Commercial Construction Project Management Trends

One of the biggest challenges for commercial construction firms today is the tighter project timelines that have become the norm at every phase of a project – from shorter deadlines for submitting initial bids and budgets, to quicker resolution on addendums and change orders, to compressed schedules for construction and delivery. Today, we push to build out a restaurant in 22 weeks instead of the 30 that used to be typical, and our target turnaround for a hotel project has gone from 10 to 12 months to an 8- to 10-month timeframe.

This trend reflects the sense of immediacy that is pervasive across the modern business world.  But as our clients and their project partners look to construction firms to deliver information and completed commercial construction projects at a faster pace than ever before, they should know there are a number of things they can do on their own end to help maximize efficiency:

Involve your commercial contractor in the pre-construction planning process.

Rather than waiting until a set of plans is finalized and then asking a GC to bid and budget them, clients should bring a trusted construction firm to the table along with other project partners during initial planning. A GC’s perspective is extremely valuable at this early stage in identifying factors that could impact the construction timeline. This could be anything from a commercial construction site where access is limited – thereby necessitating precise scheduling for the delivery of equipment and materials – to specifications for special-order tile or millwork that require a significant lead time.   

Likewise, involving a GC early can help avoid issues that potentially cause delays later on. For example, the GC might review initial plans and spot a conflict in the layout of mechanical systems. It’s much better to catch something like this while the project is still ‘at the drawing board,’ rather than discover the issue in real time on the job site, and have construction halted while a work-around is found.

Invest in detailed project plans.

Most people would be surprised at the range in the quality of the plans a general contractor receives to start bidding and budgeting projects. Best case scenario, we get fully detailed drawings with separate overlays for each mechanical system and trade. But it’s not unusual to be asked to start putting costs together with a lot less to go on – sometimes just a rough sketch that raises a lot of questions.

While a skilled GC can call on their experience to make assumptions about missing information, it does require more time because we have to go back and confirm those details with the client. And if the client changes their mind after we’ve started work, or has something different in mind, it takes even more time to resolve. Bottom line – the more detailed and final the plans are from the get-go, the more comprehensive we can be during budgeting and planning. That means fewer questions, fewer surprises, and fewer of the changes that inevitably lead to delays.

Embrace your contractor’s project management technology.

Today, all sophisticated construction firms use some type of project management software to run their jobs. More than just a tool to keep the GC’s team organized internally, these platforms are a great way to streamline communication among the entire project team by providing a communal forum for input. If there’s a question, clarification or addendum to any project element, the project management portal allows all parties to access relevant information and plans and comment in real time.

Ultimately, a project management portal can result in fewer bottlenecks in the construction schedule due to waiting for feedback or resolution on questions. However, to maximize effectiveness, it’s imperative that everyone on the project team – including the client – is on board and using the platform as a shared communication channel.

Communicate and have realistic expectations.

Commercial general contractors understand the scheduling demands our clients are up against – whether they’re trying to hit a firm opening date for a new restaurant or retail location, or simply minimize the amount of time their business is closed or impacted during a renovation. We love when our clients communicate with us about these factors, as it helps us understand what’s driving their deadlines and do all we can to meet them.

At the same time, a conversation about schedules and timing should be a two-way dialogue. We can be a resource to help clients understand the outside factors that might impact their project’s turnaround time – such as the ongoing construction labor shortage, which means subcontractors are busier and more difficult to schedule. By communicating, we can work together to set a project timeline that is aggressive, realistic and ultimately successful.

Chuck Taylor

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