done downstream of a project, to the very front end.” Decisions were made for the overall project’s betterment.

Doing away with the blame game and encouraging cooperation leads to better projects and, in a bigger picture, industry. Having an owner place priority on collaboration ensures that they are receiving the best their budget can afford while reducing scope creep and unforeseen value engineering. Going beyond the black and white of contracts to incorporate collaboration delivers an ethical built environment that is better for our communities.

About the Author:
Stewart Carroll is Chief Operating Officer of Beck Technology, developers of DProfiler BIM software, based in Dallas. He has been a lead A/E/C technologist for over a decade and continually speaks on the integration of cost and scoping technologies to owners and developers. He can be reached at 214-303-6200, stewartcarroll@beck-technology.com, or on LinkedIn www.linkedin.com/in/stewartacarroll.

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