Have a podcast in 30 days

Without headaches or hassles

We all want to make money as soon as possible. But your relationship with your partners can slow down this process, keeping your cashflow hostage.

Without the right mindset, architects and contractors can have a toxic relationship that leads to a “cash burning” project.

That’s the bad news.

The good news?

There is a unique formula to work with your partners to make your projects run smoothly (without frustrations).

In this episode, you will discover the best way to build relationships with your internal partners, so that everyone continuously makes money.

Listen now.

Show highlights include: 

  • The “Dumb Labor” technique to master construction as an architect (4:05)
  • The “BS sniff” test for identifying when someone is lying to you on the job before it costs you money (9:55)
  • One key ingredient for overcoming “suspicion” with your partners and unlocking a smooth working relationship (20:35)
  • Why A Players never struggle finding and closing clients (and how to use this secret even if you’re not an A Player) (27:15)
  • The “informed owner” technique to avoid disasters in internal relationships (28:15)
  • Why most project relationships fail right at the start (and what you can do to avoid this) (31:15)
  • Two “Relationship Ingredients” that gets you reoccurring clients and more money in your pocket (32:45)

Interested in Executive Coaching? Contact Eric: www.constructiongenius.com/contact

Read Full Transcript

Eric: How can architects and contractors work together to ensure happy clients and make money? That is the topic of conversation today with my guest, Marilyn Moedinger. Marilyn is an architect and the founding principal of Runcible Studios based in Boston, Massachusetts, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Now, Maryland is not your typical architect. She doesn't come onto the job site with her sweet haircut and shiny loafers. She has actually been on the front lines of construction. It's interesting, her journey. She started off in architecture school, went into the contractor side of the business, starting as a laborer, and then went back to architecture school, and then launched her own business. We talk about her journey because I think it's very important to understand that when it comes to listening to the perspective and the advice that she has for contractors, and that's really the purpose of this interview. [00:58.8]

Let's talk to an architect today. Let's figure out what contractors do well and what they don't do well in their relationship with architects, and let's look at it from this perspective: we all want happy clients. We all want to make some money, and we want to build long-term relationships with the partners that we work with so that happy clients and the money keep flowing. We'll just keep it nice and simple here.

I know you're going to enjoy my chat with Marilyn. Please share it with other contractors so that they can benefit from the perspectives that she shares. She knows what she's talking about. She directly deals with many of the issues that contractors have with architects and I think you'll find this tremendously helpful, both for yourself and for people in your organization, and for other contractors that you know.

One final ask I have of you, as you get started here. If you like this interview, if you enjoy the podcast, I would really appreciate it if you could give us a rating or a review, wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks very much, and now let's dive into the interview. [01:58.7]

This is Eric Anderton, and you're listening to “Construction Genius”, a leadership masterclass. Thomas Edison said that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. If you're a construction leader, you know all about the perspiration, and this show is all about the one percent inspiration that you can add to your hard work to help you to improve your leadership.

Eric: Marilyn, welcome to Construction Genius.

Marilyn: Thanks. It's great to be here.

Eric: I know, when working with contractors, sometimes they rumble and grumble a little bit about architects. The architect kind of swans onto the job site with a sweet haircut and some nice shoes, and they're like, Oh, man, here comes the architect. But you have kind of an interesting background. Tell us a little bit about your hybrid construction-architecture background.

Marilyn: Actually, I grew up on a farm, so I grew up doing sort of lots of labor and building things and whatever, so that's where I like to say that things started, my interest in building things started. Then when I was in architecture schools, I went to the University of Virginia for architecture school. [03:09.6]

In my final year, my fourth year, I actually participated in a project where we designed, a team of students, designed and built a house. It was a modular house that we actually built in an airplane hangar and trucked onto site. We did everything ourselves under supervision, but that process lasted for a year by the time we were done designing and building it.

