Three strategies to optimize project satisfaction

Expediting decisions and increased collaboration can improve project satisfaction for integrated project delivery.

By Corey Zachel, PE, LEED AP, BD+C September 25, 2019

Integrated project delivery is critical when schedules are tight and budgets are rigid. Transparent communication, collaboration, and clear design intent can shave significant time and dollars off a project when both are in short supply. Consider these three strategies to help ensure successful integrated project delivery.

1. Expediting decisions and relying on experience

A recent project utilizing these strategies steered project leaders in the right direction with a fully vetted and detailed design up front

The first step was a kick-off meeting of stakeholders in which all parties were represented: the project team, contractor, and the owner. The project was essentially design-build and the team wanted all parties involved in the discussion so they could gather all the necessary input and come to an understanding before initiating the design. The goal was to avoid going through multiple revisions.

Representatives from several disciplines had been performing a walk-through of the project area, discussing how to route power to the site for pull ahead work. Three options were proposed and the owner asked for pricing details for all three solutions.

The engineer and contractor agreed on one of the three options as a standout. The other options were dismissed due to the intended local subcontractor for high voltage being in high demand and cost.

The agreed-upon solution made the most sense as the existing substation had ample capacity to extend temporary power from the shortest distance to the temporary trailer city. Drawing on the team’s expertise made it possible for the owner to avoid conducting a series of additional studies and having change orders later on that would occur with a less than optimal solution.

Given the project’s schedule, stakeholders chose to rely on the experienced architects, engineers, and contractors to suggest the best solution so the project team could get started on design work and construction planning immediately.

Communicating the basis of the design to the team, gathering feedback, and getting buy-in for the chosen solution can be done in a series of meetings, leaving only the formality of documentation.

2. Collaborating and finding solutions

The need a project fulfills drives what stakeholders target for funding and setting the budget to meet that need. To localize the budgeting, owners bring in project teams who can find the best solutions to accomplish the objectives within the given budget.

Clear, effective communication saves money as well as time, building a level of trust between ownership and the project team, so conditions and constraints can be clearly communicated and understood, and solutions proposed fall within those boundaries. Project team members are there to provide additional expertise, but mainly exist to help stakeholders figure out how to accomplish what is needed.

The challenge comes when there is a lack of trust or wavering confidence, making the necessity of studies and proofs more immediate. This cuts into the budget and slows the schedule. However, integrating the whole party into the design calculations and thought process in support of the original recommendation can eliminate the hesitation. The less people keep their thoughts to themselves, the faster the typical construction process status quo can diminish and real progress can be gained.

Consider another scenario. A project team and the contractor had developed a good working relationship and delivered a handshake on past projects. Because of their close partnering and shared experiences, each knew what the other was thinking, regarding the new project, without even having to ask. Having a similar outlook in these situations expedites decision-making and streamlines the entire project.

One of the additional benefits of hiring project teams is access to their network. While they come to the role through years of experience in a certain field, they also have come into contact with other specialists whose experience they can draw upon when they don’t have a ready answer.

Every challenge has multiple possible solutions and the right approach for each project is a unique blend of meeting the project’s defined goals and working within the constraints of schedule and budget. This precise reconciling requires definition, which will align with the chosen solution, but there are multiple ways to define it: written definitions, mapping the right solution, or sharing with others in a group meeting, may all generate different conclusions.

When collaborating with other disciplines, the more thorough the explanation of project issues, the better.

For all members to get on the same page, it’s good to share details gathered from conversations with manufacturers, contractors, and parts distributors, explaining how decisions were arrived at to get to the present state.

For example, if a 2000-A switch was needed, but the distributor had two 1000-A switches in stock and they could be located so each switch could have its own branch circuits cut to them, it is best to use what is in stock even if it isn’t exactly what is specified. Such a solution may not follow the logical course when viewed from an outside perspective, but is clear once the preceding circumstances are revealed.

3. Transparency and Information sharing

Transparency can be difficult with design-build contracts. In such projects, the general contractor holds the contract for the entire project, with all the trades, design professionals, and other project team members subcontracted to the entity. Even with a solid design basis, the design-build contract holds the project to a guaranteed maximum price (GMP).

The way to avoid the GMP being an impediment is for all stakeholders to have input on the estimate so all costs are considered while still delivering what the owner needs.

A major challenge of working with multiple competing interests is some entities may, unintentionally, not be completely forthcoming with information that may be useful to others. It is possible they may not have the more detailed information — such as per-unit pricing. They may have it on file, but they haven’t shared it yet. It’s also possible they don’t even realize other team members are not aware of it.

The onus is on the other parties to ask for detailed information. Sometimes, that could mean giving a timeline to provide the information, or terms if they ignore requests, with the hopes of receiving all the needed information in time to work together as a team.

Consider another example involving a lighting application. There was normal lighting needed over process egress aisles, which had to hit minimum average illumination. The project team had experience with this type of project. They knew what the owner needed and the price the contractor had quoted. They had to buy the product in bulk to get the required price point. The solution was to share products with others they intended to use to complete a bulk order, followed by conducting engineering and photo metrics around that change.

A potential challenge with design-build is general contractors may quote prices that include lower cost materials to achieve an overall price reduction, resulting in a lower GMP and a greater chance of getting the contract. Once the bid is won, the subcontractors often must be creative to work within the constraints of the budget. The least expensive material is not always what it seems — for example, when a higher quantity is required to account for the lower quality.

Once the budget is defined, it becomes a balancing act for the contractors to find the best solution. It can be difficult when a contract holder wants to see quotes for both options before they formally extend a contract to find out what is the optimal solution. Performing additional studies and calculations to support the contract holder’s pricing and logistics results in additional work outside the scope of the contract.

Alignment leads to satisfaction

Due diligence and collaborative effort early in the project helps avoid extra work and ensures all parties are aligned and understand the overarching project goals. Soliciting broader input brings precision to schedules and budgets, but if they are already set in stone, effective collaboration helps project teams design within the constraints set forth by the project. This helps ensure the contractors and owners are satisfied with the results.

Author Bio: Corey Zachel, PE, LEED AP BD+C, is a section manager and senior associate at SSOE Group, a global project delivery firm for architecture, engineering, and construction management. With 18 years of experience, Corey manages the production and checking of electrical construction documents. He can be reached at