Owners, contractors: there is no question that we all need to have a serious conversation. I am pretty confident we can all agree that each side sees the world a little bit differently. And as a result, there is a huge gap that is casting a pretty big shadow that has yet to be addressed. If we are going to move forward to a brighter future of construction and a tech-driven world, we need to go back to the basics, and that means strengthening our relationships with good ole’ communication.

A recent report from Dodge Data & Analytics, conducted in partnership with Sevan Multi-Site Solutions, looks at the success factors for multisite projects from the perspectives of both owners and contractors,  and the findings are pretty interesting.

It paints a pretty clear picture that more than 70% of owners and contractors agree that better communication and coordination across complex projects can improve project outcomes, but gaps are evident. Let’s explore just one for a minute. Most owners (76%) report they frequently communicate their future construction plans to contractors, but only 19% of contractors find that this occurs on a frequent basis. The most common reason that owners offer for not sharing information is uncertainty about program changes, but most contractors think owners are more concerned about confidentiality.

Of this finding, Donna Laquidara-Carr, industry insights research director, Dodge Data & Analytics, says, “So on the one hand, you have contractors needing more information, and on the other, you have owners that only want to provide information when it is definite enough to be useful. Both sides can understand that, but unless you actually ask about it, it is easy for owners to feel that they are doing a good job providing enough information and for contractors to feel that the owners are worried about confidentiality.”

Interesting, right? That is a huge gap that needs to be addressed. So then let’s talk about the solutions. Laquidara-Carr says productive communication between owners and project teams as early in the project as possible and maintaining those channels throughout the program of work is essential.

“Certainly, this data demonstrates that this is particularly true in multisite construction,” she says. “And the responsibility for this lies with both the owner and the contractor. One advantage in the multisite arena is that owners are deeply familiar with the construction process due to frequent refreshes and improvements, and that can help with the setting of realistic expectations. However, this needs to be an area actively worked on by all players, not just a set of pro-forma meetings.”

Steve Kuhn, executive vice president, Sevan Multi-Site Solutions, suggests that for schedule and budget to be adequately defined and achieved, the scope of work must also be well-define and communicated. Here are some key questions to be asking: what does the owner want to achieve; across how many sites; in what timeframe; under what constraints; within what budget; and with what internal and external resources.

“All these things are vital to the proper planning and delivery of a program,” he says. “They must be addressed from the initial program planning meeting and then continually discussed and monitored as the design and construction process evolves. Most multisite programs, when properly executed, have far more time spent in planning and preparation than actual ‘boots on the ground’ time accomplishing the work.”

He suggests two main things can be done to help improve the relationship and communication between the owners and contractors. First owners need to engage program managers and contractors as early as possible in the planning of the programs. Next, owners and contractors need to strive to understand each other’s worlds.

Technology can also certainly help, which is something we talk about here at Constructech all the time. Kuhn agrees that it can help us be better prepared for planning meetings and in enabling a productive process. However, of course, at the end of the day, nothing replaces sitting down at a table and hashing these things out the old-fashioned way.

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Peggy Smedley
Peggy Smedleyeditorial director