By the time I was done with that, I had really had my eyes open to the concept of what you draw on paper and what it feels like in the field to build it are two very different things. I wanted to learn more about that and I figured the best place to learn that was not more school, but to go work construction. I got a job, basically, as a laborer and did that, so there's lots of good stories there.

Eric: Hold on a second. You go from architecture school, and I think you just nailed it. There's a lot of difference between what you draw and then how it feels when you're building it. [04:05.8]

Marilyn: Yep.

Eric: Tell us about your first day on the job site then.

Marilyn: Oh, this is a great story. My first day on the job site, it was so ironic. It was like you can't even make this up. The construction company I was working for was actually renovating an architecture office. My first day on the job site, we were jack-hammering out the basement to put in some new footers to put in this sort of steel structure that was going to hold this second story in this whole thing.

My job, because I was not very useful to anyone, was to go take these 5-gallon buckets, walk through the architecture office, go down to the basement, fill the buckets with rubble, carry them back through the architecture office and into the dumpster outside. Picture this, I'm doing this and I'm walking past everyone I graduated with who is doing what you're supposed to do, like sitting at a computer, and I, in my own overall, with these buckets, going up and down the stairs. [05:02.4]

Eric: There were people there that you went to school with who were working at the architecture firm?

Marilyn: Yeah.

Eric: That's pretty hilarious.

Eric: Yeah, I know. I can't make it up. It was a tough first day, because after the first three or four trips of carrying rubble and buckets, up the stairs and around the corner and then up over my head into the dumpster, I realized that there was going to be a better way. I built myself a little set of stairs so that I would not have to lift the buckets over my head after that first day, which was a little intense. The next day, I learned my lesson, in fact. I think it was six sandwiches. Every time the guys would have a smoke break, I would eat a sandwich.

Eric: There you go.

Marilyn: That's how I got started. Yeah, I was pretty much dumb labor. When I was there, there was also a component. It was a design build firm. There was a component of me in the office learning things as well and they had a shop, so I did other things as well, but, mostly, it was me-- [06:01.2]

Also, let me just say, being the smallest person on the crew is not fun, because anytime there's a hole that is too small for the big guys to fit in, they look at me and they're like, Oh, we’ll just shove Marilyn under this thing and she can pull this wire out or she can. Yeah, I learned early that actually being the smallest person actually does. I guess it depends if that's an advantage or disadvantage. I guess it was an advantage to them and a disadvantage to me, so I got shoved in many corners and holes, and pulled by my feet and pulled back out. That's how I got started.

Eric: As you were doing that, sure, there were good days and there were bad days. What would you say are the fundamental lessons that you learned as you were a laborer and as you were working in that construction company that you have carried with you as you've developed your own architecture business?

Marilyn: Yeah, I mean, I would say that I wasn't a laborer for all that long, so maybe over the summer when we built the house, and then through January, February of the next year. Then I started working for another construction company and I was in the office. [07:03.2]

At that point then, I was an assistant estimator. That was my first thing that I got started with, and then I was an estimator and assistant project manager, and then, eventually, a project manager, so I did transition to the office and learn about how to make estimates and how to talk to subs, and how to read contracts and how to put together everything, how to run a framing crew, how to do all that stuff. I mean, I learned so much, we could spend the next six hours and I still wouldn't say all the things I learned.

Eric: Give me your top three things that you learned, and the reason I'm asking is I think it's important for the folks who are listening to this, who are, obviously, construction professionals. It's interesting for them to hear you, as an architect, talk about the things that are most important in terms of construction from your perspective.

Marilyn: Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things that I use as an architect all the time is the understanding which trades do which things and in which order. If I suddenly, for example, the other day on the job, as an architect, I had an option of whether to-- and this particular project is a home renovation, a gut renovation, a pretty big job. [08:12.1]

We had an option to either use a piece of steel or a piece of wood for a structural thing that came up. The architect in me was like, Ooh, steel, that would be so much cooler. It would look better, whatever. The contractor in me said there's no steel guys on this site. Getting a steel crew in here to do one 20-foot angle is going to be a huge pain in the butt, so let's work with the trades we already have on site. Let's not just do something for an aesthetic reason when it doesn't matter.

