It takes a certain savvy to build collaboration in a hard-bid environment. If the team is committed to quality, it can happen. However, every project needs good processes. Hard bidding makes those more valuable. Having worked for an architectural firm for 11 years, and as a staff architect for a hospital for 19 years, I am sharing lessons learned I hope will be useful.
Building Owners: Be Committed to Pre-Planning
Every owner with continual construction is well served to maintain a professional staff that is current, knowledgeable and well-seasoned in the development of buildings and facility systems. The staff can work on continual smaller projects, thus saving fees, and be utilized to manage larger projects. Consulting architects can make assumptions based on information you give them and what they glean from the client. With facility and operational knowledge, in-house design professionals can challenge staff and consultants when evaluating wants, needs and design solutions throughout the process. They can provide cohesion to build a good working relationship and trust.
Chose a Design Team Wisely
We find it best to have an established relationship with design and construction firms. A level of trust that allows all parties to plan for success is critical; trust can only build via shared experience and time. Experienced people working with your facility results in a shorter learning curve, a deeper history of the idiosyncrasies of facilities and knowledge of expectations. Commit to sharing information with the building team. Knowledge is best shared with those you trust. It is most relevant in a hard-bid situation.
Complete and Concise Construction Documents
Document completeness and accuracy are critical to the success of hard bid. We all know there is a broad spectrum in quality of plans. The fewer allowances the better; these should only be used to address issues that cannot be decided at the moment. We recognize that there are no perfect documents, but the more accurate the plans, the fewer the change orders and that saves time, money and fewer onsite challenges. Clear, concise, complete, detailed documents eliminate many of the errors in the bidding and construction process. It’s important in a hard-bid situation to establish a realistic time table and interim review periods. If plans are rushed and reviews do not take place, strong consideration must be given to delaying the bid date. Most projects go off schedule at some point, but an owner’s commitment to provide timely answers and information goes a long way in keeping a project running on track. Construction professionals should not be afraid to press owners.
Take Care in the Contractor Selection Process
Due diligence is critical in selecting a general contractor. Owners should invest in interviews and multiple conversations that allow parties to reach a comfort level. As a project manager, listen to your “gut.”
Once bidders are agreed upon, commit to accept the perceived low bidder. It is not always clear, but all parties should know they have one shot. An owner’s intent should be to work with the low bidder on bid day. Check each firm’s references on multiple types of projects, especially hard bid. Remember, many issues can cause problems that are not in the contractor’s total control. Check references to confirm that the contractor acts with integrity.
Construction Process on a Hard-Bid Job
There must always be a full commitment by all to work together in an effective, open manner. Each party has its primary interest, but must respect each other’s needs. Who the superintendent will be on a bid job is unknown until negotiated. Then who runs the job will be decided. Choose a firm that conveys confidence that the team will be led by the trustworthy.
An owner needs to appreciate complex timeline issues. This goes a long way in assuring the success of a project. It is helpful when the owner has an internal team that approaches the project as an external consultant, reviewing documents to assure plans are high quality for proper bidding and pricing. There is a huge difference between an administrator and a designer. An owner should commit to one primary project manager. One contact simplifies communication and decisions.
True collaboration is the mindset of the parties, to see the project from each perspective and to care that goals are reached.