The Challenge: Integrating Preconstruction with Your Field Operations
One of the things we’ve discussed in previous blogs is how isolated preconstruction has traditionally been within the construction industry, as well as how to prevent falling back into that type of disconnectivity. Part of preventing isolation is to move towards integration. We held an exclusive panel conversation with three experienced estimating professionals tackling the challenge of integrating a company’s preconstruction efforts with their field operations.
Why is it important to make sure preconstruction and field operations are connected? First, it’s absolutely critical for data generated in the preconstruction phase of a project to be as accurate as possible, and without a clearly defined handoff between preconstruction and field operations, much of that data can quickly get lost. In fact, in a study published by international engineering company Emerson, it’s estimated that as much as 30% of project data gets lost in the average construction project.
Second, in order for preconstruction forecasts and analysis to continue improving, estimators need to be able to track what happens to data generated in the preconstruction phase as it moves through construction to project completion. Estimators won’t be able to faithfully track this data if they don’t have strong communication and integrated systems in place with field operations.
However, that still doesn’t explain how you can get these two departments to come together. But don’t worry, you won’t have to hold your breath—that’s exactly what these three estimating professionals answer.
The First Solution: Utilize Delivery Methods that Enable Collaboration
Not all project delivery methods are made equal, and some are going to make collaboration between your preconstruction team and your field operations crew easier than others. There are five major delivery methods: design-bid-build, design-build, construction manager at risk, job order contracting, and multiple award task order contract.
While each method certainly has its pros and cons, Landon McQuestion, Director of Preconstruction and Estimating at Balfour Beatty, shares that design-build has led to the most collaborative approaches in his experience. “We do a lot of different delivery methods, and there are certain methods where the collaboration happens more, like design-build. We do a lot of large design-build, so on those, a superintendent and a senior project manager get involved really early, and they’re usually active in the estimate. They’re asking questions and making notes.”
When McQuestion’s team does encounter projects that will be delivered in a system that provides less opportunity for collaboration, like construction manager at risk, McQuestion adds: “Our department actually builds the estimates and then sends it to [field operations] so that they can review it.” So while design-build delivery methods are certainly preferable if you’re wanting to have smoother integration between preconstruction and field operations, it’s equally as important to have defined systems of communication and delegation if/when you employ delivery methods that may make integration more difficult.
The Second Solution: Establish Formal Reviews/Requests for Feedback
Another huge component to integrating your preconstruction efforts with your job-site ones? Making sure that you aren’t waiting for feedback, but that you’re actively soliciting it from your team with boots on the ground. Andy O’Nan, Director of New Project Development at Sebastian Construction Group, explains: “The main [feedback request] that we do is a budget review, but there are some other pieces that we have done as well. One is subcontractor performance feedback. We use a bidding software to keep track of pre-qualification information, like bidding history and things like that, and we also send surveys several times a year to our superintendents and project managers to get feedback on how our subs are performing.”
Of course, it’s not uncommon to get unsolicited feedback, especially if a sub is performing poorly. But, as Andy puts it: “We always hear those, but we want to hear from the guys that are also doing extremely well, those who are providing better value.” By implementing trackable ways of capturing feedback such as sending out surveys, it’s easier to identify the gaps in your existing processes regarding the handoff between preconstruction and field operations.
The Third Solution: Establish a Point Person for Continuity Between Preconstruction and Field Operations
Another important key to ensuring continuity and integration between your estimating efforts and field operations is having dedicated people on your precon side whose purpose is to regularly check in with project managers on site. Jan Beran, Senior Estimator at Beckenhauer, shares his company’s approach: “Generally, we have someone responsible for the relationship overall, whether that’s the business development officer or some of our VP-level ops. They’ll maintain contact throughout the project, it may not be an active role but for us we have either a lead estimator or a preconstruction manager carrying the ball during the construction phase and slowly hand off to the project managers as we enter the field.”
Jan also acknowledges that a lot of feedback and checking in traditionally happened in-office in the past. But as remote work and access to data becomes more and more frequent, it’s incredibly important to have solid systems in place that allow you to maintain continuity even when you’re not able to be in the office.