Architecture & Design and Construction

How do you identify value?

July 20, 2015
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I was having breakfast with a friend, and we were discussing value versus price.

He said something that struck me: “When was the last time you heard someone brag about the deal they got on their new professional service provider?”

We joked back and forth about the likelihood of hearing something along the lines of, “Yeah, I just hired the lowest priced attorney in town to represent me in my big case!” or “My accountant is the best — she’s the cheapest in town!”

This mindset would definitely raise some eyebrows among seasoned business leaders, but when it comes to hiring a company to oversee a multi-million dollar construction project, it’s not all that uncommon.

The perception remains among some that the plans and specifications of a building project speak for themselves; that we can draw enough details and print enough words to make it all come out all right and that all construction companies will deliver the product as shown.

Unfortunately, that isn’t necessarily the case. There are always places for interpretation and improvement in a project. As the industry gets busier, it seems there’s a growing need for experienced professionals to fill in the gaps. The people involved in supervising and assembling projects tend to have a variety of standards and expectations for quality, safety and complete project pricing.

So what metrics are the most important, and how do business owners sort out the options available in the architecture, engineering and construction industry? A few things my company looks for in partners and that we encourage clients look for include:

Experience. While no one has likely designed or built the exact same structure on the exact same site as the proposed project, we suggest speaking directly with the team of people you’ll be working with on a daily basis. Make sure each person brings the necessary experience and analyze their expertise. There is no substitute for experience with the process, with area trade contractors, and with the intricacies of fitting the pieces of a complex project together the way they’re supposed to work. As the market gets busier and busier, experience can be in short supply.

References. What do their existing clients say? Sometimes more importantly, how do trade contractors and vendors say they’re treated by your prospective firm? What about references for the specific people they’re proposing to service your project? Trade contractors and suppliers work in a close community and are sometimes more forthcoming about their experiences.

Culture. Do the culture and values of your professional service provider match your own? What are the expectations for how the team conducts themselves? What kind of guides and processes might be expected? How should they treat trade contractors and vendors? Building owners should expect the same things from service providers that they expect from their own employees. These people become an extension of your staff; representing your brand as they go.

This is not to say price doesn’t matter. Having offered the lowest price, the highest price, and everywhere in between on a variety of projects, I realize price is not irrelevant; but I would argue that it shouldn’t be the key driver or even tie-breaker in an organization’s decision to hire a professional service provider.

The perceived savings from a lower fee is not likely as great as the amount of money saved over the life of a building when constructed by an experienced, proven and dedicated team. It is also likely less important than the positive experience you’ll have working with people who share your culture and act as you would, even when no one is watching. Seek value.

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