Development and Construction Managers’ Lessons Learned from 2020

There is something to be said about never letting a good crisis go to waste.  At the core of that statement is a notion to look past the negative and search for the positive.  One of the positives from 2020 is that conditions around the pandemic and the volatility in certain markets has required CDP to be flexible and to look for new ways of doing things. The question will remain, what are the positive lessons learned that we can glean from 2020 that will be applicable to future years when hopefully the world around us settles and resembles some sense of normalcy. With this in mind, we take a look at a few of the lessons learned from a Development and Construction Manager’s perspective at CDP, and how they may be applied to future projects.

1. Using virtual meetings to work efficiently while still maintaining and building rapport with project teams.

There is no doubt anyone in the construction and development industry has developed new ways of communicating and meeting during 2020.  Pre-pandemic, CDP spent a lot of time on campuses at in-person meetings.  One significant benefit to in-person meetings is developing rapport with clients, consultants, and other team members of the project which typically happened naturally, whether it was through interactions before or after scheduled meeting times, or even during working lunches/dinners.  In moving almost entirely to virtual meetings, (primarily zoom based screen and video sharing calls) this past year, CDP has been challenged to find new ways of developing strong and meaningful relationships particularly for projects that started at the beginning of 2020 and went almost immediately to all virtual communications.  What we’ve found successful has been a combination of the following:

  • Small Group Calls with Key Project Stakeholders – These small, reoccurring calls help keep the stakeholders on track and apprised of what is needed of them and vice versa, as well as provides an opportunity and space for stakeholders to communicate more openly, ask questions, favors, etc. More frequent and open communication helps to build rapport between team members even in a virtual environment.
  • Enhanced Meeting Minutes and Agenda’s – CDP has always taken pride in crafting detailed minutes and agendas to make meetings run smooth and help large teams stay accountable, but in a virtual meeting space these become even more important. To make everyone’s time more productive and to develop confidence in CDP and accountability from those on the call, it’s more paramount than ever to develop detailed agendas that are sent out well in advance of meeting times and keep accurate, detailed minutes of the meeting.  These documents ensure that everyone stays focused and on-topic during the virtual meetings.  Having a detailed project record helps those who may have been multi-tasking or had to step away from the call, be brought back up to speed and not lose track of important information.
  • Efficient Use of Time – One of the benefits of virtual meetings, if they are done correctly, are they are more efficient with people’s time. There is no travel in the car to meetings, or walking, which helps those remain on time to meetings and gives attendees the commute time back to their day.

Lesson Learned: While CDP doesn’t believe virtual project meetings will ever be a full substitute for in-person meetings, there is value in having an entire project team equipped with virtual meeting technology, and there is meaningful money and time savings associated with hosting virtual rather than face-to-face meetings.  We believe some balance of the two can be utilized and have positive impacts on future projects when current pandemic concerns subside.

2. Opportunity to develop and refine contingency plans for current and future deals.

2020 has made it more apparent than ever that having a plan B for all phases of a project is important.  CDP Development and Construction managers have spent a lot more time over the past year focusing on alternative plans that may never be used, but nevertheless are ready to implement if market forces outside our control take a project off track.  The following is an examples of a type of contingency plan that has been developed this year on a project closing in 2021:

  • Identifying a robust and itemized value engineering log prior to GMP – It became apparent early in 2020 that there was going to be more pricing volatility than normal on both the construction side, as well as the financing side of the pro forma. With so much volatility, it was difficult to feel as certain as we would like to have about our projections of where markets would be during future project closing dates.  Development and Construction managers utilized a traditional value analysis log which, with the help of our university partners, developed scope and value adds and deducts to projects.  We placed an emphasis on prioritization of the items on the list and used it as a tool to provide optionality in our drawings and ultimately in the budget when the final GMP numbers come in.  Hopefully the project comes in under budget, and if it does, there are items we will be ready to discuss with the university partner to add back into the project.  This ability to throttle the project scope after pricing is received provides a lever that CDP can utilize to help reduce the risk of market forces outside the project team’s control, on the overall success of the project.

Lesson Learned: We never want to be caught flat footed.  Having contingency plans that have been thought out, including the timing of when those contingency plans need to be initiated is important.

3. Common Areas and Amenity Spaces

Special attention was paid to common area and amenity spaces during 2020 as most of them were closed or capacity was significantly reduced due to pandemic concerns/requirements.  Questions of whether these spaces needed to be reduced in size for contagion concerns or increased for future social distancing allowance can seemingly be contradictory.  CDP has taken away a couple noteworthy lessons from these discussions:

  • Look at the modification to these spaces as a value proposition – Much of project quality, costs, and schedule can all modulate to achieve project goals and outcomes for university partners, so too can contagion safety features/enhancements. There is a spectrum which the design of safety features for these spaces can slide up or down in importance based on other project variables.  For instance, a project with apartment style units may be able to shut down other common areas (lobbies, study rooms, amenity rooms, etc.) in the building during a pandemic with little effect on the students’ physical/mental health and wellbeing, because apartment style living allows for common living areas between small numbers of students.  Students in apartment style units are thought of similar to a family unit, where they are trusting each other to maintain proper cleaning/hygienic habits during pandemics and otherwise.  More traditional double or single occupancy rooms with shared bathrooms on each floor may likely want to invest more heavily in common spaces, such as living rooms areas or bathrooms, with things like: enhanced ventilation, touchless fixtures, increased cleaning protocols, extra space for distancing, more outdoor amenity space, etc.  These additions will have to be looked at in the context of the overall project budget so as to not drive rental rates beyond acceptable prices. 
  • Design considerations that help amenity spaces during pandemics There are several design considerations that can help amenity spaces during a pandemic that were not previously thought of necessarily in that context, but also are not overly expensive to implement nor are they new ideas. Examples of some of these are:
    • Automatic fixtures in bathrooms and common sinks
    • Door foot pulls on high traffic doors
    • Flexible open floor plans for amenity areas
    • Movable furniture in multi-use rooms
    • Increased focus and attention on outdoor amenities and outdoor seating areas

Lesson Learned:  Part of designing new amenity and commons spaces for projects in the years to come will require CDP and the design professionals to discuss how these spaces will be used or modified during a pandemic in order to provide the right amount of safety features into the design.

Author: Houston Wurtele, Development Manager