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Managing Uncertainty

In an effort to improve communication and performance in the construction industry, nearly 3,000 U.S. owners, architects and contractors contributed to a study about quality, cost and scheduling problems created by uncertainty on any given project.

While the construction industry is often associated with cost and schedule problems, little data has been compiled about typical levels of uncertainty, the reasons for it, and the remedies.

To address this issue, McGraw Hill Construction recently released its new SmartMarket Report, "Managing Uncertainty and Expectations in Building Design and Construction." It identifies:

• Key drivers of uncertainty that create unanticipated quality, cost and scheduling problems, and how they
can be mitigated;

• Perspectives and expectations of owners, architects, and contractors for their own and each other's levels of performance on projects;

• The most impactful aspects of performance and how they should be measured, so all parties can align around reasonable expectations and improve outcomes throughout the industry.

The AIA Large Firm Roundtable, an organization of the largest North American architectural firms, was a founding partner in this study in an effort to improve communication and performance in the industry.

"We have long recognized the lack of real data about what levels of uncertainty to expect and how to manage it well," says Bryce Pearsall, chairman of DLR Group and chair of the AIA Large Firm Roundtable. "We have seen the work of even top-performing project teams end with conflict and strained client relationships. Increasing understanding about the challenges of complex projects is the first step toward better outcomes."

The study encompasses input from nearly 3,000 U.S. owners, architects and contractors, as well as commentary from an advisory panel of seven leading owners representing different building types. Key findings include:

• Owner-driven issues - such as unclear project requirements/lack of direction, accelerated schedules, and program/design changes - cause the greatest degree of project uncertainty.

• Most owners are willing to accept a reasonable amount of imperfection in design documents, and on average expect 3-5% added construction costs as a result.

• Increasing design/construction integration and structured communication between project team members will have the greatest impact on reducing uncertainty and improving project outcomes, but needs to be managed to maintain individual responsibilities.

Steve Jones, senior director at McGraw Hill Construction and a principal author of the report, believes it will help to "shift the conversation away from blame and more towards a proactive and collaborative approach."

"While uncertainty will always exist," he proclaims, "the findings clearly point towards better ways to avoid its negative impacts on building projects, by openly acknowledging its causes and working together to reduce their incidence and mitigate their effect. Having facts about the drivers behind problems and understanding each other's perspectives on performance are two critical elements of a formula for greater success."

The American Institute of Architects, Autodesk and the Design-Build Institute of America were Premier Industry Partners for this report, and additional Industry Partners include the Associated General Contractors of America, Graphisoft, and the Lean Construction Institute. To download the full report, click here.

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May 19, 2019, 8:25 am PDT

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