Project Management

Who Pays?

By |February 17th, 2016|

If you have been through the design and construction process, regardless of the delivery method, you will at some point been presented with an add service from the design team, or a change order request from the general contractor. I am often taken aback by the client’s immediate insurgence that someone else should pay for the item in question, including ourselves, the owner’s rep.  I have found that those with the least amount of tolerance for any additional costs often look to design-build as a solution to mitigate this pain but it certainly won’t eliminate it. Why do owners feel justified in denying requests?

1. You made the mistake. Owners don’t understand why when someone makes a “mistake” on a project that they don’t automatically pay for it.  After all, it was the lack of coordination, improper documentation or lack of follow-through that was the cause, right?  Equally baffling is the fact that design teams from the onset clearly communicate that drawings will not be perfect and a contingency fund should be carried to cover  reasonable errors and omissions. The gray area is what is reasonable; is it quantity of items that were missed or value of the items? There are industry standards that can help, but the best advice is to document the changes and track them back to the root cause.

2. The Agency should pay for that. So often budgets we inherit are created without escalation and proper detail related to fire department fees, water tap fees and, most notable of late, erosion control and stormwater management requirements.  As a project progresses months or years into the comprehensive timeline, the effects of improper planning can lead to significant deltas in owner’s budgets. We [...]

Why Colorado in Primed for Public Private Partnerships

By |December 31st, 2015|

Originally published in the Dec. 2015 issue of Building Dialogue.

There has been a lot of discussion about Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) recently in Colorado, and for good reason. Colorado leaders have positioned the state to be a leader in this delivery model and is on its way to proving that that this approach can be a viable choice for vertical buildings (social infrastructure), in addition to transportation projects.  P3s have been proven to be highly successful in Canada, Australia and Europe and it is only a matter of time before we see this project approach become more prevalent in the U.S.

The most notable Colorado P3 project is the construction of additional lanes along U.S. 36. In order to allow for this project to move forward, the state passed legislation that cleared the way for funding to be applied, which is a barrier many other states can’t overcome. The statute allows for transportation projects, but if proven successful, legislation may be agreeable to expand the use of P3s to other kinds of infrastructure projects. Additionally, Colorado has moved on from the days of requiring hard bid delivery and is accustomed to design-build and CMAR delivery models. Finally, Colorado is a home-rule state, so, legislation is not necessarily required to be passed for projects to move forward, if the debt is properly structured.

P3s are often incorrectly categorized, which is evident by some recently released RFPs we have reviewed. If the project owner is a  public entity, and that entity enlists a private entity (a developer perhaps) to help solve a challenge, then it is a public private partnership right? According to the Performance Based Building Coalition it is more than that. Think of it as design-build on [...]

Vetting Out a Cultural Fit part 2

By |December 17th, 2015|

Architect Selection Case Study – Part 2

The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus had its official grand opening Friday, November 20th, 2015.  As we look back when we started the project on December 12, 2008 (yes, nearly seven years ago) one of the more memorable moments was the selection of the design team. In Part 2 of this two-part blog, we will focus on the interview process.

In Part 1 of the blog, I discussed how we created a unique RFP, populated with questions tailored to this specific project. This approach provided the architect selection committee the ability to quickly identify firms that clearly, based on their responses (see below), didn’t understand their culture and mission. From a “highly-qualified” stance, there were obvious front runners, but some lost ground because they did not connect with the client and the spirit of the project. Some teams brought on museum experts, which you might think would bolster your team’s strength, but it seemed to do the opposite. It left the committee wondering 1) if you feel the owner lacks the ability to be the expert, or 2) if your team lacks creative strength without the add-on staff.

When determining the short list of firms, it was brought to our attention that we scheduled the interviews Halloween week–the same time as one of their busiest events, Trick or Treat Street.  The entire staff dresses in full costume, helping with a myriad of Halloween-themed activities. We realized that the selection committee members would need to pull a “Peter Brady” and change in and out of costume to conduct the interviews (a serious burden with face paint and wigs), or feel awkward amongst the well suited architects. The idea was [...]

Vetting Out a Cultural Fit part 1

By |December 7th, 2015|

Architect Selection Case Study – Part 1

The Children’s Museum of Denver at Marsico Campus had its official grand opening Friday, November 20th, 2015. As we look back when we started the project on December 12, 2008 (yes, nearly seven years ago) one of the more memorable moments was the selection of the design team. In Part 1 of this two-part blog, we will focus on the submitted architectural design proposals.

