September 20, 2023 | Articles
“In the private sphere, some clients misunderstand the role of an owner’s project manager (OPM) or lack experience incorporating one into their projects,” says Hill International, Inc. Senior Site Representative/Senior Project Manager Martin P. Goulet. “For the Workers Credit Union (WCU), one of the largest credit unions in the country and an organization that had never worked with an OPM, it was an entirely new experience to engage with Hill, a pure project management firm, on their recent corporate office project.”
An OPM can add significant value to private construction, as companies who test the waters eventually discover. Goulet and the OPM team’s work supporting WCU’s project in Littleton, MA, demonstrates this value. Other firms attempting to win work supporting private clients with owner representation services can draw on the value points described here to make their pitch to private clients.
WCU’s project involved the rehabilitation of a 44,000 SF commercial building and the construction of a 22,000 SF addition. The previous two-story building was demolished down to its structural steel before the new additions were constructed. The multi-million dollar project provided WCU with a comfortable, modern headquarters with multiple administrative departments, conference rooms, training rooms, a cafe, an outdoor dining patio, and a fitness center. The interior and exterior design of the building incorporated a combination of traditional and modern elements.
The OPM services included plan review, estimation, contractor procurement and contract negotiation, subcontractor authorization, site inspection, schedule and change review, invoice review, monthly reporting, quality inspection, town and utility company interface, and close-out. While these services may sound good on paper, WCU required a firm that would demonstrate how the services could make a difference on a real project.
While WCU understood the value of the OPM and specifically sought out an OPM for that reason, they had no direct experience working with one. So, before the outset of the project in 2018, the OPM team had to help WCU understand exactly where the OPM could fit into the managerial structure of the project. Once this was clarified and Hill was brought aboard, the OPM had to execute. In the first place, the OPM did this by helping WCU assemble the remainder of the team. Hill helped write the Request for Proposals for the general contractor, reviewed proposals, helped select the contractor, negotiated the contract price, and participated in and tracked all subcontractor selections. The team also tracked the architect’s requests for additional services and helped WCU negotiate the architect’s final contract amount.
The OPM’s experience working on similar building projects allowed the project team to use appropriate criteria for contractor and subcontractor selection. This helped ensure the selected contractor had the competencies required to deliver the project WCU envisioned. The OPM team’s selections and negotiations also took WCU’s strict budget into consideration, helping avoid any early cost growth.
Also in the early phases of the project, the team presented itself as a proactive and knowledgeable voice on behalf of the owner for every issue. “We achieved this with a relentless owner-minded approach,” says Goulet. “The OPM is most effective when a bit tenacious. Every point related to the project has to be considered and reconsidered with respect to the owner’s goals, proactively.”
Construction According to Plan
After clarifying the role of an OPM during the earliest phases and helping launch the project, the OPM team’s efforts became even more prominent during construction. “Here is where we ceased to really have to explain how we fit into the project,” says Goulet. “As our responsibilities increased in intensity and complexity, our presence and engagement showed our value to the owner.”
Part of the OPM’s construction-phase value lay in cultivating a whole-team approach. An OPM can facilitate teamwork by uniting the interests of the owner with the technical approach of the design and construction teams. They can at once make an owner’s vision clear to designers/contractors and translate information from the designers/contractors for an owner. An OPM can also help keep channels of communication open throughout the project organization and all project stakeholders.
“By constantly pushing the designer, engineers, contractor, and subcontractors to deliver the best result for the credit union, we helped keep everyone on the same page,” Goulet adds. “That said, while we’re proud of what we did in driving project success, the team itself did a great job throughout the project. The contractor, Nauset, was stellar in their role as CM. The design team from Maugel Architects was also excellent. This made our job easier.”
In addition to cultivating teamwork, the OPM team pushed quality assurance and quality control. Here too, Goulet’s “relentless owner-minded approach” made the difference. The team conducted site inspections, schedule and change review, invoice review, monthly reporting, and cost management to provide WCU with robust risk management. When any issues arose, the OPM was able to mediate as a third party without any conflicts of interest. This facilitated issue resolution and claim mitigation throughout construction.
The whole team’s efforts were necessary when COVID-19 threatened project progress in early 2020. Goulet’s team continued to provide OPM services, driving project progress and monitoring and advising on risk. The team’s robust safety program was adapted to incorporate guidance on handling COVID-19 in the workplace. In addition, the team’s efforts in coordinating the spread of information allowed the quick dissemination of the latest guidance on the pandemic. In this way, the project made it through the final seven months of construction with only very minor pandemic impacts to cost and schedule.
The Results of OPM
Another advantage of OPM services is owner-minded support that covers a project’s entire lifecycle. Hill’s services extended through the end of construction in September 2020, to close-out and beyond. At the end of the project, in November 2020, Hill coordinated and tracked the punch list with minute detail and maximum financial leverage to provide closure for every issue. “That is the coverage and care you get with an OPM,” says Goulet. “Whether we’re helping the Federal Government build a new aerospace research facility, or delivering renovations for a small town’s kindergarten, we make the owner’s priorities our priorities.”
The result of these efforts is an excellent new headquarters facility for WCU, one which will allow them to accommodate their expanding corporate presence and provide better services to their customers. A secondary, more subtle result: another private client understands the advantages conferred by a dedicated OPM. Hill’s services on WCU’s project provide an example of the ways an OPM can drive a private client’s project to a successful conclusion.
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