For owners and Property Managers, one of the most difficult aspects of construction disputes is the mismatch between what the owner wanted and what the architect or contractor delivered. It is especially troublesome when a review of the project reveals that the problem could have been avoided with clear communication about the owner’s goals for the project. Because of the problems that arise when the owner’s objectives are not met, the most important role of the owner’s representative is to ensure that the goals and objectives of the project are clear.
Owners start projects with a final picture in mind—they know what they want and rely on the design and construction teams to make their vision a reality. The complex undertaking of a construction project requires that the owner is very clear on what their vision is, in detail.
Trouble typically arises in two ways:
- The owner does not communicate their vision in a manner that the contractors and designers can build the project as imagined.
- The owner makes changes once the contract has been signed.
The Details Make the Difference
The key to achieving the goal of a successful construction project is to begin with the end in mind. That means having a clear goal for the final project and how to meet the needs of the users; and then communicating that goal with the entire project team, usually in the form of a document.
Useful questions when determining objectives for the project:
- What is the end purpose of the project? (i.e., hotel, defense system, mixed-use development, public housing, etc.)
- Has the site been chosen? What due diligence has been completed to ensure the site is appropriate for this project? What restrictions, permits, or entitlements are there for this site?
- What are the key parameters of the project? (i.e. square footage, number of rooms, special considerations like laboratory or research space, etc.)
- What is the budget? What is the budget cap to ensure the owner gets an adequate return on their investment?
- Are there scheduling considerations? Are there specific deadlines that must be met? What happens if the deadlines are missed?
This information is used to create a preliminary project requirements scope document. This includes the following types of information:
- Building use and type of facility (education, retail, multi-family, etc.)
- Size and location of the site
- Zoning requirements, including FAR (allowable floor area to total area of the site)
- Client desires, such as maximizing green space, creating a LEED-certified building, types of materials to use, project deadlines, etc.
This document prepared and presented by an Owner’s Representative, in language clear to all parties, enables the owner to see their vision and how it will be interpreted in the final project. This gets everyone on the project team on the same page and keeps costs in check. The approved scope becomes part of the final design documents.
It is the nature of construction that there may need to be changes once the project is started. With clear objectives, it is easier to deal with those disruptions and maintain the project vision. If, for example, certain material is not available for an interior finish, the scope will explain the type of materials that should be procured as an alternative (i.e., high-end finishings).
One aspect of a project that is difficult to overcome is when an owner makes changes to the project once the contract is signed and the scope is agreed on. This typically increases costs because it may delay a part of the project, require more expensive materials, or cause a part of the project already complete to be redone.
One way to circumvent some of these challenges is to work with an owner’s representative--a member of the team with the role of supervising the project and managing the scope to meet the owner’s objectives.