Originally posted Wednesday, 04 September 2013

Written by John Sier

Every Owner wants to spend as much of the construction budget as possible on enhancing the value of the project, rather than battling legal issues from the outset of the project through closeout. The challenge for Owners has typically been training its project representatives to effectively manage the design and construction process from the Owner’s perspective. The core business of most Owners is not constructing buildings, so the Owners’ staff is frequently wearing many hats, with construction having less training than operations. COAA has been developing a training curriculum to fill that gap in available educational opportunities for Owners.

The COAA Owner Training Institute (OTI) has benefited from the collective knowledge of experienced Owner representatives, design professionals, and constructors in developing courses on Design Process Management, Construction Process Management, and Project Management from the Owners’ Perspective. There are several more courses under development that will be rolled out in the coming months and years. However, the current course offerings provide substantial benefits to the attendees, regardless of the level of experience or years in the industry. Fundamentally, the courses provide the foundation for the relationships and expectations of each person in the design and construction process. While identifying the expected positions of the parties, the courses also explain the interests of the parties, enabling the participants to gain a greater understanding of the perspective of each party, which in turn allows for more productive communications.

The construction industry is plagued by “standard” terms such as “project management,” “construction manager,” “guaranteed maximum price” and other terms that can have many actual definitions in practice. OTI seeks to demystify the terms by breaking each one down to its essential components to ensure that the attendees have a thorough understanding, both of the actual definitions and the areas for potential confusion and conflict if the parties are not starting from a common understanding. Through this training, the Owners representative will know and be able to avoid the possible areas of misunderstanding that typically result in claims that drain the Owner’s resources from adding value to the project.

The course on Project Management better defines the role of the Owner’s project manager as distinct from the other parties and provides attendees with real-world experiences in developing best practices for Owners to receive the greatest value for their construction dollar. The Construction Manager At Risk course explains the mechanics of that project delivery method, enabling attendees to manage the Owner’s expectations and to clarify the role of the Construction Manager. The concept of a Guaranteed Maximum Price is reviewed in detail from the Owner’s perspective as well as engaging in a scope-review process exercise with a Construction Manager to understand the behind-the-screen activities that can be mysterious to many Owners.

Many public Owners are constrained to using the Design-Bid-Build delivery method due to procurement requirements, and the OTI course on that process is geared to enhancing the efficiency of such projects. The course reviews the process in detail, from the conception of the project to selection of the design professional, managing the bidding process and awarding the contract, performing effective construction administration followed by project closeout. This course provides the information that some Owner’s representatives have taken years of experience to acquire.

The courses on Managing the Design Process, Managing the Construction Process, and Project Management are not limited in scope to narrow issues that participants may receive in attending a single seminar. These comprehensive courses go into detail on topics, such as risk management, insurance, shop-drawing review, financial performance and reporting, schedule analysis, along with leadership, meeting management, and strategies to engage stakeholders. The courses cover the philosophies behind the roles and the practical implications of those philosophies. The dispute resolution topic covers the identification of potential disputes, strategies for avoidance, the importance of timely decision-making, and the methods of resolving the disputes with the emphasis on not losing control of the dispute.

An educated Owner’s representative enhances the Owner’s chances of obtaining a successful project. OTI provides a level of training that does not currently exist in the industry outside of a two or four-year degree. Even those degrees do not necessarily provide exposure to the level of experience embodied by each OTI course’s three-person team of instructors, which represents the perspectives of the Owner, designer, and constructor.

While the written materials are high value and comprehensive, the heightened value of the training is primarily delivered through the exercises where the attendees learn from each other in addition to the instructors. Here, the lessons and concepts are emphasized, evaluated, and placed into practice.

In short, if the COAA OTI training enables one Owner to avoid a single claim through the effective management of the construction project by the Owner’s representative, then the training has provided a greater value than its cost. There is no question that the tools provided to attendees through OTI will not only enable an Owner to avoid claims, but it will also enhance the value on every project because of the heightened awareness of the Owner’s representative.

The only losers will be the lawyers, who will likely see a reduction in the quantity of claims issues and disputes requiring legal intervention. However, that is music to the ears of most Owners, and it will prove the ultimate value of the COAA’s OTI.

John Sier, with the firm of Kitch Drutchas Wagner Valitutti & Sherborook in Detroit, Michigan, is Associate Counsel to COAA.