Unlocking Unrealized Opportunity: Your GC May Hold the Key

14 May, 2020

If you are holding out on engaging your general contractor until after design is complete with the expectation of securing the lowest bidder, you could be missing out on valuable opportunities to maximize your return on investment from the very beginning.

This is because there is more time to adapt in the project’s earliest stages.

As the one ultimately in the field building your project, your contractor has a unique perspective on design, constructability, and sequencing – three important factors affecting your ability to develop a site efficiently in terms of cost and schedule.

Whether it’s a true design-build delivery or simply asking a trusted contractor to consult early on in a design-assist method, consider including your contractor in the collaboration up front, when you have the time and ability to act on ideas.

What results from this process is the chance to understand project costs and schedule before subcontractors bid on the project. That ultimately may better position you to control costs, define the project scope, and communicate delivery information to stakeholders including investors, in-house planning teams, and tenants. A win, win, win.

Here’s a quick look at how early contractor engagement may boost your bottom line and, from a site engineer’s perspective, how to leverage opportunity from doing so.

Opportunities for ROI Boosters

In addition to understanding the project scope, budget, and schedule more accurately, this delivery approach may create additional opportunities for impacting your return on investment including:

1. Aligning the project team’s goals

What seems like a no-brainer can be a difficult opportunity to realize in a traditional design-bid-build delivery because of the natural opposing dynamic that can occur between the design team and the contractor during construction.

Get your architect, engineer, and contractor all working together towards the same goal: yours.

Engaging your contractor early on empowers all three parties to collaborate and work to find the best way to develop the project based on what you identify as most important.

2. Expediting the schedule

If engaged early, your contractor may provide insight on the most efficient way to build the project, including recommendations on the best time of year to start and how to sequence construction.

This also enables your contractor to know the site well, so the team can start construction without the intervening downtime caused by bidding on or familiarizing themselves with the project.

Additionally, your contractor can analyze logistical needs and develop the most time-effective way to get materials on site, including releasing long-lead items before final design is complete. This includes things like ordering structural steel, which often takes weeks to receive once the order has been placed.

3. Realizing cost savings

If time equals money, an expedited project schedule is inherently designed to deliver cost-savings. The sooner the project is completed, the sooner you can open doors and begin collecting a return on your investment.

An early-engaged contractor can also provide (hard) cost-effective material recommendations based on real-time pricing. Receiving these recommendations early gives the design team the flexibility to modify design and secure the cost-saving opportunities.

4. Constructing more efficiently

Contractors can view plans during the design phase, increasing the likelihood that the design team is designing the project in a way that is the most efficient to construct. Constructability reviews also increase the likelihood that everything the contractor needs is on the plan.

Combined with fewer field surprises, this could lead to a big opportunity: fewer change orders.

5. Spur creativity

Your architect, site engineer, and contractor are all experts at what they do. Harness the opportunity for creativity that can result from interdisciplinary brainstorming on the best way to develop the site.

The most valuable opportunities stem from teamwork – a team of design professionals and a general contractor who are driven to collaborate on the client’s behalf. With egos parked at the door, a successful team is willing to give and receive constructive feedback. This can be challenging for design professionals, as it means relinquishing some control over their drawings for the betterment of the project. Find partners who embrace putting the project and your goals at the top.

To leverage the process, eliminate uncertainty by establishing team roles and responsibilities early on, and support a collaborative environment by providing opportunities for the team to brainstorm. Having a wider lens of both design input and construction feedback requires collecting and processing the resulting insights. Focus on communication; great ideas will require discussion even beyond the directly relevant professionals in the room.

Of course, all of this is not to say that design-build or design-assist is always the best delivery method for every project. There are situations in which early contractor engagement may yield fewer opportunities and lend themselves to a design-bid-build method. These may include shorter duration projects or design projects that don’t require a sophisticated collaboration between disciplines. And, if tenant requirements are driving the design and construction process, it’s possible a traditional approach may be the only option.

But, if you are looking for opportunities to improve your project’s success, consider engaging the collective project team early on to kick-start the collaboration process, giving you time to respond. The project’s beginning is a sweet spot for opportunity – and integrating your contractor into the mix early may be the key to fully unlocking it.

In the spirit of a collaborative approach, a sincere thank you to general contractors L.F. Jennings and Triad Construction Services, Inc. for their input on this article.

Read Bohler’s case study on The St. James, a unique project in Northern Virginia that used a design-build method with L.F. Jennings to deliver the project 10 months ahead of schedule.

At Bohler, we are driven to help owners and developers accomplish their land development goals. Let’s discuss how our team can help you find and act on opportunities to move your project forward.

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About Keith Simpson, PE
Keith Simpson Herndon Associate

Keith is an Associate and Director of Engineering for Bohler’s Mid-Atlantic division. In this role, he works closely with project managers and site civil design teams across Bohler’s footprint to reinforce standard operating procedures that ensure efficiency, quality, and consistency in our communication and site plan deliverables. In addition, Keith leads Bohler’s Quality Assurance/Quality Control team, which is focused on developing design solutions that improve the constructability of Bohler’s projects and streamline overall timelines.

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