Contributed by Michael Chambers
In my perspective from the back of the bus, I often wonder why so many product representatives feel ineffective or intimidated calling on architects. Granted, some architects can be quite a treat. The terms argumentative, aloof, know-it-all, unapproachable, abstract, and expletive deleted are often mentioned. Have you ever stopped to wonder why?
Without trying to defend architects, consider that often an architect’s attitude towards product reps is the result of being misled or over-sold on the applicability, features, and benefits of construction products. Look at a typical reaction to telephone marketers or used car salespersons, what is it that is so offensive? I would suggest two aspects. First, the unrelenting hard-sell without having any idea of your needs or interests; and second, the underlying attitude that the product offered is the only possible choice and how could an architect be so stupid not to immediately understand?
Unfortunately, product representatives must overcome the back wash of less enlightened sales types that have gone before them. However, it is relatively easy to overcome this type of resistance by using a solution-oriented approach rather than a typical product-oriented approach. Architects are primarily concerned with finding the most appropriate range of solutions not the best or greatest product.
In a survey done (editor's note: many years ago) by McGraw-Hill Sweets, architects were asked what they wanted from product representatives. The top 2 results were ‘recommended uses & application of products (92%)’ and ‘guide specifications (88%)’. The last choice was ‘manufacturer’s history, experience, overall capacities & range of products (40%)’. This means that architects want to know how to appropriately apply and integrate products into their designs, not be confused by competitive features and benefits. The need for guide specifications clearly indicates the need write clear, competitive, and enforceable specifications. Lastly, horror of all horrors, the least thing architects want to know is about your company.
Another critical element for effective architectural sales calls is the ability to listen. Practically every time a rep calls on me, the first words are about company history, the president’s ancestors, and how many products have been installed in Outer Slabovia last week. Next, we hear how many years he or she has been in the business, how big their territory is, on and on. Then, a guided tour through the product binder, page by page by never ending page. In all this time, usually 30 minutes, never once has the rep asked about projects, how products are selected, are the office master specifications up-to-date, and the like. The best advice I can offer for effective architectural sales calls is to SHUT-UP AND LISTEN!!!! You will be amazed by the knowledge and insights you can discover about what the architect knows and wants to know about your product. There is a definite reason why the Creator gifted us with 2 ears and one mouth. Here is the outline that I used when making architectural sales calls. These are basic issues and touch points that I found highly effective when dealing with project architects, curmudgeonly specifiers, and firm principals.
Contributed by Jori Smith
So, you have a non-Design-Bid-Build (DBB) project on the boards? Hurrah!
Collaborative project delivery methods such as Construction Management At-Risk (CMAR) have a proven track record of improving project outcomes for everyone. This is a different way of doing things though, and we all must adapt to the new normal. Are you evolving, or hanging on to old habits? Here are some ways that the A/E (Architect/Engineer) team can short circuit a successful process.
Having Meetings Without the Contractor
Anticipate that your builder will be included in all project planning activities and emails. A truly collaborative team works together as much as possible and appreciates the extra brain cells solving problems. The project benefits from builder attendance even at programming sessions with users, where the opportunity to learn about the priorities of both the client and the designer will affect feedback down the road.
Not Taking Advantage of Your Partner's Field Skills
Camera scoping of existing piping, roofing cores, investigative demolition inside walls or above ceilings, and surveying. I've had to BEG designers for lists of field verifications helpful to the project. This is a chance to change the reliance upon as-built documents provided by the Owner. Can we reduce, or even eliminate "unforeseen" conditions? Dare to dream!
Figuring it Out on Your Own
The construction team brings access to trade skill sets and constructability experience. In addition, they have been exposed to a diversity of project experience with multiple designers - some of whom might have had a great idea or two. We want to help you solve system/assembly problems while the project is still in design.
Letting the Engineers Put Off Progress Until You Finish "Moving Walls"
This is one of the most effective ways to cut the pre-construction process off at the knees. The builder cannot provide the estimating and constructability services we've been contracted to do when provided empty floor plans on the engineering sheets. Anyhow, BIM is forcing the team to make decisions earlier too, so this is a habit that needs to be broken.
Leaving Out the Details
The project will still be competitively bid by, all or most of the subs, and they need that information for an accurate scope. Sure, the builder at the pre-construction table heard you say “that” months ago (and may even remember), but she/he can’t be charged with communicating your design decisions to the bidders –unless you want to let her/him have the authority for those decisions. To maintain control of design and protect the Owner from unnecessary change costs, a fully complete set of construction documents must be provided.
Forgetting About the Bidding Documents
Again - the subcontracts are still being competitively bid. Additionally, all of Division 01 likely still applies and will require a thorough review by both teams, as changes are generally needed to align the requirements with the project delivery method.
Not Taking Advantage of Scheduling Options
Changes are inherent in the pre-construction process. We're working together to make them now, instead of later – because later costs the owner money in change orders. This is an opportunity to reconsider putting out incomplete or uncoordinated drawings just to hit a milestone date. Ask how your builder can adapt the schedule to give you more time to finish. Early work packages are a fantastic tool. Give me the foundation and steel, I'll get started while you finish the door hardware schedule. Fast track concepts are easily incorporated into these projects.
I’ve had several A/E professionals tell me that public procurement must be DBB. Not so! There are several states which are allowing CMAR and Design-Build. Encourage your lawmakers to open the process and allow other project delivery methodologies. While no delivery method is perfect, there are definite advantages to be had from partnering with the construction team - leading to a more successful project for all.
