Jul 3, 2024

The Case for Better Preconstruction

The Case for Better Preconstruction

I started my career in construction working for a General Contractor on a large hospital project. Besides the main hospital building, there was a clinic, cancer center, and central energy plant. My primary responsibility was managing the BIM process, but also reviewing shop drawings, sending RFI's, and all the typical project engineer work. We had A LOT of RFI's and one thing I had to learn very quickly was how to effectively write an RFI. With some help from my Project Manager mentors, and a little trial and error gauging quality of responses, I got pretty good at it. The key to getting actionable responses is not just saying, "you need to fix this incomplete design", rather, offering a few realistic solutions to choose from. For example, we had some issues in the central energy plant with steel framing and duct work conflicts. Instead of putting it on the design team to "fix it", I asked if we can lower the ceiling or resize the ductwork. The point is this:

"In construction we are either communicating challenges or bringing solutions. We're either passing the buck or taking ownership. It's our choice."

Now, we got really good at communicating constructability issues through the model, but it wasn't perfect. Overlays of drawings and snapshots in an RFI only go so far when you're trying to point out different vantage points of all your MEP's, drywall, and steel clashes in a congested ceiling. I was using Bluebeam at the time and they had just come out with a cool new 3D PDF function. I immediately installed the plugin into Revit and Navisworks and realized that I could export sections of the model to a PDF and rotate around to see everything (MEP, ceilings, steel, the works!) inside a room or corridor. Then in Bluebeam, I added buttons to rotate to a saved view with comments and suggested solutions. I remember the architect on that hospital project calling me after opening the RFI and saying, "this is so cool, how did you make this? It's so much easier to understand.” People are a big part of the process, but the tools have to evolve to meet the communication needs. Here's the aha:

"if it ain't broke" is not a reason to not improve. Not only should we strive to take ownership and bring solutions, but also leverage the tools that give us the ability to do so. That is true partnership and what coming alongside to help people meet goals looks like."

So, what does all this have to do with preconstruction? I've used or implemented various tools, done quantity take off, solicited trade partners, and estimated all to get to a palatable project cost for owners and developers around Nashville. I've sat in the meetings as pricing was presented to win the work. In the first meeting, you have your fingers crossed hoping that between your project cost and value engineering the owner has enough to chew on and make an informed decision quickly. As Lee Corso would say "not so fast.” That project owner has also gone through the same process with two other general contractors and is comparing everyone's cost to them. Only to go through another pricing exercise probably five or six more times, at least. Fast forward two years and hopefully you've gotten to GMP with a contract in hand. Oh, and the project is only a one year job. The question I've continued to ask myself from the general contractor side is, "why does it take so long to get to an agreed upon price and break ground?" We are all professionals here, know our part in the process, and have great relationships with the folks we are working with, but it is a "process.” In other words:

"Preconstruction involves multiple stakeholders to inform the design, cost, and constructability metrics that dictate if the project moves forward."

I want to point back to my RFI experience. In some ways there is already success in maneuvering through the precon process, right? General contractors have been successful partnering with trusted owners, developers, and designers. Even so, I've talked to a lot of very smart people and forward thinking general contractors who are pricing work only to hear their client wants to achieve their design intent at a lower cost. While that's not a realistic expectation in the current economy, it puts those trying to win the work on defense. So, how do those of us in the industry truly partner with our clients and help them achieve their goals? Well, first off, the only way to fight inflation and keep costs down is to  make decisions quicker. Secondly, in order to do that, we have to add agility into preconstruction. That means more context to make informed decisions at the speed required to achieve these results. This industry needs a tool that allows us to push and pull the levers that actually impact cost to help owners understand what their cost drivers really are. Historically, Value Engineering is that vehicle that allows us to throw in a few alternates to save money, but in most cases that lessens the quality of the product being delivered. NOW…Consider this; you've spent time pricing a new mixed-use project for one of your owners, then go into your meeting and present based on their drawings, but then switch gears to show how you've re-programmed the unit mix (using the basis of design provided) and they now have three other project options to consider that increase their revenue and potentially reduce the overall cost. You might even re-program those units live in your meeting to create even more options for consideration. Here's the hypothesis:

Our ability to help owners better understand how cost impacts design and quickly option-engineer different scenarios based on their target pro-forma will lead to faster decisions.

I've always thought that my role at companies is to find ways to serve those we work with to meet their goals (both internal and external). And because of all this, I deeply connect with the mission here at Ediphi, “to empower the people who plan the built world.” If that resonates with you, I would encourage you to reach out. We care deeply about this industry at Ediphi and would love to learn more about your precon process to see where our tool can add value.

-Trey Darnell, Ediphi Director of Sales

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