The Best of Both Worlds:
Benefits of Hiring a CM with GC Experience
By Steve Welliver, Executive Vice President
Construction projects in higher education have become increasingly complex over the years, and when they are on the horizon many facilities managers often struggle with choosing between using a Construction Manager (CM) or a General Contractor (GC) to lead their project. Oftentimes these two terms are viewed as interchangeable; however, while the methods do have similarities, they also differ in their organizational structures, business relationships with owners and their entry points to a project.
One primary difference is that a GC is not typically involved in a construction project until the planning and design phase are complete and only learns about project details once an RFP and specifications are sent out by the owner. In contrast, a CM firm’s job is not only to guide the comprehensive management of a construction project from start to finish, but also to serve as the construction expert, particularly for complex construction projects that require a wide array of skills and labor to successfully manage the project to completion. So, how exactly can you get the best of both worlds for your construction project? The key to achieving the best value is to hire a CM that has a history of and considerable experience in work as a GC.
Bridging the Gap
A CM with GC experience is knowledgeable on all aspects of construction and has also previously performed many crucial aspects of a project as a “boots-on-the-ground” builder. Experience in both areas helps bridge the gap and provides added benefit to the owner in terms of schedule, budget, quality, and safety. A firm with dual experience:
- Can help level the playing field between the owner and the subcontractors, ensuring that everyone is informed and understands their role, expectations and schedule for completing the project on time;
- Is better equipped to administer the site;
- Is familiar with common challenges to look out for;
- Knows what workarounds can be enacted if a certain portion of work is delayed;
- Can immediately respond to questions from subs; and
- Can help expedite any necessary change orders.
Owners can also benefit from past working experiences that the CM likely has with regional subcontractors. When a CM and the subs are already familiar with each other, expectations and general operating procedures have already been largely established and a certain level of respect, cooperation and camaraderie is present. This creates more efficient teamwork among all project participants, from owners to architects to subs.
Having experience as a builder helps the CM communicate effectively with subs and expedite solutions to challenges in the field. For example, in many projects, a general contractor is left to interpret and implement the intent of the owner/designer team quickly during construction based on the documents provided; however, a CM firm with a GC background can help facilitate that process as they typically have earlier involvement and a deeper understanding of what the owner wants, as well as the background and knowledge that it takes to actually construct what is laid out in the design. They are adept at clearing up any confusion, explaining items and details, checking for proper installations, and ensuring that the owner gets the building they envisioned.
During preconstruction, a CM firm with GC experience can provide an extra level of project leadership and foresight to save time and money in the long run. If hired early in the design process, the CM can add valuable input to preliminary drawings while it is still economically feasible to make changes, which can lead to reduced change orders during construction and cost savings for the owner. They can also recommend adjustments to certain processes that can expedite portions of work and help streamline the schedule. Since they are also active builders in the market and know the real costs for work, they can provide insight about availability and cost of building materials and provide alternatives that can help your project stay on budget – this also allows for more accurate estimates and budgeting during the pre-construction phase.
CMs that see things through a GC lens also understand that certain scope packages can be bid at different times. This creates an attractive bidding environment for subs due to a more manageable schedule and increased labor availability, which can ultimately result in more competitive bids and maximum value for a project's budget. CM firms with this background also have a firsthand understanding of scope items that can take longer to complete; therefore, they can develop and phase the project schedule to allow for long-lead materials and ensure a realistic schedule that meets the owner’s goal.
A Higher Level of Confidence
When a CM with experience as a general contractor is brought into your higher education project from the get-go, you will gain a partner you can be confident in very early on in the process, who provides a higher level of transparency, reduces surprises, and provides valuable added insight for potential modifications to documents. This upfront information can provide you and all parties involved an added measure of security, quality and assurance for important projects on your campus.