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Commentary: Build teams to bring everything together

The word “builder” is the noun form of the Old English word “byldan,” meaning dwelling. For millennia that was a builder’s primary purpose – to provide a dwelling for shelter from the elements. But as humanity multiplied and prospered, structures included more than what was required simply for survival. The great cathedrals of Europe and the Great Wall of China are examples of early projects not necessary for fundamental human survival.

As projects became bigger, the definition of “builder” began to change. Originally, the builder was where one went to have a project constructed. The builder was responsible for a project’s design, execution and ultimately its success.

In modern times these individual skill sets have become more and more specialized as the knowledge base has broadened. Therefore, one entity was no longer sufficiently skilled to handle all of the steps necessary in construction. We are now in the age of specialization, from a multitude of designers and engineers to a wide variety of subcontractors, vendors and suppliers – all focused on their specialty.

Specialists, to preserve their turf, focus on those things in which they are experts. Thus, the modern project consists of a team of specialists combining their efforts to produce an airport, an office building, a refinery or another project.

The result of this combination of specialties has not always been successful. Disagreements between the various entities result in difficult projects or projects that are not completed on time, with full scope or within budget. This has stimulated attempts to return to a single source of expertise in construction. Concepts like construction manager-general contractor, design-bid-build, PPP, design-bid-build-operate-and-maintain; IDP and others are contemporary efforts to recreate historically seamless delivery.

These efforts are indicative of an industry that is working hard to deliver quality projects. While new strategies continue to be developed, they are based on the concept of collaborative approach by incorporating social sciences, engineering, architecture, construction and a variety of other skill sets. The concept of collaboration is the common thread through all these new ideas.

For collaboration to be successful, it must provide a common achievable goal for all project participants. It must also preserve the business imperatives of the entities that are participating in the work. The building block of all projects is the combined effort of these entities. For a project to be successful, entities need to show a profit, monetary or otherwise. If they are not in business to make money, they are going out of business. Those collaborative strategies that are successful recognize the need for these imperatives.

Entities that grasp the need for collaboration will be the most successful. The development of long-term relationships between contractors, designers, clients, suppliers and vendors invariably leads to consistent profits and longevity for any business.

As with any industry, the construction industry is made up of different strategies for success. There are long-term strategies that reflect an over-the-horizon viewpoint. Others focus on the short term and need to satisfy ownership demands for the here and now. Successful projects are those that are able to combine businesses with similar attitudes.

The construction industry is a service industry, in service to those in the business of expending capital dollars. Those in the business of expending capital dollars also understand the critical importance of collaboration in and with the team that is servicing their needs – i.e., building their projects. Yet all of these teams are developed within competitive business environments.

Assembling a successful team is as much art as it is science. Those owners, designers, constructors, vendors and suppliers who understand the importance of developing collaborative relationships, both up and down the food chain, end up being the most valuable and profitable.

Christian Steinbrecher is president of Ukiah Engineering Inc. and the incoming president of the Columbia chapter of the Professional Engineers of Oregon. Contact him at cfs@ukiahengineering.com. A version of this column originally appeared in Daily Journal of Commerce (Oregon), sister publication to The Daily Record.

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