Eric: Right.

Marilyn: Understanding how the trades work and understanding things duct work takes up a lot of room. Wire, plumbing pipes have fall, the waste lines have fall. You have to think about the distance. You're putting the toilet from somewhere where it can go vertical or you need a pump, that kind of stuff of what matters to the trades I think is really, really helpful, and I learned all that by observing it in the field and making mistake after mistake in a pretty safe place. Right? [09:21.0]

When I'm an assistant project manager, my project manager who's above me would say, “What do you think, Marilyn?” I'm like, Let's do this, and then he would say, “Here are the three reasons why that doesn't work,” or if it was something where he knew he could let me do something and I could mess up, and then I would really learn the lesson—and it wouldn't mess up the job, right?

Eric: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Marilyn: Then I really would learn my lesson. But I think understanding what the trades do, how they do it, and what matters to them, and that functions in two directions. It makes it possible for me to understand what matters to them, what their priorities are, and it also helps me as an architect, understand when they're giving me a B.S. reason that I can push back and say, Hey, hey, hey, I know, I actually know that what you're telling me is kind of B.S. because I’ve done that before. Here's what we're going to do. [10:12.5]

So, it works in both directions. It gives me a lot of empathy and compassion for what they're dealing with, and also my clients love it because it helps me to stand up for the design or for something that's important and call B.S. when I see it—which is what any good GC should do with their subs right?

Eric: Yeah, right. That's good. Then how did you transition back into architecture and move down that path?

Marilyn: After my time in construction, it was the early- to mid-2000s, and it was 2008 that I decided to go back to grad school, so that was a good time to get out of construction.

Eric: Yeah, right.

Marilyn: I went back to grad school and I went back for architecture. I always knew that I wanted to be an architect, and in order to be an architect, you have to get a master's degree, for the most part. There's other ways to do it, but that's the usual way, and I went back for my master's. [11:05.8]

At that point then, I was bringing all of that construction knowledge into my degree, taking classes or doing projects in school that were deeply informed by my experience in construction, which was really powerful. Then after that I worked at an architecture firm.

Eric: How long did you work at an architecture firm?

Marilyn: About two years.

Eric: Then you started your own firm?

Marilyn: I actually had a period of time in there where I actually worked as a design school administrator, so at the Boston Architectural College. I ran a whole series of programs in their practice department. The BAC is kind of cool. They require all of their architecture students, all of them, to work while they're in school. As part of that, during those times, recession times, there wasn't a lot of work, so we actually set up this other program and I was in charge of connecting groups of students to local nonprofits to do design build projects. [11:59.8]

I'm super passionate about getting architecture students understand how buildings actually work and how to build stuff. That was a way that I could do that. It was really fun and I loved it, and I still teach, but it became clear that I'm a builder and I'm a designer, and I'm not-- An administrator is a little … it wasn't hands-on enough for me. I loved so much of it, but it was pretty clear that I needed to be out on the job, be making buildings. It was after that that I launched my practice.

Eric: Why did you launch your own business as opposed to going to work for someone else?

Marilyn: I launched my own business kind of as a little bit of an accident. It didn't happen on purpose. The way that it worked was I was finishing out some work at the school I was teaching. I still had teaching assignments, but I had left the administration part. I had three more exams to complete to become a licensed architect and I really wanted to focus on those exams. I had a few weeks of paid vacation that they were paying me out, so I was like, You know what, I'm just going to not rush to get a job. I'm going to figure out what I want to do next, have a little bit of time, pass these exams. It was Christmas time. I was like, Ah, let's just see. [13:10.1]

Soon the phone started to ring and people were like, Hey, I hear you're kind of a free agent. You want to help us out on this project? I was like, Yeah, sure, and then one thing led to another and I was like, Oh. Six months later, I was like, I should probably get some business cards and maybe an LLC and talk to an accountant. I count my business birthday as April, but that was six months after I left my other job. I was like, Oh, I guess I have a business now.

