Editorial: 08.27.2019

The Big Benefits of Building Small

— John Buescher, President, Central Region

Specialized solutions save time and money, while ensuring high levels of quality on small projects.

construction workers finalizing interiors of an office

Thinking Big Picture

At McCarthy, we do more than build new schools, airport terminals and hospitals. In some cases, we help our clients by providing ongoing services, such as performing renovation projects, or even those important items that keep a facility looking great and functioning properly — like replacing doors, refinishing floors or updating fixtures. How do we bring the efficiencies and specialized expertise of our large-scale projects to the very smallest? The key is to think holistically: managing multiple projects together on a schedule, instead of scrambling when something breaks or starts to look run-down.

At McCarthy, our “Specialized Solutions” program includes what may be called a “continuous work program” or "job order contracting” depending on how your program is set up contractually. Regardless of what this service is called in your area, the program works the same way. McCarthy makes a core team of building professionals and resources available to an owner on an ongoing basis for a variety of individual and typically small projects. These “sub jobs” have budgets that can range from as little as $5,000 up to as much as $20 million.

To manage such diverse work on a daily basis, McCarthy may embed staff at the owner’s facilities, becoming a trusted partner to take care of every building need, every day. That level of trust is essential, because performing the volume of this work is complex and challenging. Imagine overseeing as many as 35 projects at once, each requiring a different skill set. It would be costly (as well as a logistical headache) to employ a separate workforce for each project.

Instead of viewing the challenge as 35 projects needing 35 different sets of resources to execute them, we see it as one building team with 35 projects to complete — all specialized to a specific market, such as healthcare or higher education. By viewing the workload holistically instead of as a bunch of “one offs” and then providing a staff that specializes in work within that specific market, we can schedule projects and their labor needs more efficiently and cost effectively.

Conversely, owners who try to manage smaller projects individually invite both inefficiency and increased costs. They’re constantly mobilizing and demobilizing multiple workforces, equipment and materials — a merry-go-round that wastes time and money. By leveraging self-perform capabilities in areas that include interior demo, clean up, concrete, layout, framing, drywall, doors, hardware, cabinetry and more — we are able to bring greater efficiency and savings to our clients through economies of scale. 

A less obvious issue is that the skilled men and women hired to come into the facility and execute the work often have no institutional knowledge of the owner’s facilities and must learn specific protocols from scratch every time. That’s an important but often “hidden” benefit of our continuous work program: the owner is using the same core group of building professionals over and over. The team knows the owner, user groups and facility intimately. It all adds up to a better owner and user experience.

There’s another significant disadvantage to managing small projects individually: satisfaction. The impact of smaller construction projects on a workplace and its occupants is often overlooked. Without an over-arching plan, those projects can be highly disruptive and have a substantial influence over user satisfaction. Think of a nurse concerned about construction dust making its way into patient rooms or a teacher struggling to be heard over the noise of hammers and drills just outside the classroom window.

By managing small projects together, owners can help avoid these issues. What’s the next step?

Choosing the right building partner

Look for three characteristics:

  1. The right team to plan and perform the work. This is key to gaining and maintaining trust. These builders must have the skills and specialized expertise to work in and around the facility’s users. Safety is key, as is minimizing disruption.
  2. Streamlined and efficient processes that are proven to work. Let’s say an owner has 40 projects on a wish list, but has the budget for only 15 right now. The right builder can help the owner prioritize, schedule and manage these projects (maximizing the value of labor and other resources to drive productivity up and costs down).
  3. References that demonstrate success in your industry. For example, McCarthy has deep experience managing these types of working relationships in such industries as healthcare and education. It’s a small world: facilities directors know each other. So, reputation matters and is the foundation for building trust.

In fact, with our average project value across our entire portfolio hovering right around $20 million, McCarthy has been an expert in delivering exceptional quality and value at this level for years. For a number of our clients, our construction staff actually has more experience working in the facility than the owner’s own staff. That institutional knowledge can be invaluable in planning the most effective way to handle multiple projects with efficiency, at the lowest cost and with minimal disruption to users.

By functioning as an extension of the owner’s staff, we have such close relationships that — unless you checked the logo on the hard hat — you might think our people were on the owner’s payroll and not ours!

Nursing Staff at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis
The nursing staff at Mercy Hospital in St. Louis has some fun dressing up like their McCarthy continuous work team for Halloween!

By viewing the work holistically, we manage budget, workflow and logistics seamlessly. Think of us as an air traffic controller — making best use of available resources to bring every project home on time and on budget. We call it “thoughtful planning.” Owners call it the right way to build small.

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About the Author

As President for McCarthy's Central Region, John Buescher oversees McCarthy operations across 30 states east of the Rockies. With more than 25 years of construction experience in field and leadership positions, John has spent his career delivering highly successful outcomes for all project stakeholders on a wide variety of small and large projects in healthcare, advanced technology and manufacturing, commercial, education and federal markets. He is a professional mechanical engineer, a LEED AP BD+C with the United States Green Building Council, and also holds a Healthcare Construction Certificate from the American Society for Healthcare Engineering. John has a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Purdue University and an M.B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis.

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