Fragmented Leadership In Building

Being an ex-jock whose tendons and muscles now break and ache more than they actually perform. I now have become a fair weather fan of which ever sport and sport’s team that is playing well and is fun to watch.  I can envision a future that derives it’s roots from professional sports, perhaps something along the following; “As the world of “Building” changes it will evolve an established set of parameters and rules (think NFL, MLB, NHL)  that clearly define the rules within which every game (project) is played. Since before the time of the pyramids, a successful building process has always been demanding of its participants. Diverse expertise from the fields of finance, architecture, engineering, product supply, construction and multiple specialties have all played critical roles. Now as you move back in history the clear division of trade labor becomes increasingly muddy and unclear. The very nature of the work required tremendous diversity in information, skillsets and resources. Other “manufacturing” industries, (in fact I would argue almost all, from aviation to telephony to shoes)  have developed a clear process and leadership framework. They all spend enormous resources to perfect the design, material procurement, assembly line manufacturing and distribution of a single product. The first widget produced is extraordinarily expensive since all the expenses are borne by the initial single unit. Then via the magic of standardized, mass production and scale, this assemblage is used to produce millions of widgets. A good product continues to maintain high quality standards, while still driving down the overall cost/unit, making the widget available to a much larger consumer market. In contrast every building project typically brings together a different combination of leadership, team members and resources. Just to make sure things stay interesting every project operates under a different set of regulatory rules.  Building is like the street games of football and baseball from our childhood. Every street had its’ own unique field and its’ own home rules. Through the millennia building developed from a unique individual’s skill to improve natural habitats in trees, savannahs and caves; to the Middle Ages and Renaissance where highly specialized tradesman were trained and belonged within secretive trade guilds. The guilds and master tradesmen safeguarded and executed their highly technical skills under the direction of “Master Builders”. The Master Builder (historically the architect/artist) were hired by royalty or religious patrons. They were the only clientele who had a need for and could afford large architectural building projects.  All other people within all communities throughout the world still lived in small huts, cottages or structures. Typically built through the skills of the owner and immediate neighbors with a large variance in structural integrity and safety. Master Builders conceived of, created necessary directional documentation and then led the project. Directing the skilled trades in laying out the structure, solving day to day problems and executing the work. In the medieval and renaissance times, project schedules were typically measured in decades or centuries. Even for the wealthy, resources were hard to cobble together and the tools and work were hand powered.  Workers were numerous and expendable. (workers rights and safety were still centuries in the future). Fast forward a few centuries say the late 19th century to early 20th century and the world of building had followed the American political system by creating a set of checks and balances. The architect/engineering team was the professional consultant to the owner who assisted the Owner in establishing a program of requirements for the project, developing the design intent and assisting the Owner in selecting the construction General Contractor and Construction Team. Initially the Architect sat at the right hand of the Owner providing the professional consul of how to go about the business of building and maintain high standards and best practice. The responsibilities typically went along these lines: The Architect along with the Engineering team, created the design and coordinated, construction documents that provided the design intent of the project. They then provided support and oversight to the project, to provide resolution to conflicts and challenges that arose during the construction process. The General Contractor led a large team of sub-contractors and was responsible for applying the current building material and labor marketplace to the design intent and establishing budgets, schedules and identifying conflicts within the construction documents that required resolution. The Owner who identified a need, program requirements and was responsible for financing the project, selecting the lead professional Architect and General Contractor to lead the project. Over time the Architect abandoned the role of the lead consultant and in the early to mid 20th century  began to negotiate away responsibilities for the overall construction process in exchange for the ability to focus more and more on the design aesthetic and philosophical underpinnings of the built environment. This core change began a decades long battle that is still in full swing today. Who is the leader of the “Building” process. Many, both professional and non-professional, have worked hard to fill the void voluntarily vacated by my architectural peers.  General Contractors, Engineers, Construction Managers, Project Managers, Owner Representatives, Specialty Consultants have all rushed in to compete alongside architects to provide project leadership and share in the financial benefits. Over the past 50 years three primary building contractual relationships have evolved:

  1. Traditional Owner, Architect, General Contractor  (link to AIA and GCA)
  2. Owner, Architect, Construction Manager, General Contractor  (Link to AIA and GCA)

In the 1980’s a third option began to create traction at least in certain building markets. 3-    Design-Build    (Link to AIA, GCA, Design build) Much of the perceived inefficiency, aggravation and challenges currently experienced by our customers, building professionals and tradesman alike, is directly due to the lack of clarity in leadership. Communications, authorizations and day to day decision making is developed uniquely on every single project. This takes a tremendous amount of energy and resources and lends itself to miscues and errors. When trying to figure out how building leadership works, take a quick peek at the famous Abbot and Costello routine, “Whose on first, What’s on second and I don’t know is on third”. Just pretend the conversation is about assembling your next project team and they are trying to figure out who is going to do what.  It really is quite accurate and explains a lot!!