Contributed by Jef McCurdy
Whether it is carefully cultivated or haphazardly ignored, every company has a culture. Top leaders create cultures that encourage quality, respect, accountability and more. These values help to create an environment where clients and staff feel confident in the value of the services or products delivered. However, culture is an often-overlooked aspect of the trades. Ask yourself this: Why would anyone want to start or continue working with you and your company?
If the answer is, “They need a job, and I’ve got work”, don’t expect to have long-term, loyal employees. Companies with weak cultures have retention issues. Because they do nothing to create loyalty, their employees are easily poached. Because they are constantly training new employees on the basics, they struggle to develop the higher-level skills required to meet client demands.
Conversely, employees in environments of appreciation, trust and development are far more likely to remain loyal and deliver greater value to your company as their skills and knowledge increase. When leadership has their backs, employees are more likely to remain engaged and proactive.
It is commonly accepted that working in the trades is supposed to be stressful, but I disagree. Hard work is expected, but bad leaders burden their staff with undue stress and uncertainty. I have found that bosses who yell the most, explain the least. I was on a job site a while back where another trade was also doing work. As I set up for my day, I noticed two of the guys arrive. They waited around for about 45 minutes until their boss finally arrived. He then berated them for at least 15 minutes for being lazy good-for-nothings for having not started working before his arrival. Their explanation that they did not know what he wanted them to do and were unable to get a hold of their boss fell on deaf ears.
The following day, the guys again arrived before their boss. Fearful of being humiliated in front of everyone on the job site again, they found work to busy themselves. On this day, their boss was an hour late and again upset with his crew. Calling them names and yelling, he said that they were idiots and should have known that their self-assigned tasks were a waste of time.
Luckily, I was quickly off to another project. But my short time with the yelling boss left me very uncomfortable, even though I didn’t have to work directly with him. Ironically, the predetermined belief that his crew was lazy and didn’t care about the quality of their work likely created that exact scenario.
Contributed by Eric D. Lussier
Remember my post from February, entitled 'Project Compaction: Not Just for Soil'? Well, if you don't remember, didn't have the chance to read it, or would like a refresher, I'll give you a few minutes to jump over there and give it a read.
So, guess what? They're not quite ready yet. How close to not ready? Well, the picture above is from this past Friday, the seventh of June. On a project that was supposed to install in May.
As a reminder, my company installs flooring. Flooring is a product that's supposed to go under that pallet of block, the forklift, those 55-gallon drums of something and the tons of miscellaneous equipment, dirt and debris that litters the gymnasium. If I've learning anything over my thirteen years of installations, its if you give someone a 5,000 square foot (or larger) space on a construction site, it will be used as a catch all for everything that doesn't fit somewhere else on a job. Kind of like that junk drawer that we all have in our house.
Please forgive me for my sarcastic tone, but this isn't the first time I've seen site conditions like this, which was three mere days before we were due to start work. And, it certainly will not be the last time.
I tried to be optimistic about their timeline request months ago. In early May, the basketball hoops were due to be installed "by Tuesday next". As of Friday, they're still not. So, along with my company, that's at least one other vendor who was given a commitment date that wasn't adhered to. I'm presuming there's at least a few others.
So, despite our numerous written notices that "it is imperative that we are immediately notified if you will not be ready for the week of June 10th", our requests were ignored. Our last written communication has now gone unanswered for over two business days. And do you know how this will most likely shake out? Chances are we'll be given a very short notice that the site is "now ready" and we'll be expected to drop everything, juggle our schedule and refocus our attention on someone that was unable to be realistic about a project schedule for months.
Buckle up and stay tuned for my next article focused around life as a finish trade.
Contributed by Liz O'Sullivan
On a recent project of mine, the lack of a submittal for the contractor’s proposed solution to an unexpected situation caused a problem. The contractor didn’t think that a submittal was required by the contract documents, and the architect didn’t realize that a submittal was required by the contract documents. The contractor could have saved himself some money and time, and could have saved the architect and the owner some time, if the contractor had just prepared a submittal for the architect’s review before proceeding with the work. (Oh, yes, some freshly-installed flooring underlayment had to be removed before the project could proceed. THAT was a waste of time and money.)
If something is added to a project, because of an unforeseen condition, everyone (architect, owner, contractor) often acts as if it’s the first time this sort of thing has ever happened. It’s not. Unexpected things happen all the time on construction projects, and that’s why we have standard processes to deal with them.
Anything that wasn’t originally in the project, but is part of the project now, is in the contract as the result of either a change order or a minor change to the contract. Whether it’s a moisture mitigation treatment for an existing slab, or a whole new roof assembly, whether it was initiated by an owner as a late addition to a project, or it was initiated by the contractor as a solution to an unexpected condition, or initiated as a substitution request because of a sudden product unavailability, it ends up in the contract as the direct result of a change order or a minor change (such as the type authorized by an ASI, Architect’s Supplemental Instructions). Even when the change results in no added cost to the owner, and even when its purpose is solely to repair a mistake made by the contractor, it’s a change, and it should be documented (and submitted on).
Architects and specifiers can make sure that the contract documents require submittals for things that weren’t originally in the project. Requiring submittals for items added to the project during construction is a good idea. In fact, requiring submittals for items added to the project during construction may be even more important than requiring submittals for things that were originally part of the design, since the new element wasn’t originally thought through along with the rest of the design. The contractor’s preparation of the submittal, and the architect’s review of the submittal, act as a double-check mechanism to help make sure that the added item will be appropriate.
Let's Fix Construction is an avenue to offer creative solutions, separate myths from facts and erase misconceptions about the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry.
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