Upon being hired to serve as Owner Representative, we met with the staff and toured the Museum. We quickly picked up on the culture of the facility and staff – everything they do is with the end goal of providing children opportunities to learn through play. When it came time to generate the architectural design RFP for the expansion and addition of this prized community facility, the client communicated that it was imperative that the design firm selected not only be capable of designing a beautiful facility, but they must demonstrate that they are in tune with children and how they interact and think. To help the client achieve this goal, we generated an RFP with questions that went beyond the typical “how many have you done” mentality. By creating a list of submittal requirements unique to the Children’s Museum, we felt we could vet out the teams that would be the best cultural matches. Below are a few examples of the questions asked, along with the submitting design firms’ responses:

1.  Submit a top-five list of what you feel would be the best exhibits to have in the Museum
Some of the best responses:

Build your own Platte River
Soundscapes: light and sound interaction
Take V – TV Studio
Mad scientist laboratory

The Hesitancy of Contingency

By |August 20th, 2015|

Recently, we were trying to close the gap between our project budget and progress estimate, looking for options, the owner honed in on the contingency as an easy way to cover the delta, offering up, “Let’s reduce the contingency from 5% to 1%. We will be on budget and move forward.” Although this was by far the easiest solution to get us on budget, I encouraged him to explore other options. When he asked me to explain why he needs a contingency fund, I responded “Do you like your job? Contingency allows you to keep it.” We remained at 5%.  The fact is, contingency is, if nothing else, an insurance policy.

Contingency is usually a hot topic, regardless the team member’s title. Design teams want to be assured that the owner has a contingency fund in place. The reality is, no drawings are perfect and unforeseen conditions need to be addressed (paid for) to keep the project moving forward. I have found that if you explain to your design team that there is contingency fund in place and outline the expectations of its use, they are comfortable moving forward.

Over the years, we have seen a variety of responses to contingency funds from the general contractors. While working with a general contractor on a particular agreement, we communicated that the owner would carry the contingency in their budget and no contingency would be allowed in the GMP. This position became such a point of contention that the contractor would not sign the agreement without a minimum contingency amount being part of the GMP agreement. During the negotiations it was stated by the general contractor that “this is industry standard,” “all contracts are structured this way” and [...]

The ABCs of PPPs

By |August 6th, 2015|

Serving as Owner Representative to numerous municipalities, we are participating in PPP discussions like never before. So much in fact, that I recently attended the National Public Private Partnership conference in Boston to learn the ABCs of PPPs and discover the benefits this innovative business model as to offer.

While Public Private Partnerships (PPP) have been around for over 20 years, they have been less prevalent in the United States, compared to the trendsetters of Canada and Australia. That said, there is a surging interest in the PPP model, particularly with infrastructure projects such as water, roads and bridges (think US 36 tollway). Institutions looking for stable financial investments are attracted to water facilities, toll roads and parking garages. They offer a safe bet for a return on investment as they are necessary for a successful communities. Social infrastructure projects, such as schools and libraries, have similar potential, but are commonly paid back through an intergovernmental agreement.

So, why establish a PPP?  It was clearly the opinion of the conference presenters that PPP projects are not a want, but a need. PPPs can bring creative resolutions to the ever-mounting problems of failing bridges, congested highways, or lack of water infrastructure. Projects that fall under social infrastructure may appear like a want upon first glance, but after close examination, they may actually be a need; one only needs to look at charter schools for an example of the private sector assisting in devising solutions.  Another project type ripe for a PPP is student housing on college campuses, they can also produce revenue.  An educational institution has the students, and sometimes the real estate, but not the capital to make the project happen – enter a private partner [...]

What Did You Call Me?

By |June 23rd, 2015|

We get called by a lot of different names in our line of work. When our clients think of the various project consultants, they have a solid idea of the exact job each performs based upon their consistent titles, such as general contractor, architect, or electrical engineer. It seems that as the Project Management field has grown over the several years, so have our titles:

Owner’s Representative
Construction Manager (CM)
Construction Manager Advisor
Program Manager
Project Manager

While all might fit, depending upon the job, they are not exactly interchangeable. Here are some subtleties between them:

Owner’s Representative – entity that manages on Owner’s behalf; usually has an agreement only with the Owner and no other entity.
Construction Manager (CM) – Similar to an Owner’s Representative but will hire and manage subcontractors on the Owner’s behalf. The CM doesn’t hold the agreements with the subs, the Owner does.
Program Manager- Owner’s Representative that is managing multiple projects for one Owner.
Project Manager- This is where it gets a little blurry. A Project Manager could refer to the person leading the Program Management, Construction Management or the Owner’s Representative. Many of our RFPs will simply request project management services, which is fine, as long as the scope of the project and detailed work items are combined.

