It is no secret that the design and construction industry is one of the most inefficient on the planet. A number of books have identified and documented the declining productivity of every hour and dollar invested in the building process. Architects, engineers, contractors and developers have been struggling for years in an environment so fragmented, no single player can have significant influence or initiate meaningful change. Architects are marginalized and commoditized, and contractors struggle with the same labor and process risk they have carried for centuries. Critical design information is withheld until the submittal process. No viable and practical risk management instrument has been developed. Buildings are still created one brick, one nail and one shim at a time, and the value proposition to owners continues to decline.
Frankly, the inefficiency of the industry— whether in product delivery, construction technology or design factors—is inexcusable and amounts to billions of dollars of unnecessary waste that is paid for by public and private owners. This situation, in turn, discourages viable business plans, eats away at institutional endowments, reduces the aspirations of school districts and raises taxes for communities wishing to fix roads and build community centers. In a $1- trillion industry, that amounts to $300 billion or more of wasted investment a year.
These numbers are astounding, and owners are increasingly frustrated and bewildered. To owners, the industry sometimes appears to be filled with ostrich-like professionals in deep denial.
As a result, owners grapple with a dilemma every time they start a design and construction project. Every owner who recognizes the gross inefficiency of the industry must decide either to trust the traditional processes performed by design and construction professionals or try to create better, more efficient alternatives that are capable of providing higher value.
We just can’t help ourselves. As many times as we have been burned, as many times as we have been surprised and frustrated by design and construction process outcomes—regardless of whether we are using CM-at-risk, design/build or even bridging processes—the professionals and owners of the design and construction industry still hope there’s one answer or a magic fix.
There is no magical alchemy. There is no guaranteed process or contract or tool that will fix what is wrong with the industry. The industry already knows the truth. A poor team can screw up the best process (or contract); alternatively, a great team can often overcome a poor process (or contract).
This is not to say we should stop trying to improve our processes, contracts or tools. But predictable success starts with recognizing that projects and project teams are complex organizations. These organizations typically are forced to operate in isolated environments with leaders who have few management skills; environments in which it seems no one can control bad team behavior, communication is slow, and efficient decision-making is rare.
Owners have the power to change poor project environments by carefully crafting great teams, managing with values, creating disciplined decision processes and being fully invested members of the project teams.
Managing a great team is hard, tedious work. It requires continuous stewardship, development of accurate and timely feedback processes and willingness to provide the team with the decisions and tools required to do a great job.
Owners not only have the power to improve the way teams deliver projects, they also carry the responsibility of carefully managing the complex organizations they create to execute projects. Owners have the power to hire and fire team members. Owners make decisions. Owners have the ability to set the tone. In fact, owners can provide positive leadership if they lead with great values and have an eye for innovative solutions.