Every project starts with ‘no’

Coaching a client through the process is part of the design/build way

Ron Frederiksen
RSV Construction Services

I am constantly looking for better ways to communicate to potential clients just how much focused effort and energy it takes to get even the simplest project underway. In the commercial construction industry, every transaction seems to start with a "no."

"No, you can’t have more than one curb cut. No, you can’t build on that type of fill material. No, that site plan doesn’t meet the intent of our design standards. No, you can’t remodel that building without seismic upgrades. No, we can’t get permit drawings submitted that soon. No, we can’t process your permit application in less than nine months." Well, you get the idea.

Then I saw this quote from writer Max Lucado: "Constructing something engages only the hands, while creating something engages the heart and soul."

There it is, in one sentence, the essence of what it takes to overcome all of the "no" responses. Every project must have an advocate, a company that has the same interests as the project owner, a company that puts its collective heart and soul into changing every "no" to a big "yes."

Traditionally, project owners hire a cadre of consultants. While each consultant is expert in their field, none of them have the same financial interest as the owner. Whether the project ever gets designed, financed, permitted or constructed, the consultants all get paid. The project owner is still responsible for the devil in the many details.

Over the last 20 years, another approach to project delivery has evolved. It requires an experienced design/build general contractor to be responsible for methodically changing each "no" to a "yes" in the most expeditious, cost-efficient manner possible. The general contractor doesn’t get paid until the project gets built and the project owner has the use of the new or remodeled facility. The owner and the general contractor are linked in a common goal and share a bond that is unlike all others on a project team.

If the design/build general contractor is skilled and capable, a whole team will put its heart and soul into each project task. They make sure that every design detail is carefully considered, that permits are obtained efficiently, that materials and construction methods are cost-effective, and that the work is carefully supervised and completed in a predictable, respectful manner.

To be sure, most general contractors claim to do design/build, but in reality most construction companies don’t have the contacts, credibility, skills, talent or patience to be so deeply involved in every aspect of each project. Let me describe some real-life results.

Several years ago, our company assembled and now maintains a design team consisting of cream-of-the-crop consultants. It includes an architect, structural engineer, civil engineer, planner, geotech engineer and traffic engineer. Consultants from other disciplines are brought in as necessary. This core group has a weekly design meeting where every project is discussed, strategy on each issue is determined, and a task list is developed.

This process creates a more predictable and much lower-cost outcome for the project owner. Everyone trusts each other, understands the strengths of other team members, and ensures that the most capable person handles each task. No turf wars, no egos, no wasted money, just total focus on the client and efficiency.

The key to design/build is the skill and total involvement of the general contractor. Recently a local company needed to construct a new food manufacturing plant. From the very first kickoff meeting, the general contractor’s project manager and job foreman were involved in twice-weekly discussions with overseas equipment providers, local engineering and design firms, city permit specialists, subcontractors, the landlord and the client’s staff. The team was successful in accomplishing the focused, hugely detailed planning effort it took to bring the project together.

The job foreman gained the admiration of the client’s staff and received rave reviews from the international equipment vendors for his total grasp of this very complex project. The many hours of involvement really paid off for the project owner and serves as proof of the experienced design/build general contractor’s maxim: "95 percent of our job is strategy and management, only 5 percent is construction."

Design/build contractors create, and it is sometimes frustrating, often difficult and risky work. But once project owners have worked with a general contractor that focuses exclusively on the design/build approach, they understand that the process does indeed "engage the heart and soul" and they reply with a resounding "yes!"

Ron Frederiksen is president of RSV Construction Services Inc., a Vancouver commercial and industrial design-build and remodeling firm. He can be reached at 360-693-8830.

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