So, tell me, what do you call me?

~ Paul Wember, Owner’s Representative

The Silver Linings of a Low Bid

By |June 9th, 2015|

While it’s accepted practice to seek out the best deal when shopping for a car, house and toothpaste, we receive feedback from frustrated colleagues when owners base their general contractor selection off the lowest fee, or lowest bid.

The challenge in front of the A/E/C community, is to demonstrate to the owner the value of paying more for your services. This is very difficult when you are selling a service to those who have limited industry experience. Should we embrace that we have to provide the lowest fee to win the final selection? Is being selected by low fee always bad, or is there a silver lining? Here are some things to consider from our perspective on why hiring based on lowest fee isn’t all bad.

New Markets.   We have seen design and construction firms with an iron grip on certain project types, be it libraries, police or recreation centers. Yet, we work with great firms and talented people who never seem to have an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities on these project types. In fact, many won’t submit because their qualifications can’t compare. What if you had an opportunity to overcome a qualification-based selection process and break into a whole new market without teaming or changing your processes? You might reconsider by submitting a lower-than-normal fee, thus creating a tempting offer.
New Subcontractors.   In the CMAR process we see favoritism to certain subcontractors by certain general contractors. As these subcontractors become complacent and understand how to bid against the usual two go-to firms, prices creep up and, as a general contractor you lose a competitive edge. Consider blaming the owner and the competitive process as the motivation to venture out and work with [...]

Stop Watching Porn

By |May 13th, 2015|

We know you do it, be it online, with magazines or other medium…you can’t help yourself; but, you need to stop.  There are all types to fit your desires, but is it healthy? You view these mediums so much that they become reality and you may be living in an alternate world. Of course, I am talking about…architectural design and the media that showcase glorious architectural designs.

In the 1960’s, Playboy set expectations of how the average “girl next door” should look. Now we are in the digital age, where anything goes. Just as this may not be healthy for your relationship with your partner, the same could be said for the architecture medium you are consuming.  You might tell yourself that Houzz, Architizer and The Architectural Review are sources of inspiration, but doesn’t it distort reality, leaving us to feel our design are “less-than?” Are you entering the realm of a twisted reality with your clients by having your head filled with imagery of buildings made out of storage containers, all glass or titanium?

By all means, get inspired, but don’t get consumed. Your clients may not have spent the time looking at all the imagery you have, and may not be as excited to fulfill what you have in mind. Consider that the latest trend may not be for everyone, and the best way to approach trying something new is to talk to your client, ask them what they are into, and take your time. When the project is done they may love it as much as you did from the start, but respect that it may take more time for them to understand your vision.

Now, shut down that web browser, put down that [...]

2Pac vs John Lennon

By |March 1st, 2015|

Two great artists. Two tragic deaths. Two very different styles. Is your style like 2Pac or John Lennon?

2Pac was “Me Against the World” and “All Eyes on Me”. Where John Lennon was “Imagine” and “Instant Karma”.  Where do you fall in this spectrum? You would think the obvious answer should be John Lennon, but note, this industry is not all unicorns and sunshine. Having a positive attitude is a great, but if you don’t have a little precipitation there will be no rainbows. When you begin working with a client everything is “so great, we can do it, we can meet the budget, we can give you everything you want.” While this feels like spreading peace, we all know that no project ever goes perfectly; you might want to pour a glass of Hennessy and get real. John Lennon was an inspiration and uplifting, garner his great qualities, but consider moving to the middle.

You may say 2Pac is your man. Tell it like it is, get out of my way.  Confidence is one thing, arrogance is another.  I about barfed in my mouth when Thom Mayne, in talking about clients to the AIA this last Fall, said “Why should I listen to them? They know nothing about aesthetics.” This style might win awards, but is it really more important than the process and relationship? If it is then, “Shit, I’m wit cha, I ain’t mad at cha” ~ 2Pac. Having an edge can inspire creativity, having an opinion can help inform, and may passion burn bright, but, telling everyone else to back off….that’s just ego.

Both artists are great in their own right and both have a loyal following. If they were architects, each would have [...]