By Jim Eisenhart

Our last challenged project blog post discussed the definition of construction project success on a challenged project, why all-star teams fail and the key to fixing problem construction projects lies in developing a world class team. In this follow-up post, we will provide a challenged project example and the solution for achieving success.

Dealing with a Design Submittal by Not Just Fixing the Problem

Let’s first look at an example to see how a problem-solving process versus a true culture change process works in practice on construction projects.

I’ve been involved with at least several hundred projects where a complaint and/or problem exists relative to expediting design submittals—either specific submittal packages or, in the case of design-build projects, design submittals. The problem from the contractor’s or design-build team’s perspective is that the owner and/or designer are rejecting packages unilaterally or if they are approving them, they are taking too long. Furthermore, the approval process is characterized by excessive time-wasting and back-and-forth emails or letters, which I term “tennis.” From the designer’s and/or owner’s point of view, the submittals or design packages are incomplete or do not meet the spec or bridging documents, and that the contractor might well be trying to shortcut the submittal process and provide a lesser quality product or design. Also, that if they, the designer, expedite one submittal, the contractor will expect that all, even not critical submittals be expedited putting an undue strain on their resources.

The contractors/design-build team says the designer or owner needs more resources and has no sense of urgency. Naturally, the owner or designer says that he or she can’t afford added resources, that the contractor needs to improve the quality of submittals, and that he or she is entitled to the full 21-day contractual review period. This can be an impasse and source of delay, CYA, finger pointing, frustration, cost overruns, distrust and personal stress.

The Solution? Change the Context from Problem Solving to Realizing and Opportunity

First, change the context from fixing the problem of expediting design submittals to conform to contract requirements to creating a process for expediting design submittals that supports a shared, compelling project completion goal. Now, the challenge or opportunity becomes one of how do we as a team work together to design and execute a submittal process that supports our common goal and success? The question of who’s to blame or how to simply fix the problem now just kind of goes away.

Empower the Team to Figure Out the Solution

Second, allow subconsultants, reviewers, and subcontractors to truly engage face-to-face around this question. Invariably, the team works out a solution, going forward, that enables the individual designer, reviewers and designers to meet their personal needs as well as the goals of the team. What does that look like? Here are some examples:

  • Fred, a structural reviewer, would like to see a prioritized submittal schedule and be able to discuss it with the designer so that he can optimize use of his time.
  • On one design-build project, designers and contractors would like to talk and/or meet with one another during the design development process to optimize the design prior to design review.
  • Another design-build project believes over-the-shoulder reviews on design packages during design review would help expedite the design review process.
  • Catlin would like to have pre-submittal meetings on critical or complex submittals to ensure that what she’s submitting is exactly what the individual reviewer expects.
  • During a critical phase of the project, the general contractor would like to have the designer on site two days a week for a month and can make a compelling case where this will save time for all stakeholders while reducing the overall project schedule.

Your Project’s Best “Solution” or “Fix” is the One That the Project Team Creates Themselves as a Team

Which of the above are best for a particular project? I don’t know. And, it is presumptuous of any individual stakeholder to assume they know what’s best for the team without an open, verbal discussion with their fellow stakeholders. Remember, you must develop your project team with shared goals and shared team protocols and let them create their own path to those goals. Now they own the game how it is played, and they have a very real and personal stake in its success.

And yes, a solution that calls for having a designer on site two days a week for a couple months may be an additional cost to the owner. But, if this decision is agreed upon by the team as a good business decision in terms of achieving its overall schedule and cost goals, this makes it an easier decision for the owner.

Indeed, being the best you can be as a team is key. In the case of problem construction projects, it’s about being the best you can be as a team going forward. How does a team know that they’re being the best they can be? By their performance against measurable goals that they themselves, as a team and individuals, are held accountable for.

More information on turning the challenged construction project into an extraordinary success, can be found in Jim Eisenhart’s Success Guide. Get the guide HERE.