Lack of information leads to assumptions and guessing. Good and complete information at the appropriate time leads to informed decision-making.
Over my 30-year career, I’ve had the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects with diverse project teams and complex programs – a number of which would be considered “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunities. I’ve also been fortunate that many of these projects have been performed in a collaborative team-based approach that was an essential component of the successful delivery of these projects.
So what exactly is an integrated project team process? From my experience, it is comprised of four essential components:
- A highly engaged client. The only reason that any design and construction project is performed is that the owner has a personal, business, or organizational need that requires a real estate solution to achieve. No one builds, upfits, or renovates a building just for the fun of it. They have real purpose and objectives they are trying to achieve, and understanding the owner’s requirements, goals, and expectations is critical to delivering a project solution that truly aligns with those needs. Therefore, it should not come as any surprise that one of the first and most important components of project success is to have the owner as deeply immersed in the project design and implementation process as possible. This allows them to provide and continuously refine the project goals, understand how the project is being developed, and offer decisions and directions to keep the project aligned with goals. Likewise, the owner is also the key to maintaining project team buy-in to the integrated project team process, and their actions in leading by example are critical to the success of this approach. If the owner values, trusts, and respects the project team members and works in a collaborative manner, then the rest of the team will follow that lead. If not, it is highly likely the process will suffer and fail.
- A complete project team. Engage the core and supplemental project team members as early as possible in the project process. The architect, engineers, and contractor are all engaged at the project start, and other consultants and subcontractors are engaged as soon as their expertise is beneficial to the project’s development. The purpose is to engage the appropriate expertise at the right time so that the project team has the most complete technical, cost, schedule, and other information available, allowing the owner and project team to make decisions that are in the best interest of the project. This complete project team also applies to the owner, where it is equally important for the owner’s project leader to engage other members of the owner’s team at appropriate points to provide requirements, review and comment on design development, and coordinate on items that will be provided directly by the owner, such as facility management and maintenance, furniture systems, technology systems, and similar items. Lack of information leads to assumptions and guessing. Good and complete information at the appropriate time leads to informed decision-making aligned with the project goals. It really is that simple.
- A highly collaborative process. The project team members must work together in a highly collaborative process, through which they share their expertise and value, trust, and respect the expertise of the other team members. This is more than simply involving the full team up front and having them meet on a regular basis. Team members have to become actual partners where they proactively help each other. For example, the architect and engineer have to provide detailed information and assumptions early in the design process if they want the contractor to be able to put together valid budget pricing. The contractor then has to provide detailed clarifications and assumptions in the budget pricing so the architect can validate those assumptions, identify areas where changes might help improve the budget or schedule, and continue to develop the design in line with budget assumptions. This is a simple concept, but it requires commitment and proactive behavior. The most important part of achieving this component of the integrated project team process is to hire firms and people who genuinely want to collaborate, know how to collaborate, and naturally work in a collaborative manner. Collaborators will come together if given the chance. Prima donnas won’t.
- A commitment to shared success. The last component of an integrated project team process is the belief in common success. First, all involved parties must truly commit to the mindset that making the project successful for the client is the most important goal, and that their individual firms cannot be successful individually without achieving this primary goal. Secondly, all involved parties must be committed to helping each other be individually successful. I was introduced to this concept early in my career by the retired CEO of a Fortune 500 company. During a sticky spot in construction, he surprised me by saying that he wanted to make sure the contractor would make a profit. He understood that the contractor would need to look for cost-saving approaches, such as performing the project with less oversight, less staff, less experienced staff, or inexperienced and less reliable subcontractors, if pressed on profitability. The potential impacts would then be lower quality construction, increased chance of errors, and late or incomplete work. To this CEO, it was a simple business fact: If he wanted his company to be successful, then he needed to help ensure that his partners, vendors, and consultants would also be successful. That conversation has stuck with me for 30 years now, and helps remind me that if I want to be personally successful, and if I want my firm to be successful, then I have to do all I can to make my owner, the contractor, and other project team members successful as well.
This all sounds so simple and obvious, doesn’t it? Well, in many ways it really is that simple and will consistently lead to successful projects. It does require, however, a deliberate use of this approach – buy-in from the entire project team and each project team member staying committed to their roles and responsibilities throughout the project.
John Walker is a partner and workplace studio principal at Little. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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