Getting off on the Right Foot in Preconstruction

When deciding to build, a client often must ask themselves several questions. “What is my project going to look like?” “Can I afford my dream project with my budget?” “Who should I hire to help me build?” Parsing through these questions can often be a stressful experience. At Nunn, we seek to help clients understand their needs and guide them throughout the process. The experience for the client and their satisfaction is of paramount importance to us, and when we join their team earlier in the process, it allows us the opportunity to collaborate with them and their design team to help create a smoother experience overall. One of the first questions that a client must answer is that of the delivery method. This decision can make a big difference to their project timeline, budget, and accuracy of the estimates. We’re always working hard to help our clients find the delivery method that will benefit their project the most.

To Bid or Not to Bid

Picking the right approach is vital for the success and speed of the project. A traditional bid delivery method, while highly used, is often least efficient approach – especially in challenging markets. This delivery method is one where design and engineering is completed without the input of a general contractor, and different contractors bid against each other to offer the lowest price. At first blush this may seem like a streamlined process, however, this approach is rife with insufficiencies of time and money, and often requires additional change orders to cover gaps in scope. Longer schedule times are common with bid approaches because the project must be done in sequential phases that cannot overlap. In contrast, negotiated delivery methods can have these phases overlap, saving time. Traditional bids can result in communication issues and leave teams feeling disconnected from the owner and architects

Integrated Approaches

While at Nunn we do undertake the occasional bid approach project, we prefer the efficiency and accuracy that Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC) or Design/Build approaches provides. A CM/GC approach allows us to work from conceptualization or during design to ribbon-cutting with the owner and architect to create a day-one partnership. This collaboration allows us to assist our design team to strategically allocate funds for various building systems and create more accurate time-frames, especially around procurement of long-lead items. CM/GC creates efficiencies during preconstruction by utilizing constructability reviews to prevent problems before construction begins. All construction activities and scopes are organized, and our team of estimators partner with high-quality subcontractors. Through the whole process, we foster open lines of communication with our owners and design teams.   

Arguably the most efficient approach is the Design/Build delivery method. This approach is extra-streamlined because it wraps up design and construction into one contractual agreement. From day one, the project begins with the same collaborative team, and we get to create customized results for the project while leveraging our relationships with architects to fast-track the design process. This unified team establishes project goals, requirements, and budget allocations. Having all these services under the same contract strengthens the owner’s control and reduces financial risks.

Negotiated projects provide much needed transparency for clients. If a client were to opt for a hard bid for their large project, they would complete their construction documents without knowing if they could afford their entire project with their allotted budget – as a less than ideal situation. Negotiated work allows owners to understand how far their budget will stretch, how much of their scope can be accomplished within their budget, and if their project needs to be broken into multiple phases. Along with these benefits, the owner would have access to our team of estimators, who fight to stretch the budget and think outside the box to find alternatives and options to meet their construction objectives with the funds available. Our estimators truly enjoy working with these design teams as collaborative partners. Getting involved in the process early provides our clients the cost estimating to help align allocated or available funds with the desired improvements. We love joining the team and diving into the details of constructability and understanding the direction of the design team. Working together allows us to pursue alternative materials at times, always with the focus of not negatively impacting the creative design intent. Serving the client’s best interest with a day one perspective allows our preconstruction team to understand the client’s needs, fighting for the best use of their funds, hiring the best subcontractors for their project, and advocating for the client with the relationships built with the architects. 

The Turning Tide Towards Negotiated Work

While negotiated work seems ubiquitous now, in the 80’s, ‘90’s, and early ‘00’s, bid delivery methods were more the norm. However, changes in the industry with tighter economies, and more unstable supply chains have started to turn the tide toward negotiated work. Kellee Briggs, a Preconstruction Manager here at Nunn, recalls such a time from when she started with Nunn in 2008. After taking some time to focus on starting a family, when she returned in 2016, she recalled noticing this shift towards CM/GC and Design/Build. Kellee asserted that her role as an estimator on a bid approach is more an insulated process and less collaborative. This tide towards negotiated work is positive, in her point of view, as negotiated work encourages flexibility, collaborative teamwork, inter-department transparency, and opportunities for estimators to build more trusting relationships with the clients, owner’s representatives, architects and trade partners.

Throughout our 40 years of business, we’ve completed over $300 million in bid delivery method projects with about 67% of these projects being completed prior to 2008. Concurrently, while bid projects have been decreasing, negotiated projects, such as CM/GC and Design Build, have increased and we have completed over $1 trillion in CM/GC projects since 1983 with post-2008 projects totaling around 57% of all our CM/GC projects. We’ve seen the most growth in Design/Build, as it is a newer delivery method that brings great savings to the client. Of our total Design/Build projects, roughly 96% of them have been completed in the past 15 years, totaling over $178.3 million.

Continually Moving Forward

Over recent years, our estimating department has grown and evolved to meet the demand of incoming projects and our growth as a company. Going from a three-person team just a few years ago, to a nine-person team today, our team had to reevaluate its processes and software to keep growing and evolving. These changes include small ones like a standardization of our internal network file system and reformatting our weekly estimating team meetings, to larger ones such as the recent utilization of Modelogix as a new estimating software used in the department that help us create very accurate early estimates and identify divisions of work for cost savings. We truly appreciate the diligence and dedication of our preconstruction team for helping us to keep building projects that matter for over four decades!

We truly love guiding clients throughout the construction process and enjoy joining them on their journey from the start of design to ribbon cutting – and everything in between. Throughout this building process, the client has to confront a lot of questions, and we love to help them answer them all! We’ve seen time and time again that integrated deliveries more easily help us create a unified team that trusts each other, keeps important goals at the forefront and after the ribbon is cut and the buildings are being used, we’ve left with long-lasting friendships and impacts for our communities.

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