As the design-build (D-B) industry continues to grow in popularity, some owners are hiring a third-party professional to act as their owner representative. The concept is not new and, for many building owners, the money has been "well spent" when assessing the value of what this individual and/or firm brought to the process.

Those who are familiar with D-B understand that trust and partnership are two important ingredients in making this project delivery service a success. Trust and partnership must exist between the owner and the team providing the single-source solution to the building program. Having said this, it is not unusual for an owner to delegate his/her trust and partnership responsibility to a third party so that his/her own time can be better spent with the core business that is probably driving this need for the building program.

Good Side, Bad Side

When it comes to working with an owner's representative, it has been my experience that the approach has always been very positive. At the same time, interacting with the representative can have its downside if both parties do not maintain the partnering process needed for the project to be a success. Focusing this discussion on the owner representative, the building owner has delegated his/her role to another person or firm, but the common goals of both the design-builder and the owner's representative remain the same: a successful job.

A key to this effort will include proactive participation by the owner representative when looking out for the owner's building program interest. This means taking the initiative to be a leader and not a reviewer of the building program, installation, timeline, and project budget. In authorizing someone else to represent the owner's interests, the building owner has not abdicated responsibility to the design-builder to meet these four tasks. Instead, it is the owner's representative who must continue to "champion" and maintain the program course while the D-B firm focuses its experience on engineering, installation, milestones, and cost.

While I have experienced positive results with owner representation, I have heard of owners who have had less than satisfactory results with this approach. In those unfortunate instances, it has been said that these representatives had approached their jobs in a more reactive manner where they highlight issues and opportunities after the fact! This "Monday morning quarterbacking" frequently developed into an adversarial relationship between this individual and the design-builder. Hindsight is always 20-20, and reactive management will usually result in second-guessing the initiatives.

Fresh Approach

Another benefit of this third-party participant is that his/her input doesn't always have to favor the owner if the design-build firm has a better solution to a problem. The direction and response of the owner representative doesn't always have to be solely focused on being in the best interest of the owner. The building program, project budget, and job costs need to rise above day-to-day issues.

An owner representative, interceding in a program issue between the owner and the design-builder, may also assist in resolving a problem to the benefit of the design-builder. Partnership is not "a one-way street." Here, trust becomes apparent because it is this third-party individual's responsibility to address all issues, concerns, and goals in a professional manner. It cannot be assumed that the owner representative is always going to rule on the side of the owner. This decision to make the tough choices and/or recommendations is another indication that the third-party person is acting in a proactive manner. The reactive owner representative would be inclined to always take the owner's side, right or wrong.

Quite often the owner representative brings a wealth of experience to the project and can provide an equally helpful, fresh look at a particular situation. What the design-builder does with this unsolicited input of information remains the responsibility of this single-source provider. Being proactive, while not being a burden to the design-builder, the owner representative inherently instills the partnership philosophy of design-build for all parties involved. ES