Improving construction administration

Dec 11, 2022

Changing your perspective and striving to always be present, aware, and reassuring will inspire confidence during construction administration.

Recently, I gave a talk to the staff at FXCollaborative on our responsibilities during construction administration. Knowing CA isn’t a topic that excites some architects, I tried a different tact. In lieu of discussing it as a laundry list of tasks to be accomplished, I turned it on its head and discussed it from the owner and CM’s perspective. Hoping to shift the paradigm, the discussion moved away from what we’re obligated to do, and toward what we want our client and the CM to feel.

Changing our perspective reprioritizes the goal of CA. No longer is it just about reviewing submittals and RFIs or issuing field reports. Now, it’s a leadership role wherein the primary purpose is to always be present, aware, and reassuring. In other words, the goal is to inspire confidence. This means continuously reminding your client and the CM that the design team is fully invested in bringing their project to fruition on schedule and within budget. This is done through actions, not words.

But let’s be realistic – CA can be a grind. The endless cycle of submittals and RFIs is repetitive. Add in unexpected field conditions, scheduling pressures, and non-stop value engineering, and it becomes easy to lose sight of the big picture. For this reason, the design team needs to move away from the minutiae, and instead toward the emotional impact of our work. It’s a small shift in our approach, but one that has the potential to deliver better outcomes for the client, CM, and design team.

The following five steps reflect this idea and challenge us to rethink our approach to CA. Implementing these during construction sets the tone that the design team is fully on board. With this new approach, clients and CMs can be confident that goals will be met, and the design team can be satisfied they are adding value to the process.

  1. Feel their pain; get in their heads. Understanding the needs of the owner and CM is necessary to inspire confidence. Seeing the project from their perspective means understanding the scheduling and budgetary pressures they face. Remember – they need to answer to someone too, whether it be investors, banks, or bosses. Putting yourself in their shoes is one way to reassure the CM and owner that you understand what keeps them up at night.
    “Feeling their pain” lets the owner and CM know that you’re a team player who can see the project from their point of view.
  2. Be prepared. Design teams should have well-established internal protocols developed for CA. Set up an internal CA meeting for your staff well in advance of the construction kick-off to review workflows and responsibilities. This will include reviewing the contract with the owner to ensure all bases are covered and reaching out to the CM to confirm the construction kick-off date.
    Showing the owner and CM that the design team is prepared “Day 1” is a good step to inspiring confidence.
  3. Build relationships before kick-off. Prior to the construction kick-off, set up a meeting with the CM and owner. Use this time to identify key personnel and establish efficient workflows for submittals and RFIs. Understand that CMs have well-established procedures for how they work, which might not be compatible with the design team. For this reason, discussions about submittal and RFI workflows, field reporting, drawing issuances, and requisitions need to be hashed out before construction begins.
    Building relationships early on creates trust and signals to the CM that we’re serious about getting the job done while reassuring the owner that all parties are working together.
  4. Practice makes perfect. Finger pointing in an owner-architect-contractor meeting is never a good look. For this reason, schedule discussions between the CM and design team before the OAC meeting. During this “pre-OAC” session, discuss the status of each open submittal and RFI. Items that are late should be identified along with the actions needed to remedy them. Additionally, field issues that require sketches from the design team should be reviewed. The CM should have a firm commitment from the team as to when each issue will be resolved.
    The CM should clearly identify which submittals and RFIs are their highest priorities, and which can wait. The most important takeaway is that the CM knows that the design team is working on what is most urgent to them. Discussing these issues during a prep-session means that the design team is fully prepared with answers for the real thing.
    This form of “practice makes perfect” communicates to the owner that the design team and CM are on the same page.
  5. Adopt the “I need it yesterday!” mentality. Adopt the attitude that everything we work on during CA was needed yesterday − even if it wasn’t. However unrealistic that mindset, it helps us understand where the client and the CM are coming from – meaning everything is urgent, and nothing is as reassuring to them as knowing the design team understands this. Adopting the “I need it yesterday” mentality means:
    • Being aware of the construction schedule.
    • Knowing the status of every submittal and RFI under review.
    • Making every effort to respond quickly to the CM’s priorities for submittals, RFIs, and field issues.
    • Being responsive when answering emails and returning phone calls, especially from the owner.
    • Setting up Zoom calls with the CM to work through problematic submittals, RFIs, or trade coordination issues.
    • Working efficiently with the CM to close out the project so users can occupy the building ASAP.
  • Understanding “urgent” is the best way to let the owner know that the design team is fully engaged in the process and is being responsive to the CM’s priorities.

Construction is tough enough, and projects rarely − if ever − go perfectly. Scheduling and cost issues occur, and unexpected field issues cause disruptions. However, by following these five recommendations, issues can be mitigated or dealt with quickly. Along the way you will inspire confidence in the owner and CM by providing a fundamentally different way of performing CA.   

Mark Nusbaum, AIA, LEED is principal and director of technical design at FXCollaborative Architects LLP. Connect with him on LinkedIn. 

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