Eric: Were these owners who were contacting you?

Marilyn: They were other architects saying, “We need some help. Can you pinch-hit with us? Can you?” Then one of them, once I launched the business, I remember I was at a party at this event and I was talking to someone, he said, “Yeah, I'm trying to figure out, I need an architect for my house, but I'm not quite sure what to do,” and I was like, I'm an architect. I just launched a business. You should hire me. That's how I got my first commission, my first full commissions. I'll always be grateful to him for jumping in and believing in me. [14:05.1]

Eric: What was the biggest challenge you had in the first couple of years of your business, would you say? Was there ever a point where you're like, Screw this, I'm going to go work for someone else, or were you always just like, Yep, this is me. I'm going to go for it, hell or high water.

Marilyn: Yeah, number two. I have never considered going back to work for someone else since launching my own practice. I grew up in a family of independent sort of business-owner type people. I think it's in my blood. Actually, I love the business side. I'm an entrepreneur at heart and I actually really love the business side, which is another thing that not every architect is super interested in, or every contractor, right? I’ve met plenty of contractors who are amazing builders, but not super excited about the paperwork.

There was never a point where I was like, I want to go work for someone else. There are plenty of points when I'm like, This is really, really hard. I've got to figure out a better way to do this, because nobody likes working a hundred hours a week. There were plenty of times, people not paying me or difficult construction situations, or conflicts with owners or builders where things are really tough. I'm proud to say that I’ve come through the other side on all of that and that's just the nature of being in this industry. It's not the easiest. [15:15.8]

Eric: It's not. It isn't. Let me ask you then. You've got this background in construction, you start your own gig. You begin to work with contractors. As you look back on your practice, what has changed for you in the way that you work with contractors over those years? What's different?

Marilyn: One thing that I’ve had to really learn is to be a little bit less contractor-centric. When I started practicing architecture, I had more experience as a contractor than I had as an architect. I was very much focused on-- I would dive too far into means and methods or I would be thinking too hard about how a certain detail would actually physically get made, and that's not necessarily helpful to the contractor and it's not necessarily helpful to what an architect is doing. [16:01.2]

I've, over the years, had to learn how to be less contractor-centric in terms of letting them do their job, or also understanding that the architect doesn't have that [role]. The architect has a different role than a contractor and learning how to embrace that role more effectively.

Eric: What would you say? You're sitting down with a contractor and just having a beer, so it's not we're having a fight on the job site. What would you say is the one thing that contractors don't get in terms of their relationship with the architecture, the architect that, if they did get, it would make the biggest difference for the way the contractor and the architect work together?

Marilyn: I would say, there's this perception among contractors, in my experience, that the architect is sitting in their office, in the air conditioning, making pretty drawings, and not caring at all about cost or timeline, or changing their mind a million times. And are there architects like that? Sure, but that's sort of the-- When I get that attitude from contractors, and the guys I work with, I’ve worked with now on multiple projects and that's sort of not a thing that I have to deal with, but when that does come up, then architects have to think about so many things. [17:17.4]

If someone says, “Can I change out this faucet? I can't get the one you specced,” and I'm like, I need three days to do that, and the contractor is like, What? How could that possibly take you three days? It's probably going to take me a week and here's why, because I have to make sure, I have to find a faucet that the client likes. That is a monumental task, in and of itself, potentially.

