Passengers and Owners: Mind the Gap

Posted on August 1, 2011


Recognized as a classic warning to London Underground passengers, the “Mind the Gap” notation reminds passengers to heed their step as they transition from waiting platform to subway car. This statement also carries a great deal of validity to those owners who choose project delivery other than Design-Build.

When I speak with prospects about the seamless project flow, execution, teaming and risk mitigation benefits of Design-Build versus other project delivery methods, I sometimes get a look from the other person suggesting ‘how big a deal can it be’? It leads the conversation to:  how does that affect me, the owner, and what is it worth to me? Here is a scenario from a current, non-design-build Haskell project to illustrate.

In the process of window installation, an exterior window detail showed some pressure-treated wood wrapped in break metal. Haskell, acting as the CM-at Risk in this case, asked the question to the outside architect about water intrusion and whether the detail needed to be sealed or revised to avoid future maintenance or pest issues. Due to installation sequencing, the detail in question would need to be revised now, or be left alone.  Windows with any need for future repair would need to be completely ripped out to address any issue. The architect said the detail was fine as is.

This appears to be a common, short-sighted answer in a CM-at Risk arrangement:  no problem now, why bother? However, unspoken concerns remain: if water gets in, whose warranty claim is it?  Answer:  the CM’s. If wood degradation is an issue ten years later, whose issue is it?  Answer:  the owner’s. Ultimately, the architect knows the detail is not his long-term problem in this case.

If the above scenario played out in a project that was Design-Build with Haskell, Haskell would be the architect-of-record, engineer and builder. There would be no way to pass the buck to the owner because the builder (Haskell) would not build a questionable construction detail by the architect (Haskell) which might create a potential warranty call-back.

This one issue is a perfect microcosm of how gaps in Design-Bid-Build and CM-at Risk teams can materially affect the owner. With Integrated Design-Build, a single team is solely responsible for project quality and performance.  People try to knock Design-Build with the ‘fox in the henhouse’ analogy, an apparent lack of checks-and-balances in the system, but the reality is quite the opposite:  construction will simply not allow design to sabotage construction, and vice versa, because it is liability exposure and money out of the Design-Builder’s pocket. How about that for shared risk / reward of all team members? 

Keep in mind:  an owner only receives this protection with a single team that is truly integrated.