This finding, when considered with others in the study, may suggest that smaller contracting firms are more insular about their own performance. They have higher expectations of their ability to achieve perfect performance, and they are more conscious of the impact of their own actions on projects rather than the impact of other players on the project team. In contrast, large firms seem to be more focused on how the interaction with and responsibilities of other players influence the uncertainty they experience on projects.

Mitigating Uncertainty

The difference between large contractors and smaller ones is revealed most clearly in their evaluation of factors for mitigating uncertainty. The chart represents the percentage who find these factors have a high impact on mitigating uncertainty. It demonstrates a clear tendency for large contractors to find all of these factors to be more disruptive than do smaller contractors. However, only three differences are statistically significant:

• More integration between design-and-build parties during design and construction.

• More time for design teams to participate in coordination.

• Use of BIM and other virtual design tools by the entire project team.

The high degree of difference in the response to these factors demonstrates that, while smaller contractors are less likely to point the finger for uncertainty at other project team members, they are also less likely to find solutions through better collaboration and coordination. Clearly, large contractors place more weight on design firms as partners in mitigating uncertainty.

The more frequent use of virtual design tools may be credited in part to the wider adoption level of building information modeling by large construction companies. However, it may also reflect a greater interest in collaboration by larger firms, since BIM is increasingly seen as a tool that supports stronger collaboration and integration among project team members.

The findings suggest that it is not enough for the construction industry to tout the move toward greater collaboration. Developing an awareness of the importance of other project players is essential. But the findings also suggest a fallback position. Firms that more often work with others also interpret their project problems in light of interactions with team members.

The industry needs a new paradigm to tackle uncertainty on projects. Extensive integration and better communication can create more reasonable expectations about imperfections within the team as a whole.

Steve Jones is senior director for McGraw Hill Construction. He focuses on how emerging economic and technology trends are transforming the construction industry.