Knowledge Transfer aka the Bid Handoff
By Michael Plottel
I like to describe design as the process through which an architect alchemizes the owner’s program (often initiated as generalized needs, vague wishes and hazy preferences) into a precise, tangible, constructed solution, with the help of a builder…
…with the help of a builder: a small detail that is too often overlooked or ignored during design. Everyone appreciates the value of a good contractor, but we don’t necessarily understand the considerable discipline, mettle, skill, and art required of the builder to execute successfully. No matter what contract method you consider, lump sum, negotiated bid, competitive bid, the GC or CM has a lot of information to process in a very short time. They must:
- understand, define, and allocate the scope of work,
- assemble the sub-contractors, determine labor needs, engage suppliers,
- assess coordination efforts required for the trades,
- estimate the costs for general conditions, overhead and profit without getting too greedy (bid high to get nothing),
- develop a construction schedule that properly choreographs all activities,
- assemble the bid, aka a promise to deliver for defined cost and duration and,
- if “successful”, succeed or fail by the terms of the bid.
Just from this quick outline of tasks undertaken for bidding and estimating, it’s clear that every GC or CM bid, has a lot of moving parts and—by extension—opportunities for error.
figure 1: duration of design, bid, and construction phases. The area below each curve indicates fee earned by the A/E and the GC. Effort before contract award is shown as a loss (below the X axis). If the job goes on for too long, everybody loses money.
The Architect had months or years during the design phases to prepare the Documents. The builder will also have several months or years to build the project, but the transition from the Architect’s project leadership to the builder’s project leadership during the construction phase, aka the Bid and Award phase, though brief, represents a very tenuous time in the process because it has no clear natural leader from the design side or the construction side (see figure 1) This is the handoff from design to construction and, like in sports, a bad handoff causes mischief down the line.
In theory, missing or minimal overlap between A/E and GC efforts during the bid and award phase is a non-issue because the Documents should stand alone to describe everything the GC needs to know. They speak to the project’s materials, systems, and assemblies, their placement in space. They describe the “what” of the project but do not explicitly address its “how” or the complexities of means and methods and project execution because that’s the GC’s job. In reality, the contract documents, like all complex texts, tell a story that requires guidance and study for effective knowledge transfer. It’s useful to think in terms of a “handoff” from design to construction. The architect has an important role to play post-award by getting the GC up to speed to understand, plan, and work through the project’s complexity. Experience shows that requiring these three items in the instructions to bidders and treating them as submittals due immediately upon award will help focus the handoff and set the job on the proper path:
- The construction schedule, preferably in electronic format, with critical path and task inter-relationships shown. A good schedule is the contractor’s single most important and useful tool to keep the work on track. It also reveals how well he or she understands the job. You don’t need to check every bit of logic, but you can at minimum make sure that your own work fits into the whole. Are all shop drawings to be reviewed and approved in one pass on the first day? Are re-submittals considered for the more complex elements? Does the overall sequence of construction make sense? Does the schedule accommodate unique project conditions?
- The schedule of shop drawings and submittals. Yes, the shop drawing requirements are in the specifications, but a complete submittals schedule confirms that the GC actually reads the specifications! It also helps him or her to focus and understand how the work of other, non-GC, stakeholders impacts and determines the critical path. This is true for the entire team, both A/E and the sub-contractors. Pacing the submittals to realistic production and turnaround times will help move the work smoothly in relation to the big picture view of what and when approvals are actually needed.
- Evidence of timely sub-contractor buyouts. The Owner might have an easier time getting confirmation on this one, but the critical path starts with the subs. There will be no shop drawings, no submittals, no approvals, and no project until the trades are engaged. All of the issues mentioned concerning schedule and shop drawings in the previous two items also hold true for sub-contractors with the caveat that their approvals take longer because of added time needed for routing documents through the prime contract holders. This also sets the tone for the job. If “time is of the essence” for labor in the field, then HQ staff also must leave the gate running and actually hire the trades!
In conclusion, Architects can facilitate a smooth CA process by acknowledging the builder’s very steep learning curve between contract award and field mobilization. This means moving from a leadership role to a support role via structured knowledge transfer and “handoff thinking” to help bring the builder’s project controls and management staff up to speed.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and have not been approved by, reflective of or edited by other individuals, groups, or institutions. This article is an expression by the author(s) to generate discussion and interest in a particular topic. Though the article may cover specific legal and professional practice concepts, it should not be construed as professional advice. Always seek the advice of a professional licensed in your state for questions pertaining to the interpretation of laws and regulations.
About the author
Michael Plottel, FAIA, LEED AP is a nationally recognized public architect with deep experience leading a range of large scale, complex institutional and public development projects. His research interests cover the use and meanings of public space along with more practical inquiries related to effective project delivery.
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