A construction project often gets lost in the talk of scope, method, and materials. But if those aspects miss the point of the owner’s goals, then the finished project won’t be a success.
As more contractors take on design roles in design-bid-build and other collaborative delivery methods, they need a deeper understanding of the client’s goals. That understanding translates into more jobs for the contractor because clients see the unique focus they bring to their projects.
Seeing is believing
One way to get into the client’s head is with technology. Building information modeling, for example, exposes a project to extreme scrutiny by making visualization easy for all the stakeholders. Many people who view a 2D architectural drawing have trouble understanding spatial relationships and visualizing how things will really look in the 3D world. BIM, virtual reality/augmented reality tools, LIDAR, and other spatial-based technologies remove the mystery.
One contractor McCarthy Building Companies, took a hard look at its processes and outcomes when developing its Intergrated Virtual Building initiative. By doing so, the builder considered the entire construction lifecycle at the start of each project. This approach made design build a strategic process instead of a reactive one.
By being strategic at the start of projects, McCarthy found they changed the conversations with customers. Since customers could visualize all construction phases before any dirt was moved they could see where the initial scope was right and where it was wrong for their goals. With the contractor tied into the design process using BIM, they could quickly flag issues in the model so the design team could see them ahead of time.
While technology is one answer to understanding your clients’ goals, another is to build teamwork among participants.
Make it a team
The developers of One and Two Potomac Yard in Arlington, Virginia, knew they had a firestorm of potentially conflicting needs for the project. As developers, they were most concerned about distinctive design, sustainability, quality, cost, and establishing a standard for other development in the area. However, there were also other stakeholders’ needs to consider. The U.S. General Services Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and Arlington County all had their own sets of needs and wants.
The two planned buildings included over a half-million square feet of office and retail space. The lessee, the GSA, and the tenant, the EPA, needed secure, accessible, healthy, comfortable, and visually appealing spaces. Arlington County had its own site plan conditions that included having the projects LEED-certified. Just a few months after the design was finished, the 9/11 terrorist attack caused the project to go through major revisions to accommodate upgraded security requirements of both the federal government and Arlington County.
The developers’ solution to including all their stakeholders’ goals right from the start meant using an integrated team approach to sort out common goals and reconcile conflicting requirements. They also emphasized getting expert help by including an environmental building consultant and a commissioning authority to work with the design team. Contractors rounded out the team by providing preconstruction services for “system designs, pricing, constructability, and timing.”
One prime learning from the project on understanding customers’ goals was to find realistic ways to assess and address conflicting requirements. Having transparency as a hallmark within the project led to greater opportunities to resolve issues and conflicts. Since this was a very early example of LEED construction, the team was surprised by how much planning was needed. Without the emphasis on an integrated team, costs could have mushroomed.
Perhaps the strongest lesson was that mixed-use projects spin off complexity with random abandon. But with an integrated project team that’s willing to embrace complexity as something you can’t control or reduce, it’s possible to use rational decision-making without the frustration arising from a lack of solutions.
A solution for every project
All across the country, projects of all types are benefitting from deeper than traditional client involvement. In Chicago, focus groups of all stakeholders in a visual arts school picked the art programs to focus on, which informed design and construction. Meanwhile, a Fairfax, Virginia, project used interviews with wounded soldiers with diverse abilities in order to create more healing spaces for soldiers returning from war. In Seattle, an entire community is working together to preserve its unique cultural, commercial, and residential identity.
More voices with more needs might strike fear in the hearts of many builders. However, when those voices get heard early in the project, it reduces their volume later on. It also creates successful projects that meet many unanticipated goals and outcomes with less conflict.