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Friday, October 26, 2007

Change orders, prime consultants and relationships

The Ottawa Construction Association tackled three of the thorniest and most important issues at its annual Construction Forum yesterday evening. And in it, the dynamics, controversy and underlying issues affecting the industry overall were clear to see both in the panelists' direct remarks, and (more importantly) the indirect interplay between the people speaking at the event.

There is lots of food for thought here -- too much for a blog entry and, frankly, for our November print issue, which was past deadline and virtually ready for the printers. So I'll write a news story to post on the OCN website tomorrow (Saturday) and prepare much more thorough reports on two of the topics -- the value of prime consultants and change orders -- in the next couple of months.

"Relationships that work" however is a topic that should never be delayed -- it is the foundation of this blog. I've always advocated that what you do when you are currently working with your suppliers, colleagues and clients sets the stage for your marketing future, especially within the ICI sector. Sure, some residential contractors can maintain viability by an organized marketing and sales strategy; constantly finding new clients through various forms of advertising. But when it comes down to building schools, hospitals, commercial fit-ups and the like, you aren't going to win the really good jobs unless you have satisfied your current clients; referrals and recommendations are vital here, so do positive references, unless, of course you simply want to spin your wheels on low -price open bids, only to find you can't win these jobs for one reason or another (and those that you win, you can't earn a decent profit.)

So I listened with interest the observations of the various speakers about how to develop and maintain good relationships, and will share these observations over the next few blog entries.

Doug Brooks, senior associate with Barry Hobin and Associates Architects, made these points:

Most successful projects and relationships have four or five key factors

Most successful projects and relationships have four or five key factors.The first one starts with the client, on every job, total success starts with good client. It has to be a client who understands that you as a professional are tyring to offer service to them to the best of your ability. There are no hidden agendas -- we’re all tyring to be as efficient and effective to give client what he wants. (Good) clients are open to that understanding,
Secondly, is respect. They (clients) respect what you are trying to do for them; that respect goes through the whole project team. You have to respect what each team member brings to the table-- you have bring out those strengths.
Third is communication, identifying early on what everybody’s objectives are, and ensuring those roles and responsibilities are clearly defined.
Fourth is building a team, (you need a) familiarity with the work you are doing but also people you are dealing with, you build understanding of what their expectations are, what you are starting with and to where you are going.

Brooks is right that the client certainly sets the project's stage and tone. It certainly can be difficult if you are lower on the pecking order in setting the stage since you don't control the show. But in some respects you can. If you apply the principals he outlines here to the areas within your scope of responsibility, you'll achieve much the same results as if you are fortunate enough to be working for the ideal client. (And there is an argument, not always easy to observe in practice especially in tough markets, that you should only elect to work with clients who respect you.) So, yes, communicate well, build a team, and respect the point of view of others. And, if at all possible, find a way to bring everyone together early in the process to establish effective communications and responses to the situations that will arise on the job site.

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