Preconstruction: The Foundation of Integrated Project Delivery

  • Michael Dziubinski
  • Project Executive
  • Rafn Company

We have come a long way since the days when contractor support consisted of the “free estimate” and some misguided opinions on design. Fortunately for our owners and design partners, the industry has matured too where it is now common practice for the entire development team to work together from the earliest stages of land procurement and zoning analysis, through the project warranty period. Today this common practice is known as Preconstruction. Preconstruction has served the industry well as an intermediate step between the free estimate and what is known as Integrated Project Delivery (IPD). IPD endeavors to take Preconstruction to a higher level by better integrating the team members, both functionally and legally, into a collaborative and proactive decision making body, rather than reactive individual entities.

Preconstruction can be defined as a general contractor provided service that produces objective data for use in making key decisions that drive a project’s financial viability. The primary goal being to keep the budget, the owner program, and the architect’s design intent in balance. Some common elements of this preconstruction process are: budgeting, constructability review, logistics planning, utility coordination, cost reduction, value engineering analysis, vendor market price checks, plan and specification review, and a number of organizational and decision tracking systems. Though better than the old system of providing free estimates based only on what the estimator could measure on a set of plans, it can, if not used properly, become reactionary. Reactionary information is generally late information, and can allow design and engineering to run ahead of the project’s financial viability. This running ahead sets the team up for painful value engineering and cost reduction sessions and their associated redesign fees. In most preconstruction scenarios there is a contract between the owner and the contractor to provide preconstruction services, and a contract between the owner and the architect to provide design services. There is no common agreement between the three parties. Lacking this common agreement with clearly stated goals, collaboration strategies, and decision making protocol, the team must work hard to establish these tenants either deliberately or on the fly.

Integrated Project Delivery is preconstruction brought to a new level. The AIA did a great job of defining the process and roles in their publication called Integrated Project Delivery: A Guide. The AIA guide recognizes how the precon process and tools that we use now form the basis of IPD. To this basis they emphasize repeatedly that its success relies upon ‘highly effective collaboration”. This may mean team members working outside their comfort zones: contractors who sketch details, architects who are proactive in value engineering and cost reduction, and owners that communicate clear budget goals. It can also mean expanding the team to include others such as building managers and maintenance staff, recognizing that their input can lead to a better project. They also discuss a number of contractual arrangements to bind the team. It is understood that liability must be managed, but also that it is not a legal document that forms an effective team, but rather the willingness of the people on the team to participate and work toward shared goals. These goals must be clearly stated: e.g. the budget cannot exceed $24 MM and the entrance must have two stories of curtain wall. With clear goals the team does not waste time. Clear goals must be accompanied by a clear and objective decision making system: e.g. the owner will make the final decision on a building feature based on the project goals and objective pricing data: If the curtain wall must be included and the project is over budget, item X must be removed from the project, if we remove item X and the project budget is at or below $24MM, we can move on to permit drawings. Similar to timely preconstruction, IPD will increase the amount of design work done earlier in the project cycle as the team works to flush out all the details driving cost and constructability. The payoff though is more accurate and stable pricing, and reduced construction administration for the design team.

We are on the correct path with the preconstruction tools we are using today. Teams have become more cohesive and budgets more predictable and stable. The three core goals of achieving the correct balance of owner program, design intent, and project budget are being realized. Moving toward true Integrated Project Delivery is the next logical step. Though the owner, design team, and contractor may not share a common preconstruction legal agreement, the team can agree upon a hierarchy of project goals and a decision making system. By taking preconstruction to the next level we can turn it from a noun to a verb, actively rehearsing the construction using early design, pricing, and logistics information. Refining our systems to become more efficient and cost effective is the highest form of value engineering that we can provide our clients.

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