If the proper ground rules are established at the beginning of the project, they should provide a decision-making structure that will discourage changes and limit change orders. There are four major reasons for change orders. Each of these reasons can be dramatically reduced or eliminated if the right guidelines and actions are taken throughout the implementation of the project.
Reason #1: Client-Initiated Changes
Controlling end-user design changes is often fraught with politics. The best way to limit this major reason for changes is to make the end-user initiating the change responsible for all costs relating to the change(s). Creating a formal process of sign-off approvals for every major deliverable helps to support the charge-back of changes to the initiating department. Sign-offs for the programming report, final space plan, finishes, and construction documents are typical deliverables that should be signed-off on from all major departments who have stakeholders involved in the project. The end-users also need to understand that the later in the process they make a change, the exponentially more expensive that change becomes.
Reason #2: Field Conditions
Never assume that “as-built” architectural and engineering are accurate. Architects and engineers must always field verify existing, visible conditions above and below the ceiling in order to know what conditions might influence how the space is designed and to also ensure that the demolition plans are accurate. There are those situations where you might have to perform some exploratory demolition in order to find all hidden conditions. The Tenant will require access to the site and be willing to incur some up-front demolition costs long before a general contractor is selected.
Reason #3: Errors and Omissions in Architectural and Engineering Construction Documents
The third largest reason for change orders is that the architectural and engineering construction documents are inaccurate, incomplete or not well-coordinated. If the architects and engineers are in different locations, it may not be easy for them to effectively communicate and coordinate as often as they need to in order to create a well-coordinated design and a “tight” set of drawings. In my office, we are spoiled by having our engineers only steps away from our architects and designers which makes it easier to have that high level of communication and coordination throughout the entire A&E design and documentation process. An established quality control process for reviewing and revising all deliverables before they go out to the client, the jurisdiction and the contractor is vital to avoiding most errors and omissions. We have a three-step process with the last step being a “fresh eyes” review from an experienced project manager who was not involved in the project.
Reason #4: Regulatory Interpretation and Building Code Compliance
There are a myriad of building codes that must be met in order for a design and set of A&E drawings to go through the permitting process without having the process stopped for non-compliance. It is always a best practice to meet with the fire marshal or a jurisdiction’s plan reviewer to get an initial ruling on any code compliance issues that required interpretation. Even if the jurisdiction charges for the Fire Marshal’s time, it is money well spent to avoid the permit process being delayed or stopped for non-compliance. Even when the drawings sail through the permitting process, that doesn’t guarantee that the jurisdiction’s field inspector might rule on a code compliance issue differently and require you to make a change to the build-out during construction. Common compliance issues include such issues as common path or travel compliance, adequate toilet room fixture counts, and ADA compliance, just to name a few.
Check List to Limit Change Orders:
- Is there a system set up for sign-offs of deliverables for all affected departments?
- Is there strong project leadership to communicate and enforce charge-backs for any end-user-initiated changes?
- Do your architects and engineer teams have a successful history of working effectively together?
- Do the architects and engineers have a process in place to review each other’s design and drawings to ensure client design issues have been addressed and that the A&E drawings are well-coordinated?
- Has a code compliance review been done prior to submitting the space plan to the client?