What Owners Should Ask Construction Managers During an Interview

June 15th, 2020 - By

We’ve interviewed for a lot of jobs — ranging from $100 million healthcare facilities to $200,000 reroofs — and every owner has a unique list of priorities for their exact project. For many owners, this might be the first and only major construction project for which they will be responsible. For us, though, its what we’ve been doing for over 70 years.

Business Development Officer Jonathan Adams is one of the people at Nabholz who works to get us into that interview room. He also prepares our team for and participates in interviews, and handles many of the owners’ questions. Here are some of the things he thinks owners should be asking.

1. Firm Financial Health

One essential item owners should consider when choosing a construction manager is the overall financial health of the firm, as it affects the firm’s ability to pay subs promptly. It also affects bond projects. These two issues can derail or even shut down a project. Unfortunately, we’ve seen firms closing their doors without notice and leaving an owner holding the bag. To avoid this, owners should look at long-term debt load when interviewing construction firms.

2. Safety Record

Most all companies will tell you they’re safe just to check a box, but owners should make sure their track records actually support. One way to do that is to check a firm’s EMR rating — an important measure that assesses risk and the firm’s commitment to protecting the health and livelihood of employees. Looking at a firm’s EMR rating for the last five years and checking with their references should be one of the first things an owner should do. There are other questions you can ask as well. Do they have a safety officer? Do they implement site-specific safety plans?

3. Experience

You wouldn’t want to have exploratory surgery with a resident physician fresh out of school, and you don’t want to hand millions of dollars to a brand new firm with no record of delivering projects. An owner should look at what type of facilities the company has successfully completed. Have those projects finished on time and on budget? Again, check references that are similar to your project scope.

4. Project Team

Now that you have an experienced firm, what about your project team? Dos the proposed project manager and site superintendent have experience with your type of project? Make sure to check out the resumes of those being assigned to the project.

5. Trade Partner Relationships

Many times, a general contractor is only as good as the subcontractors they partner with. Do good subcontractors want to work with the general contractors? Again, do they pay on time, and are they fair? Will they get the best pricing for the various scope packages? These are all important questions to ask in order to make sure you are receiving the best value for your construction dollar.

6. Design Team Relationships

With many owners leaning towards more collaborative delivery methods, the construction manager’s relationship with the design team is becoming more important. Does the firm have a history with your chosen architect and, if so, how many projects and what type of projects? Does the assigned team have a contentious history with the design team? Also, how will the construction and design teams work to address value engineering items?

7. Communication Style

As with most relationships, communication with your construction manager is key. Your project team should tailor their communication style to match yours. For instance, every client wants project updates on a different timeline or communicated in a different way. If you lay out those expectations, the firm should be able to meet them. You should question what kind of partners they will be in protecting your vision. Does their “personality” seem to mesh with yours? Do they have an Open Book Philosophy?

8. Current Workload

You want to make sure your project will receive the attention it deserves. This does not necessarily mean you want a small firm, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you want a large firm either. Rather judge the construction manager’s capacity for your project with these questions:

Do they have the resources to staff your project?
Will the assigned site superintendent be dedicated solely to your project?
Will your project be put on hold in order to complete multiple projects?
Is the firm willing to commit to the project schedule?

9. Quality Management Process

Everyone wants a quality end product, but how do you assess a firm’s quality management system? Start with asking how quality will be tracked on your project, as well as how the quality of materials and installation will be checked. Will you be informed of the product warranties? Will your staff receive training on how to properly maintain this new facility?

10. References

Finally, check those references! Make sure and get a variety of references from past owners over a long period of time. Ask for subcontractor references. Do your research on their reputation in the community.

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