Understanding Roles in Construction Projects

One of the issues that we see time and time again is a project that failed to live up to expectations. There are many reasons why projects fail to deliver, but in my experience the failure can frequently be traced back to a fundamental misunderstanding of the roles that will be played by each project participant. When clients do not clearly understand the role that each participant plays, it becomes almost inevitable that they will develop unrealistic expectations. The easiest way to avoid these unrealistic expectations and the disappointment (and bad feelings) that result is to make sure to educate the client.

The Architect
The role of the architect in a project is to create a set of design documents that accurately reflect and document the desired end product. This is accomplished through the creation of drawings and specifications. The architect will provide guidance with regard to aesthetics as well as code requirements applicable to the project. What the architect will usually not do is provide project management services. Generally speaking, the architect will provide some construction phase services, but these will be limited to ensuring that the work in place appears to conform to their design. Many architects are not qualified to provide more in depth services during construction, and frequently they are not insured to provide these services.

The Contractor
The contractor is responsible for building the project which they have been contracted to build. They are responsible for following any design documents, conforming to administrative requirements included in their contract, and following applicable laws and codes. Especially in a situation where the contractor has provided a competitive bid for their services, they generally will not offer suggestions for cost savings or point out issues in the design documents until they have been selected and are under contract.

Staff or Community Managers
Frequently we see clients make the mistake of assuming that their organization’s staff, or in the case of a Homeowners Association, their community manager, will provide project management services for the project. Your organization’s staff has been hired or contracted to perform certain vital functions; adding project management onto their plate will at best distract them from these duties and at worst overwhelm them. Accepting advice from non-experts may also expose you and them to liability.

City Inspectors
City inspectors have the role of ensuring that the work being performed conforms to the building code. What many people do not realize is that the building code is a minimum standard and further, many parts of every project do not require inspection or sign off by the local building department. While inspectors have an important job to perform, they will not in any way ensure the contractor is delivering the product you purchased.

Third Party Construction Managers
One of the primary services provided by a third party construction management firm is to help establish and document project goals and expectations, so that the project delivers what the client expects. The third party construction manager is directly involved in project management every day. They are responsible for identifying what needs to happen, what needs to be planned for and coordinated, and ensuring that the contractor is providing not just code minimum work but the product that they have been contracted to provide. Not only must a third party construction manager provide ongoing oversight and coordination, they also communicate to the client critical information without burying them in minutia.

It is critical that a client understand the roles and responsibilities of the different project participants so that they can assemble the correct team for the job. This will help to ensure that expectations are met and that the project delivers the best value to the client.

Matthew C. Boomhower is the founder and president of Southern Cross Property Consultants; a construction management, architecture, and facilities management consulting firm. He is licensed as both an Architect and an Attorney. He can be contacted at matthew@southerncrosspc.com or 858-395-8657.