Want to build a building?
First hire an architect to design it.
Then send the plans out for bids. Then hire the low bid contractor to build it.
That’s the traditional design-bid-build methodology, and while you can still find adherents to that tradition, it doesn’t address a host of questions and challenges. Soil conditions, labor and materials costs, budget parameters, scheduling needs, disruption avoidance, compliance issues, and many other constructability factors all can have major impact on the shape and scope of a construction project; and not working through these and other issues ahead of time threatens successful outcomes. That’s why more and more owners are planning ahead with an experienced, multidisciplinary preconstruction team in order to provide informed decision-making and minimize unpleasant surprises.
As Preconstruction Services Manager, Kraus-Anderson’s Michelle Lund works collaboratively to add value to a wide range of projects, including healthcare, K-12 and higher education, senior housing, office, industrial, retail and government projects. Here is some of her perspective on the work.
Q: Define preconstruction, or precon, in simple terms.
LUND: Preconstruction Services is the planning of a construction project before the actual construction begins to meet the client’s requirements in order to produce a functionally and financially viable project.
Q: What happens in precon?
LUND: Preconstruction services team members provide a variety of elements which are geared towards formulating the best value for projects through an informed decision making process. Estimating of design evaluations/studies, as well as; value management strategies, constructability reviews, construction sequencing simulations, product and system life cycle information, product lead time information, site logistics, man-power requirements, scheduling, and constructability reviews which all drive client and design teams’ decisions for the project.
Q: What are the benefits of preconstruction?
LUND: Preconstruction services provides a collaborative process for clients to make informed design decisions at impactful times to maximize the value of their project.
Q: How prevalent would you say is the use of some kind of precon services today in commercial construction?
LUND: Preconstruction efforts have definitely increased in the last several years for a number of reasons. Clients, Owner’s Representative Firms as well as Architects are requesting the involvement of contractors to provide these services to ensure the overall design meets the project’s budget. Owners want to eliminate surprises related to project costs and schedule and the design team wants to minimize redesign and delays. These issues can be mitigated by having a knowledgeable preconstruction team on board at the beginning of the project allowing for informed decisions to be made.
There has also been an increase in the number of owners wishing to lock into a Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP) prior to completed construction documents. This can only be accomplished if a construction manager has been working in collaboration with the entire team early in the process so he or she understands the goals and desires of the project.
Q: Is there a difference in the way KA provides preconstruction services? Or in the depth to which KA provides it?
LUND: Absolutely. One major advantage is our Exterior Envelope Expert. I’m not aware of any other company that has an expert that provides the level of review and coordination that Mike Spence does from design review to field quality control. Our Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MEP) Coordinators are also extensively involved in our projects at all levels; budgeting, design reviews, subcontractor solicitation, subcontractor proposal/bid reviews as well as commissioning. In addition our project managers are deeply involved from early preconstruction through project completion bringing continuity to the construction process.
Q: When does precon happen in relation to the conceptual design or design development phase? When in the construction timeline is it most effective? When is it too late to be of help?
LUND: Preconstruction can be implemented into a project at any level of design. However, projects typically get the most benefit from these services the earlier you implement them. Employment of preconstruction services at program/conceptual level, means that you can start analyzing the project with value management strategies regardless if the need to save costs or enhance the design. Once the project gets to the design development document level or later, potential re-design costs will need to be considered while generating any value management strategy.
Q: Who is involved in preconstruction?
LUND: Depending on the complexity and the location of the project as well as how the project is being funded will require a varying level of involvement from different people. At a minimum a Client, Design Team, Contractor – Senior PM, and Contractor – PM. Other times it’s a wide range of different peoples involvement such as an Owner’s Representative, code officials, community leaders, special interest groups, board of directors or school board, specialist design team members, MEP Subcontractor(s), major work section Subcontractors, Special Construction Subcontractors, Contractor – Director, Contractor – General Superintendent or Superintendent, Contractor – MEP Coordinator, Contractor – Quality Control Manager, Contractor – BIM Specialist, and Contractor – Director of Community Relations.
Q: What are some examples of how preconstruction adds value to the client’s project?
• Looking for redundancy in mechanical and electrical systems, validating if it was client requested with the design team and presenting the cost information to the client for their decision to keep or to omit these redundancies.
• Evaluating finishes for a project from a “typical fit-out perspective” and identifying where finishes may be out of the normal range of expectations whether it’s higher or lower esthetics of similar current projects.
• Evaluating different through-wall construction types and each wall types’ benefits, drawbacks, costs and schedule implications.
Q: What sorts of timelines are involved? Does preconstruction extend the timeline for conceptual development and design development?
LUND: Typically preconstruction does not extend the timeline. Design continues to progress while the construction management team provides continuous feedback. Good preconstruction services generally have a positive impact on the actual construction schedule as many road blocks are identified and resolved in the planning process prior to the start of construction.
How does preconstruction work with the architect’s vision to bring solutions to the client? Frequently Architects are selected for projects by their interpretation of the client’s vision through sketches or in previous project designs, and the last thing we want to do is to debauch the design intent. Being involved early allows the construction manager to understand the design intent and what the client and owner hold as important.
Q: How are differences in direction between design and contractor reconciled? We try to have as many discussions as possible to gain the design team’s trust and try to work collaboratively through any issue.
Q: What role does preconstruction play in resolving differences in direction?
LUND: Being on board early in the process allows everyone to clearly understand and align goal and expectations. It’s important to respect all the team members’ roles and build trust and respect that will carry on though out the project. This collaborative process is critical for a successful project.
Q: What Best Practices does KA follow to maximize the success of the preconstruction effort? Or, what Best Practices would you recommend to someone looking at construction in their near future?
LUND: Provide realistic information in a collaborative, respectful and timely fashion for a project to establish a team environment with the client and architect.
Q: Are there types or scopes of construction where you’d say preconstruction does not add value? Or can it be used successfully in projects of virtually any scale or type?
LUND: There isn’t any type of project that couldn’t benefit from the involvement of preconstruction services, there just may be projects that have fewer needs or challenges than others.
Q: Talk a little about some of the trends in preconstruction, or emerging areas.
LUND: Since preconstruction isn’t always a chargeable service for contractors, there are growing trends for contractors of all sizes to find faster and more reliable methods of performing these services. This industry has entered a world of the boundless search and discovery of new programs for cost modeling, cost estimating, quantity surveying, cost history collection databases, subcontractor solicitation and overall document management. We’re excited to be moving forward with implementation of new technology to support estimating projects.
Even so, the human dynamic is at the center of what makes this industry so compelling. Pulling a team together that has the right experience and working cohesively toward a common goal, and contributing to a highly successful outcome, is a tremendous experience.