Myth vs. Reality with Special and Smaller Projects

This article is included in the Great Things: Issue 9 edition of the DPR Newsletter.

Every construction project comes with its unique set of challenges, and special projects are no exception. However, there can be misconceptions around what is truly needed for these projects to be successful. DPR’s SSG experts dive into some of the myths of SSG work and compare them to reality.

Drywall installation by DPR's SPW team on an SSG healthcare project in Phoenix. Photo: Allie Abbott

Large projects, which can sometimes take place over years, have noticeable elements that people can see—tower cranes, large machinery, jobsite fences and large crews. But the “special projects” handled by DPR’s Special Services Group (SSG) often have none of those. SSG projects typically involve the work “hidden” inside existing buildings at odd hours or in active environments, which for most facility owners is the bulk of their construction projects. Even so, misconceptions about special projects can result in issues with cost, schedule and quality in construction. Exploring those myths can unlock value.

Myth or reality?

Myth #1: “I don’t need a ‘big’ contractor for a small job.”

False! SSG teams are often the “special forces” units called in for unique, complex projects—regardless of their size. There is no set project value or size, large or small, that constitutes a project as SSG work.

“When a global organization is known for building huge projects with big teams, the fact that we have dedicated individuals who only do SSG work and are highly specialized can get overlooked,” said Andy Silagyi, a DPR SSG leader in Charlotte, NC. “Many of our end-users and customers are unaware that ‘big’ contractors can serve them at a much smaller level. SSG teams are held to the same accountability as our larger project teams and have the same level of expertise on every job, just on a smaller scale.”

It’s not just about the schedule, dollar amount, or size of the project; it’s also about the specialized expertise the job requires and having the right team in place to do it. These agile and nimble in-house teams are dedicated to specific types of work, versus trying to align a large-scale project team with a smaller, specialty project.

And while a ‘big’ team isn’t needed for smaller SSG projects, a team of skilled and trained professionals is—especially in occupied spaces where tenants and businesses are active while construction is happening. “Special projects require experienced, specialized teams who know how to protect their customer’s most valuable assets, both company and human”, said Adonia Akers, a DPR SSG leader in San Diego “Being backed by the support of a large and established self-performing contractor who makes that kind of training and experience possible is invaluable for our customers.”

“And nothing is too small,” added Ryan McCracken, a DPR SSG expert in Sacramento, CA. “We are fully focused on the needs of our customers, regardless of project size. The idea of, ‘this is too small for us’ just doesn't really exist.” In fact, in some areas, DPR’s crews have served as 24-hour on-call contractors for existing customers and even do simple replacements of door hardware for others.

Pairing knowledge of an existing customer’s facility and business with the resources and know-how of a national contractor can help drive value on smaller-scale projects.

Nothing is too small. We are fully focused on the needs of our customers, regardless of project size. The idea of, ‘this is too small for us’ just doesn't really exist.

Ryan McCracken

“The worker availability, the subject matter experts, the technology we have access to and the superior safety standards are directly tied to being part of DPR, no matter the project’s size,” said Nick Garzini, a DPR SSG leader in Nashville, TN. “Delivering a high-quality product to our customers is absolutely connected to those factors.”

“On any project, we’re able to call in our SPW (Self-Perform Work), VDC (Virtual Design and Construction), and Prefabrication teams,” added Silagyi. “Having these resources at the ready helps keep projects on schedule and limits the number of subcontractors and contracts an owner needs to worry about, helping achieve more value and quality.” Collaborating with these teams allows SSG groups to control the critical path and the schedule predictably of their smaller projects, even potentially providing earlier occupancy.

Myth or reality?

Myth #2: “It’s just a small project; it can’t be that complex.”

​​​​​​False! In fact, while a project scope may sound 'small', working within occupied spaces is typical of SSG work presents many unique requirements and challenges.

dusty layout robot

Technology: Not just for the big projects.

DPR and companies like Dusty Robotics have been collaborating for years to use cutting-edge technologies on projects. Those efficiencies and lessons learned can be applied to smaller projects.

“Whether it’s a heavy MEP scope requiring special infrastructure, or a renovation of highly secure and sensitive mission-critical data center, contractors need to know how to navigate these spaces with limited disruptions to ongoing operations,” said Silagyi. “Our markets are complex, and so is most of our work.”

From small cGMP facilities with aggressive schedules, to building out a rapidly changing office floorplan within a core and shell building to renovating an active hospital unit or emergency department, DPR’s SSG professionals say they focus on finding and implementing out-of-box solutions to urgent project types and delicate sites or environments.

“Smaller projects are not necessarily less complex, less difficult or less risky,” added McCracken. “But they do have a specialized set of priorities, requirements and challenges that go along with them. They’re different than large ground-up projects, but often we’re still doing almost the same scope of work in office buildings, hospitals, pharmaceutical or lab facilities, higher education campuses, hotels or data centers. We just do the work in a different way, on a different scale.”

Customers can also take advantage of efficiencies that have been piloted on larger jobs. “Much of what we’re doing right now are high-end, complex buildouts,” said Garzini. “We’re using things like model coordination and Dusty Robotics' layout robot on a 60,000-sq.-ft. project.”

Hilti's JAIBOT drilling inserts in concrete deck using information from 3D model coordination on a 55,000 sq-ft. tenant improvement project in downtown Nashville. Photo: Jodi Gibbs
Myth or reality?

Myth #3: “We can include tenant improvement contractors later in the process”

False! Early involvement of TI contractors is a major factor for project success and ensuring quality outcomes.

“The front end is absolutely about getting the building out of ground and moving forward. But it's also strategic planning with the end goal in mind,” said Silagyi. “When SSG teams are sitting in very early meetings and looking through a design, they’re looking for conflicts down the road and being thoughtful about best practices. When the teams have the chance to work with designers and internal base building teams early,” he continued, “it can have a major effect on change orders, lead times, procurement and other distinct TI deliverables that can be planned and managed from very early on.”

Generally, interior work and smaller TI projects don't have padding in the schedule to accommodate long lead items that require early planning.

“We’re often dealing with undocumented existing conditions and are dependent upon the quality of information we’re given,” said Akers. “Being involved on the front-end to pre-plan, scan and identify conflicts ahead of time enables us to mobilize when the time is right, execute as quickly and efficiently as possible and get out with minimal impacts to the customer.”

“It has been proven time and time again that the more collaboration, planning and effort our SSG teams put in up front, the more precise we can be with end dates and budgets, and customers receive a higher quality product,” said McCracken. “By being at the table early, we have a much better chance at spotting possible challenges down the road and course-correcting from the start. We’re able to think ahead based on the design of the core and shell and adjust or offer insight from the unique SSG perspective.”

On a typical construction project, rework accounts for 12-15% of the cost of construction. ​​​​​​​“Getting into the conversation earlier leads to a much higher likelihood that the project isn’t delayed by rework or TI change orders, meaning customers don't incur those additional costs,” added McCracken.

DPR SSG teams are built to be agile and nimble so they can get in and out without disruption. From large scopes to emergency on-call response to refreshing fixtures, our in-house specialists know your business, your jurisdictions and your pain points—and they’ll deliver your project with predictable results every time.