June 20, 2022 posted in Construction, Design and Engineering
While The Austin Company is a fully integrated design-builder, there are times when we are called upon to work collaboratively with other architecture or engineering firms on specific projects.
Projects of the size and scope Austin design-builds require a team of architects, engineers, preconstruction, and construction managers to realize a stakeholder’s vision. With experienced professionals—all under one roof—who are accustomed to collaborating with in-house team members and a wide range of sub-consultants and contractors, there are several key things that ensure a smooth process when various firms are engaged in Austin projects.
Solid Communication Lays the Groundwork
Our teams discuss the different methods of communication and the best times for their use.
The best way to communicate is in-person, where teams can see each other’s body language and hear the tone and words. The next best option in our connected world is to call and talk with the person. Body language may be lost, but at least the tone and the words can still convey the issue, and there is back-and-forth to confirm that both parties understand. Both types of ‘verbal’ communication forms can be followed up with an email, RFI, or other documents for the record and ensure both people understand the question and the answer. These verbal communications also help to develop the relationship between team members as they naturally discuss ‘how was your weekend’ etc. as a greeting. These personal connections can help everyone work toward the common goal of a finished project for the owner when there are challenges on a project.
If verbal communication isn’t possible, written communication, about individual issues (not 50 at once), with all the appropriate references/backup to give context for the scope, schedule, or cost, is also an effective way to communicate. Written communications are best used to document the final plan/decision.
Text messages straddle the line between verbal and written communications, and our teams are coached to use them only for quick, easy, yes/no type questions just to keep things moving. Texts should not turn into a multi-page book. Longer, more complex issues should be dealt with in-person, with a call or other written method.
Even the most articulately written pieces of communication can be unclear to team members or taken in the wrong ‘tone’ or ‘context.’ Having a clear channel of communication established will help resolve questions quickly and keeps everybody moving in the same direction.
Throughout the project, changes to both cost and schedule will no doubt happen. It’s important to be able to alert team members on all sides – design, construction, and the client when changes occur to minimize frustration on the job site.
Programmed Team Communications
From the start of a project, the preconstruction plan validates that the design and build teams are on the same page, working toward unified goals. Before any discussion on phased builds or constructability reviews takes place, Austin establishes a smooth information flow between the architectural and construction teams. The elements that are coordinated include:
Ongoing communications for the construction administration of a project (submittals, RFIs, punch list, etc.) are key to keeping the normal project operations moving forward. Strong relationships among team members, organized reviews and consistent reporting help everyone stay on top of open items.
It is valuable to the project to have the design team onsite regularly to chase any solutions needed, as well as observe their design coming to fruition.
Walk a Mile Cross-Training
Cross-training that focuses on understanding the challenges faced by all members of the project team build better relationships. Designers who have experience in construction management and construction teams who work closely with the design process have a much better understanding of what goes into each phase of a project and the roles and responsibilities they each play.
A stronger relationship forms when architecture, engineering, and construction team members attend each other’s meetings and understand each other’s difficulties. For example, when an architectural team attends a site review walk and helps avoid issues in the future, or when Austin’s construction managers sit in on design reviews and their comments add positively to the overall design.
Starting a conversation from a place of respect goes a long way in setting the tone. When both sides think about the challenges the other is facing and how both can work together toward their shared goal (a successfully completed project), the communication starts from a much better place.
Poor working relationships add a layer of disfunction that must be managed, otherwise, these interactions can take valuable effort and resources away from the project. Conversely, when issues arise, having everyone on the same page solves problems much more quickly. Teams—whether in-house or blended—are the foundation of every project. Team members are most productive when they collaborate with trust and respect and hold one another accountable.
People, not companies, build projects!
Working collaboratively is key to a successful project. Clear communication, inclusive meetings, cross-training, and mutual respect are a few of the ways we make working with professionals outside of our organization work.