By Donna Laquidara-Carr, Ph.D., LEED AP

Large programs of work for owners with multiple properties across a region or even across the country are known as Multi-Site construction. The owners are typically large companies like McDonald’s or Walgreens, and these construction programs can range from small updates, such as signage or branding updates, to complete reimages and remodels, or even construction of entire buildings from the ground up. Multi-Site owners and contractors typically forge close working relationships that extend over many years to accomplish the work of these programs, and often engage a Multi-Site program manager to oversee the planning and execution of the work. Often, because of the fragmented and geographically diverse nature of the scope, these programs attract little attention from the design and construction industry at large, but they account for a healthy share of construction activity and present their own unique opportunities and challenges.

Recently, Dodge Data & Analytics partnered with national Multi-Site program manager, Sevan Multi-Site Solutions, to conduct research with owners and contractors operating within the Multi-Site construction industry. The objective of the study was to better understand owners’ and contractors’ individual perspectives to ultimately help foster communication and improve nine areas that are critical to the success of these projects: how owners source contractors, managing the scope of work, use of technology, permitting effectiveness, benefiting from lessons learned, challenges attracting talent, and the impact on Multi-Site programs from safety management, material and labor procurement, and owner payment terms. Assessing both the owner and contractor perspective for each of these areas provides an invaluable window into the challenges faced by those working on Multi-Site programs.

For engineers interested in or engaged in Multi-Site construction, perhaps the most telling data comes from looking at the degree to which this work is driven by long-term relationships and at how owners manage the scope of work. The majority of owners interviewed for the study, at 92 percent, reported that they frequently form and sustain long-term partnerships with contractors, demonstrating the importance of reliable relationships for this scope of work. Perhaps more than in any other part of the industry, owners feel that they need to be familiar with and trust the contractors with whom they work, and that certainly applies to the rest of the project team as well.

Much of this can be attributed to repetitive nature of the Multi-Site work and the high frequency of work being performed in an “open for business” environment, which requires a detailed understanding of the client business and their needs.  The study provides strong evidence that owners believe that they approach much of this work with an attitude of partnership with the contractors, although the contractors less frequently perceive this than perhaps the owners intend. For example, 75 percent of the owners interviewed stated they frequently communicate their future construction plans with contractors and suppliers, but only 19 percent of contractors believe that the owners understand the benefit of this communication.

Therefore, for any project team members, including those on the design team, seeking to work in this Multi-Site industry, it is essential to consider how best to work with owners to best apply a standard scope of work and design across potentially thousands of non-standard sites predictably, safely, reliably and cost effectively.

Another area that is particularly interesting is the disparity between how owners and contractors rate the owner’s effectiveness at practices that improve clarification of a program’s scope. For example, over half of owners interviewed believe that they are highly effective at defining the scope of a program accurately, defining constraints and special requirements for performing the work, and managing changes to the program scope. However, few contractors (16 percent or fewer) consider owners to be highly effective at these activities. Owners also perceive themselves to be more effective at making timely design decisions than contractors do, with 42 percent of owners stating that they are highly effective at this and only 13 percent of contractors who believe owners do this well.

For improving scope clarity, program managers can also play an important role. Nearly half (46 percent) of the contractors surveyed find that having a program manager improves scope clarity across the team, a critical factor for project success, especially across Multi-Site programs.

What this, and many other findings in the study, indicate is that even with the close working relationship between owners and contractors, there is a need for better communication to improve the results of these programs. As a critical part of a Multi-Site program team, engineers must consider their own role in improving communication amongst all stakeholders engaged in these programs.

With projects potentially spread across dozens of states, it is critical that accurate existing condition data is available prior to design.  The particular requirements of a site cannot be left to contractor notes such as “field verify.” The condition of each site must be known with certainty so designs reflect true field conditions. This will result in accuracy for critical components and equipment shipped to each site, leading to a reduction in missing components and fewer delayed schedules. These projects are too short in duration and too widely distributed to easily overcome material or equipment errors caused by poor or lacking field condition information.

These are just a few of the findings available in the study, Challenges and Opportunities in Multi-site Construction SmartMarket Insight, which is available for free download at https://www.construction.com/toolkit/reports/multi-site-construction.  In all, it provides a unique window into how to improve multi-site work for owners, contractors, and all team members involved in the program of work.

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