by Raymond Keough
A capital project represents a major investment of a university’s resources.
In the world of higher education project planning and development, a consortium of stakeholders is typically involved during conceptual planning, design and construction of a proposed project. This stakeholder group may consist of university planning, end-user groups, education leaders, and sometimes fundraising or third-party external groups that may have a vested interest in the project, such as life sciences and R&D. Pair this group with a hired designer and planner and a project grows from an idea to an actual concept. To round out this early effort, an owner’s project manager (OPM) is typically hired to independently represent the interest of the university and funding agents.
The task of project development starts with identifying program needs: the where, the why and the what, all leading to the end-result. During this time, the stakeholder group begins the process of developing scope, establishing design and engineering concepts with the intention of transitioning the project from something north of an idea to a conceptual plan that has a framework and some design parameters. It is exactly at this point that the OPM must shine. For us, it begins with developing “cost certainty,” a deliverable that assures the university we have evaluated the ideas and concepts of the early stakeholder group and established a cost budget “roadmap” that is true and precise within a reasonable contingency. This sets the tone for the project and keeps all stakeholders aligned.
Some OPMs like ourselves develop cost internally: We maintain a full-service cost estimating group experienced in all phases of work including MEP and specialty divisions of construction. Other OPMs who do not retain internal cost estimators will contract out cost estimation as part of their effort to support the client. Either way, the over-arching need to pinpoint cost and budget is paramount.
Utilizing lean management principles, I have found that when we are tasked with facilitating projects, we are extremely effective in managing all project stakeholders, keeping everyone aligned with scope, cost, bid and construction information. By leading this effort, we build support among the stakeholder team to reach the “preferred solution,” the sweet spot, where design moves from aspirational to reality and cost is established and well within the parameters of the client and funding authority. We do this often with our clients at the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, Bryant University and Providence College, among others. By working collectively and collaboratively, we become a trusted resource to the stakeholders and can foster strong communication and outreach that keeps the work and deliverables on track and in concert with the overall initial ideas and goal first identified by the team.
All stakeholders are valued for their expertise and contribute individually to the success of a higher education project. In the end, the success of a project is always judged on the merits of meeting aspirational design and final cost – hopefully, both align.
Raymond (Ray) Keough, MBA, LEED AP is the owner/president of Keough Construction Management.