Brad Burnett’s journey from estimator to pre-construction began with a lone desk in a hallway and led to a new way to build.
Burnett, the executive vice-president of ITC Construction Group, was one of the speakers at a panel titled The Future of Construction is Pre-Construction at the Independent Contractors and Businesses Association’s (ICBA) 2023 Construction Innovation Summit, held recently in Vancouver.
Burnett revealed that earlier in his career he went from an estimator at ITC Construction Group to spearhead the company’s pre-construction efforts as a “department of one.”
“We had an estimating project for estimates on projects and project execution teams that would actually build them, but the handoff from estimating to project delivery wasn’t very smooth and there were gaps and holes that weren’t being filled through that process,” he said.
“We decided to focus on a continuous pre-construction department. I was the one to put my hand up and proclaimed myself the ‘one man preconstruction department,’ set up a desk in a hallway and called it my office. It worked out well as there were people walking through all day so I was able to grab a project manager, safety person or superintendent and ask them questions.”
Burnett and others on the panel noted while construction often had a “draw your sword” mentality in the past, pe-construction encourages a more collaborative approach that reduces points of conflict.
“Twenty-five years ago, estimating was very much a design-bid-build model, and that just inherently is a somewhat adversarial model with everyone entrenched with their own interests and waiting fo the other side to reveal their cards before they do anything,” Burnett said. “Getting involved in the pre-construction process early, hopefully everyone can put on the table what’s important to them and everyone hopefully has an aligned interest.”
He added a majority of ITC projects employ pre-construction methods at present and though it took some time, clients now trust the process and can see the advantages of the approach over traditional methods.
“As we went through the process on a couple of projects, people started appreciating the end result and the value of doing it. They went from being somewhat skeptical of making commitments early to really appreciating that making commitments early works for everybody,” Burnett said.
Part of the process, he said, is picking the right moment to communicate with clients to ensure a smooth workflow.
“If a client needs cost, schedule or design certainty early, before everyone’s had a chance to do their job properly, people start getting overly conservative and start making allowances or contingencies that aren’t necessarily the most efficient,” Burnett said. “If you do it too late, you’re too far in on the design process or the procurement process to realize the savings that would come with a good decision early on.”
Events such as a pandemic or supply chain disruption are out of the control of individuals or companies, he added, but pre-construction helped to mitigate some of unprecedented risks of the last few years.
“Anything from the availability of materials, shipping delays, price escalation, there’s a lot of things we proposed to clients that they were agreeable to that aren’t necessarily covered under a contract but they understood it was good for the project and there was benefit to doing it,” he said.
“A lot of our clients did things we wouldn’t normally expect them to do, but everybody understood it was extraordinary times that required extraordinary measures.”