There are challenges on every construction project, and whether they remain minor or grow into major issues can depend on the people involved and the scope of work. Most contractors will agree that it’s great when everyone works together well and open communication allows problems to be worked out quickly, but not every project is set up to foster that type of environment. As the market remains in a recession, even small issues often seem to be magnified.
In our ongoing study of California-based carpentry contractor Golden State Framers, General Manager Gary Viano stresses that even as the market improves, there are still problems that need to be worked out. Change-orders, for example, always have a bigger impact on the project than is necessary, he says, and smart owners understand that they can help this issue by becoming a more active part of the team.
If one of his crews discovers an issue with a column on the first floor of a structure, for example, workers will submit a request for information, Viano says. If the issue is not resolved immediately, however, the Golden State Framers’ crew will have to keep going, while working around the problem area on the first floor and the floors above.
“By the time you get to the roof, the problem area is huge because it takes so long to resolve the issues,” he says. “Additionally, you can’t recover the money you spend to resolve that big of a problem. If the plans were better vetted, these problems wouldn’t exist.”
During the recession, he explains, plans often sat on a shelf for a long time while owners put financing together. Also, as construction and architecture firms downsized during the lean times, the original architect may no longer be involved with the project once it gets going. Therefore, when issues arise, it’s difficult to find someone who can resolve them.
“No one really likes confrontation,” Viano stresses. “If you challenge the architect or owner, you may win the battle, but you will lose the war, and that will have a big impact on your business. The owners have total control. They have the football, the field and they make the rules, and you have to play along with them. You have to ask the proper questions, don’t point fingers and get along to work the issues out. It’s not always easy, but that’s what has to be done.”
To foster teamwork on Golden State Framers’ projects, Viano says he has spent the last 10 years getting to know many people in the Southern California construction market. That way, when Golden State Framers is hired for a job, Viano understands the personalities of the project team and can choose a foreman who best suits that team.
“We can only go on what we perceive, but matching the right foreman to the right project team goes far in making sure every job goes well,” he says.
If plans are not vetted well, however, issues can hinder even a strong team. With poor plans, Viano stresses, subcontractors have a harder time knowing what the owner wants, and “mistakes can change the way a building is run, and that is outright wrong.
“You have to decide if you’re going to say something, and if so, who will you say it to? Progressive owners want to hear from subs – we may not be called into the meeting with the construction manager and architect, but owners go out and actually talk to the subs. This is smart, and it keeps projects going on the right track, instead of around in circles.”
He notes the industry is starting to change, albeit slowly, and owners are becoming more involved in projects, especially in the private sector. “This is no longer your granddaddy’s job site,” he says. “Owners are more comfortable being involved. When you have a smart owner and the correct mix on the project team, you can see how it really comes together and works well for the project.”
It’s unlikely even the best team and highest-quality plans will eliminate change-orders on a project, but Viano believes a good owner can lessen their impact. Extensive time and resources are required to go back and fix a project’s change-order, he stresses, but subcontractors are rarely paid as soon as the change-order is resolved.
Instead, subcontractors usually are paid at the end of the project. In Golden State Framers’ last 25 jobs, he says, there were only two instances when the firm was paid for a change-order as soon as it was completed, and that was by the same owner.
“We had nothing to do with the project’s original design, so why should we have to wait eight to 14 months to get paid on change-orders?” Viano asks. “More owners and construction management firms are picking up on this – that subs should be fairly compensated for our work during the project.
“It has been evolving over the past decade, and that is a good sign,” he continues. “And when these progressive owners and construction managers give us a call, we jump to work with them.”