February 9, 2017

The Design-Build Mindset – Getting the Right People on the Team

Bob McIntyre, Stone Hill Contracting Company, Inc.

After many years of working on design build projects, probably one of the biggest struggles is making sure you have the right people at the table. It starts with the owner, and then follows with design professionals, the contractor, the vendor representatives and all the way to the actual craft workers on the project site. If the right design build project is managed by the wrong team members, all things can go drastically wrong in a single heartbeat. So what are some ways to identify the differences to make sure you have the right people on the team?

First and foremost, it is important that all people involved in the project have a teamwork attitude, and that they are all focused on the project priorities, rather than personal priorities. It is critical that all members establish an open line of communication, such that all members are considered equal, and can reach out to other members with no hesitation. It is also important to that all members have a positive attitude about design build and the project overall. It is easy to allow a project to spin out of control if all members are not working in an a partnership mode. It should be mentioned that just because a superintendent (or other team member) is good at what they do, that are aptly suited for design build. It is a different mindset to work together as a team, as opposed to teaming to achieve a shared final goal on a project. This one item can be the downfall of the entire project, and it can be at any level of the project from owner, contractor or design professional. Without the right people on the team, it can be next to impossible to have a successful project where all stakeholders feel they have met the goals of the project.

For overall success, it is important to include the major stakeholders (including vendors) in the process as early as possible. This enables those stakeholders to feel part of the overall team partnership, and will permit them to have a vested interest in the overall success of the project. All stakeholders are intimate to total success of the project, as such need to be involved from the early stages of the project.

A big area of which the team needs to identify, and quantify early, is that of the assignment of risk. Most people involved in a conventional construction project, focus on how can they mitigate risk by pushing it off on other parties on the project. The owner and design professional push it to the contractor, while the contractor pushes it down on their vendors. This is how construction has been done for hundreds of years, but in the design build world risk should be identified early and assigned to the party who can best handle those risks. For instance, underground and soil risk is typically best handled by the owner. This can be handled by prior soils reports or test pits, etc. in an effort to mitigate the risks. The risk with local construction permits is another area best handled by the owner, since local code officials are not always forthcoming with permitting costs that are exact, prior to drawing reviews. The risk of items such as schedule, costs, and the like are best handled by the contractor. The design professional obviously is best suited to handle process, structural and other design risks. The best method for controlling risks is to determine potential risks as early in the project as possible, and then assign them to the best team member as early as possible.

As the project moves forward it is important to keep all stakeholders apprised of progress and also to permit input from all of them. Don’t keep one party in the dark, or without input, or there will be obvious animosity among the stakeholders. It is important to remember that all stakeholders are just that they have a stake in the project, and their stake is as important as everyone else’s.

Lastly, it may not be obvious, but the actual craft labor force is in fact an integral part of the overall design build team. The craft labor is often regarded, on conventional projects, as just a tool, or a means to an end. In the design build realm, while they may not be involved early in on the project, including the field labor in the overall list of stakeholders, quite often permits input from a different vantage point. How can the project be designed to be more efficient in the construction phase? Include the labor force who is doing the work. In today’s tough labor market, where it is hard to find qualified labor, how can you best find the correct people for the project. The best way is retention, retention of personnel who have a proven track record for successful design build projects permits the project team to best utilize the insight they have gained over the years. In the absence of retaining past proven personnel, the other option is to build from the ground up, and while this will potentially mean high rate of craft turnover, it may allow for tweaking personnel to meet the needs of not only the current project but for future projects as well. The key is to find the right people to be on the team, and then to develop them into a design build champion.

A successful design build project is an enjoyable experience for all stakeholders, when the project is planned and implemented correctly. It is important to look at the overall team and make sure that all stakeholders are vested in the project and not just their own priorities. Doing design build correctly requires development of personnel, and that development in a continuous process. One of the best ways to develop the design build team is to provide design build training and education on a consistent and long term basis – the kind of training and education available through the Design Build Institute of America.

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