Command & Control: Self-Performed Work

When Contractors Perform a Portion of the Work

Are you interested in ensuring the quality of your next project, having better control over the schedule and staying on budget? If so, you should consider partnering with a general contractor who self-performs their own work.

As you may be aware, many general contractors subcontract a majority of the project work. Others, including Knutson Construction, self-perform a portion of the work, specifically the structural concrete and masonry.

“When a general contractor self-performs, the advantage is that they are allowed to utilize the strengths of their organization and do what they do best,” commented Chuck Knight, AIA, Managing Principal of Perkins & Will, “This ensures the success of the overall project for the owner and the architect. The challenge lies in building trust and accepting the contractor’s numbers are competitive.”

A self-performing contractor, by nature, is more proactive at anticipating and resolving construction issues because they are performing the critical tasks. Additionally, when an owner selects a general contractor who self-performs, he or she will be rewarded with a number of benefits including quality assurance, clear and open communication, control over the schedule, cost savings and the efficient use of manpower and machinery.

According to Kurt Hamann, a former supervisor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, “What makes Knutson different is that they are a self-performing contractor of some size. This provides extra value versus just being a broker like many construction companies. They set the tone for the project and set the pace. They can affect it in a substantial way and don’t have to rely on others.”

It is Knutson’s belief that the best approach to every project is to do what is best for the owner. Because Knutson has a strong reputation of hiring and retaining professional craftsmen throughout the years, it is their own experience that self-performing work, whenever possible, is best for the owner.

Benefits of Choosing a Self-Performing Contractor

Setting the Trend for Quality
The structural frame of the building sets the trend for what will happen throughout the project. That is why it is often advantageous for the general contractor to self-perform the core structural work. Strict quality control during this phase will help ensure the success of the overall project.

Controlling the Schedule
A self-performing general contractor establishes project goals and expectations early-on and keeps the team focused and on-task. Additionally, when general contractors are able to use their own crews and equipment, it is easier to control the schedule. According to Rick Dutmer, Director and General Contractor Market Sector Leader for FMI, Management Consultants to the Construction Industry, “A general contractor can control the schedule better if it self-performs schedule drivers such as site work, forming, concrete, framing and steel erection. This control is especially important as more owners are demanding fast-track projects with contractual penalty clauses for missed deadlines.”

Staying Within the Budget
Another advantage of self-performed contracting is better management of owner-initiated design changes. When a general contractor is self-performing, these orders are given to them directly and executed by them. This alleviates 1-2 levels of management and communication – allowing the change to be quicker and more cost-efficient.

Also, when self-performing work – the owner appreciates the savings, not the general contractor. When the project comes in less than the GMP (Guaranteed Maximum Price), the difference is returned to the owner. For example, if a self-performing general contractor comes in under budget on a specific portion of the project, then the amount saved is available to be contributed to another part of the project. Additionally, a trustworthy general contractor always keeps the owner updated on the status of the GMP.

Better Communication & Control
More effective and efficient communication between the owner and general contractor makes for less re-work. It is easier to get it right the first time and/or fix a potential problem early-on.

When Knutson built the University of Minnesota’s MAST Laboratory, a one-of-a-kind research building for the Department of Civil Engineering, the Design/Build contracting method was utilized, and Knutson self-performed a significant portion of the work.
“One of the major factors in our selection process was being able to communicate directly with the general contractor and being directly involved with the people who were designing and executing the structure,” commented John Gulliver, Head of the Department of Civil Engineering, University of Minnesota. “Quality Control was critical for our project. There was an extensive amount of concrete with unusual specifications that needed to be formed and placed and it was essential this be done correctly.”

Safety First
If a contractor is self-performing a project then it is much easier to keep a grasp on the daily clean-up and safety issues. Typically, the area remains cleaner and safer because the general contractor knows they are responsible for the entire site.

An Experienced Field Force
Contractors who regularly self-perform must have a strong infrastructure of craftsmen and project managers who are successful working as a team. For example, Knutson’s Construction Superintendents average 16 years with the company, with most of them having been tradesmen themselves. It is imperative that the general contractor has an experienced staff with an excellent track record. When you work with a builder who offers this service, you know they have spent years developing the infrastructure and number of professionals needed to carryout self-performed projects.

Challenges of Choosing a Self-Performing Contractor

Price Considerations
While some owners are concerned that self-performing contractors will use their own forces regardless of the cost and not be as competitive, this is not necessarily true. For example, Knutson will solicit subcontractors to bid against their numbers to ensure the best value for the owner.

Project Location
Many contractors prefer to build projects in their immediate and surrounding areas. Does that mean a self-performing general contractor will not be of value if your project is located far away from their core offices? On the contrary, the self-performing contractor can still add value, but you need to make sure they can execute.

In the case of the Buena Vista University Library, Knutson brought nucleus crews to Storm Lake, Iowa – over 250 miles from their central office – to work with the local crew and oversee the concrete work. Knutson is known for their quality concrete work, and the University needed to be sure the project was completed in a quality, timely manner. Everyone worked closely on this project all the way through, coming in four months ahead of schedule on the concrete portion of the Library. According to Randy Fehr, Vice President of Business Services, “Talk about timing. The timely completion and quality of the work assured that the University Library was opened on time to serve our student body for the second semester with a library we could be proud of.”

Trust
Because it all boils down to trust between the owner and general contractor, owners should check references of other clients who have “trusted” their project to a particular general contractor. Most contractors will be glad to provide client references.