Freedom From Conflict is DB Fringe Benefit

Posted on May 2, 2011

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Owners do not have a lot of free time. When they do have it, they do not want to play referee between their architect and contractor. Think about it:  millions at stake and the owner is wondering why the contractor is claiming a delay, and the architect is contemplating a stop-work order.

For owners who do not want to babysit, you have design-build as a solution. Design-build is a big umbrella that shields the owner from all the unsavory aspects of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into a project. 

Getting a building built can be a lot like the show “American Chopper” on Discovery, where a crew of mechanics builds a custom motorcycle for a client. A typical show focuses on the father’s (owner of the bike shop) disagreements with his son, arguments about why it took four times to get the chrome done correctly, and the mechanic questioning a design decision during the test drive. The owner simply specifies the details and pays the bill at the end of the show.  The owner could care less about the behind-the-scenes drama. Design-build provides the benefit of making this drama invisible to the owner.

When I worked for an architecture firm in design-bid-build, I watched as a project architect friend my age struggled with the conflicts on his projects—nasty emails, unprofessional consultants, rumor-mongering.  His project lead to stress that manifested itself by maligning his eating and digestion habits so much he was told by his doctor to change his job or expect far worse health consequences.  He eventually quit.

Likewise, when I was working as a newly licensed architect on a particularly difficult project, due largely to an inexperienced and ignorant owner’s rep consultant, I developed an unfortunate nighttime teeth-grinding habit to which my wife can attest. Once again, stress was the culprit. I eventually was fitted for a mouthpiece because my teeth-grinding continued. Like my friend, I had to switch jobs to alleviate the stress, and end my teeth grinding and its ill effects on my body. Design-build is no miracle cure, but it has been four years and no bedtime gnashing of teeth.

Conflict causes stress, and stress is serious. Research shows stress is a silent killer because it contributes to lifelong health issues. Daily stress can shorten our lives. And some daily stress is the kind we can avoid by making some small decisions, like who is going to design and build the next healthcare project. To live a long and healthy life, we should jump at the chance to eliminate unnecessary stress from our lives.

To offer a project delivery method that, from the owner’s perspective, is as ‘stress-free’ as it can be is a benefit that cannot be overstated. In a healthcare administrator’s world, there is so much causing stress that if the design-build team can be one of, if not the only thing, she does not have to worry about, you have set yourself apart.

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