Taking on a new design and construction project comes with a lot of risk. Aside from the time and money required, no two design and construction projects are exactly alike, and there is a tremendous learning curve associated with becoming fluent in the process, players, and terminology involved in transforming an idea into a built reality. So how as an owner, even one with experience, can you overcome these challenges to ensure your vision is realized? One way to reduce risk is to find a partner, or an owner’s representative, with the experience and expertise to guide you through the process. But what is their role, and how do you know if hiring an owner’s rep is right for you and your project?
We asked MGAC Managing Director, Ashley O’Connor, to explain what an owner’s representative actually is, why and when they’re needed, and how hiring one can mean the difference between success and struggle for your project.
What is an owner’s rep, and what do they do?
Ashley: In my experience, an owner’s rep is someone hired by an owner to manage and execute a design and construction project on their behalf – particularly when they don’t have the industry knowledge, time or resources in-house to do it themselves. An owner’s rep acts as the owner’s eyes and ears throughout the entire process with the sole purpose of executing their goals and mission. As we like to say here at MGAC, an owner should be able to say to their rep, “go be me,” and have the confidence and trust that the rep will do just that.
Ideally, an owner’s rep is engaged at the very beginning of the process. This way they’re able to work alongside the owner to identify budget and project objectives, a realistic schedule based on the project’s goals, and a clear understanding of what success looks like to them. Once these fundamental pieces are in place, the rep can then help identify and assemble the ideal team of design, construction, and specialty consultants to deliver on the clients goals. From that point forward, it’s about management, communication, and coordination. I like to think of an owner’s rep like a conductor in an orchestra. Someone has to take all of these brilliant, creative artists, and plan for how they’re all going to work together, in the right sequence, to create something beautiful. Instead of sheet music and instruments, it’s structuring scopes of work and schedules to align to a master plan for the project – making sure everything is moving exactly when it needs to move, and costing exactly what it’s supposed to cost.
What challenges are clients who hire an owner’s rep typically facing?
Ashley: Every owner’s challenges are different based on their specific needs, their familiarity with design and construction, and what they do and don’t know about the process. The reality is, whether they’re the CEO, the COO, or someone who has been tasked to lead the project internally, they’re all challenged with balancing their new project responsibilities with their day job – a job which may even be on the line based on the success of the project.
In an ideal world, the owner’s rep is brought in early so they can weigh in as a subject matter expert on potential project pitfalls from the beginning, and use their experience to help steer the owner to success. Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world, and oftentimes owners are seeking support from an owner’s rep after the project is already underway. In my experience, this is caused by one of four reasons:
- They’re overwhelmed: All the sudden they realize they aren’t able to get their day jobs done, or they are not as comfortable with the process as they originally thought. They’re being inundated with change orders and requests and they’re unable, or don’t have time, to answer all of the different questions coming in from their consultant team. They are becoming a bottleneck in both the project and their day job and need help to keep both moving. Without this help, they won’t be able to make timely decisions and the project will likely fall behind schedule, if it isn’t already.
- They encounter mistakes (i.e. they don’t know what they don’t know): Maybe they didn’t know they needed to hire a permit expeditor, or they realize that none of the design consultants own the responsibility of consolidating the drawings into a final bid set. A key component of their project unintentionally slipped through the cracks because they didn’t buy it right and now they have to figure out how to correct their mistake, which will take time and add cost to the budget.
- They’re behind schedule: Keeping a project team on schedule is complicated – and every additional day has an impact on budget. Sometimes an overwhelmed owner may not even realize when or why delays have happened. They need someone to help identify issues, reestablish critical milestones, and get the project back on track.
- They need back up: Sometimes an owner’s rep is hired to explain controversial or complex issues to key leadership that internal staff may not have the experience or background to do. Plus, the owner’s rep can handle conflict resolution so the client doesn’t have to take on that role. Whether it’s dealing with cost overruns or difficult personalities, the owner’s rep can stay impartial and out in front of issues – developing strategic solutions to resolve them before they impact the project.
How can hiring an owner’s rep positively impact your project?
Ashley: Well, like most things, it all comes down to managing resources, time, and money. Having an owner’s rep allows an owner to appropriately invest their time in connection to the project in a way they can manage because it’s been laid out for them. And as I’ve said, the earlier an owner’s rep gets involved, the more value they can bring to the project – hiring the right team and setting a project up for success. By the time a project reaches construction, an owner’s rep has the cost estimates to establish a realistic and accurate budget, has hired the right contractor to ensure it stays on schedule, and has documented every step of the way to guarantee the project meets established goals. In the end, it’s about providing the owner with peace of mind and a final result that’s exactly what they envisioned.
Have follow up questions or want to learn more about how an owner’s rep can help contribute to the success of your project? Connect with Ashley on LinkedIn or reach out via the Contact page on mgac.com.