The Checklist Manifesto

A strong preconstruction process guided by the Rafn Preconstruction Checklist and Schedule is the best way to start a project on the right foot. OurĀ  previous article highlighted the importance of tracking the preconstruction process with a schedule, the same way we do once construction begins. In this article, we will talk more about the checklist and how we use it to create accountability throughout the project team to ensure project success.

There is an old saying about making assumptions, and the trouble that can get you into. The Preconstruction Checklist is really there so that teams do not just assume that even the most basic tasks have already been handled. Overall, the process is about ensuring that expectations are clearly defined and communicated to the team. This is critical since our ability to impact a project’s cost and functional capability is at its greatest at the start of preconstruction. As the project moves through design, the overall impact potential diminishes based on milestone decisions made by the owner and design team.

Project Team List

At the top of each preconstruction project checklist, there are prompts to note who all consultant team members are to help assign task responsibilities. This includes both owner and architect’s consultants focused on geotechnical, civil, structural, envelope, energy, ADA accessibility, sustainability, acoustics, traffic, street use, relocation specialists, and permit expediters. We also note which subcontractors have come on board the project during preconstruction, like plumbing, HVAC, electrical, fire sprinkler, and low voltage.

Client Items

Items in the client section of the checklist are requested by us so that we have a more complete picture of the overall project. Clients can be unaware of some of the pitfalls that delay the start of a project, so this helps us help our client and the design team by making suggestions that balance cost and program. It is important to understand that we have placed every item onto the list based on experiences where construction start dates were negatively impacted so each detail can be reviewed by the team. Information we request can include the client’s proforma, marketing study, and sustainability goals. Some items included on the checklist are simply to verify that they have been considered and ultimately completed. Examples include the purchase and sale of the property, fire department access approval, and the water availability letter.

We also strive to get as much information about the project site as possible to provide the most accurate cost estimate possible. This data could include zoning analyses, hazmat reports, geotechnical reports, as-built drawings, property and power line surveys, metro requirements, and stormwater detention requirements. Finally, we want to have open conversations with our client early in the process about the contract form, funding sources and conditions, and their business structure, so everything is predictable when we go to sign the contract together.

Architect Items

Architecture firms have their own process for taking a project from concept to a permitted set of drawings and specifications. We do not intend to interfere with that process; we only intend to coordinate our efforts alongside theirs for the client’s benefit. The first thing we endeavor to understand is the architectural vision for the building. Our second priority is working with the project team to establish roles and responsibilities.

Like with the client, much of what we track on our checklist is the completion of architectural items, so we know where the architect is within their process. These are things like Early Design Guidance, MUP Submittals, tie-back easements, structural engineering, interior finishes package, and the building permit itself.

However, many items on our checklist are prompts for discussion and coordination. These include topics like price escalation and market volatility strategy, energy modeling / C406 strategy, salvage assessment, backup generator location, trash management plan, resident move-in or relocation plans, and various “basis of design” specifications for design-build utilities, low voltage systems, and access control systems.

Intrinsically, the architect’s role is to give the building esthetic individuality, at a market advantage, with fiscal integrity. Since this is largely a creative, artistic function, Rafn’s role is to bring practical experience to decisions about cost and construction techniques.

Subcontractor Items

Rafn’s process and approach to design-build and design-assist is both planned and deliberate. We assemble an RFP that presents the project requirements and invites selected subcontractors to submit proposals. From their responses, we make recommendations to the project team. Once the team makes a final decision, we bring the selected subcontractors on board. The scopes of work generally considered for this include shoring, demolition, fire sprinklers, plumbing, HVAC, and electrical.

Rafn Items

Rafn’s cost-estimating tasks during preconstruction are roughly scheduled related to the various stages of architectural design. At all stages of estimating, we endeavor to price the end product – accounting for design evolution and price escalation during construction. Other important items on our side include anything that could potentially hold up the construction start from a site constraint standpoint. Is the project within 5 miles of an airport? …then the FAA must be notified. Is the project larger than 1 acre or located next to a protected body of water? …then additional stormwater permits need to be procured. Are there power lines adjacent to the building that will encroach on the required construction clearances? …then coordination with the local utility will need to be spearheaded. These are examples of things that various team members just expect “to be handled”, but the checklist delivers transparency so that everyone can provide the support required.

As we stressed in Part 1 of this series, the checklist by itself is just a list. To be most effective it needs to be synchronized with the preconstruction milestone schedule to ensure that the team meets deadlines and that the project start date is accurately projected. In our next article, we will be taking a closer look at our Constructability Checklist, which examines the feasibility of all project elements from planning to execution, essentially asking “How do we build this?”

Part 1 – If You Fail to Plan, You Plan to Fail
Part 2 – The Checklist Manifesto
Part 3 – Constructability is Key