I have already picked out a faucet. We have already been to the showroom. We have already gone through every single faucet and found the one that client likes. Now you're asking me to redo that, so I have to do that. I also have to make sure that it technically works with everything that's going on. Does it work with the sink? Is it going to hit the medicine cabinet? Has it got the right height? Does it have the right spread? Does it work with absolutely everything that's around? Does it coordinate visually and technically with everything that's going on? And, also, is it available? [18:04.1]

I've got to find six different options, talk to the homeowner, make sure that they're okay with it. Talk to my suppliers or whoever and find out like, am I speccing something that the contractor isn't going to be able to get ahold of? On and on and on. That's one faucet. Now multiply that across. Contractors always do this where they're like, Oh, my guy uses this. You need to do this. I'm like, No, this is the stuff that the client has picked out.

Again, this whole conversation should be couched in terms of what I'm talking about is high-end custom residential or even mid-range custom residential. If this is spec housing, different animal. If it's multifamily housing, which we do, also a different animal. Industrial, we do, different. But that's what I'm saying.

Then, the next sort of classic thing is the contractor on a renovation, opening up a wall and finding something crazy, and calling the architect and saying, “I need an answer.” I'm not sitting there waiting to just jet over to the job site. That can be really hard, because they need to keep-- The framers have to stop, right, because there was some weird thing that was found? [19:11.8]

I need to look at the situation, ask them to uncover more, most likely, because I need to see the whole situation. Contractor needs to talk to the owner because they're like, Look, the architect is asking me to uncover a bunch. I'm going to have to re-drywall this. If contractors understood how many steps we have to go through to deliver them something that they can use in the field, and, also, if architects understood what contractors have to go through, because it's the same for contractors. When an architect throws something at them and they have to [consider], Does this even work? Can I even get this? Whatever. That's a place of a lot of common ground, because both have that same problem, and if we both understand that, we'll be much more understanding with each other.

Eric: Can you think of a relationship that you've had with a contractor that started out in a rocky way, and then as you went through the project or as you went through perhaps multiple projects, you began to develop a relationship? [20:07.0]

Marilyn: I mean, I would say that most contractor relationships I have at the moment that have developed over the years didn't start off rocky, but they always start off with suspicion.

Eric: Yeah, yeah, like cats and dogs, right? The cat, circling each other.

Marilyn: Yes, exactly, circling each other. There's this trying to feel each other out. I know what the contractor is thinking. I know, because I’ve been on that site, I'm looking at the architect. When I'm the GC, I'm looking at the architect being like, How much of a pain in my ass are you going to be? Are you going to be the one who is holding everything up and being the prima donna and whatever?

So, I get it. I try to tell them right away, “I am not here to do that. I'm here to support you. My job is to get decisions, get information to you as fast as humanly possible and do my part to uphold the schedule and the budget.” I think they all sort of start off that way and it takes a project to kind of get into it. [20:56.8]

I actually look forward to that first conflict on the job site, not fight between us, but an issue that comes up. “Oh, you drew it this way. The field is showing it this way.” I'm like, Perfect. This is my time to go over there, show them that I know my stuff, show them that I care about where they're coming from, and after that, then it's like, Oh, okay. They're a little more relieved. I know that they're going to be careful looking at the drawings, and we're like, Okay, we're done circling each other. The cat and the dog can be friends and we can move on.

Eric: That's interesting, though, because that idea of taking that proactive approach to the conflict helps then to reduce the intensity of it and build the relationship.

Marilyn: Yeah, because construction is full of stupid stuff that happens all the time. There's literally not a minute that goes by that something isn't wrong, that somebody didn't do something wrong or there's some condition that's uncovered or whatever, and to act that's never going to happen is unrealistic. It's just about like, Well, let's dive in and figure it out.

Eric: What would you say are some of the other keys to building that respect between the contractor and the architect so that despite all of the issues that every project has, the project can get done successfully and profitably? [22:07.1]

Marilyn: I would say that one of the most important things in my book is to approach each other as professionals, and if an issue comes up—let's say the contractor is on site and uncovers some condition. Instead of going to the owner and saying, “The architect didn't tell me that I would need this help here and now blah, blah, blah,” come to the architect first and say, “Hey, I uncovered this. What do you think? Let's work it out amongst ourselves and then go to the owner together with a set of solutions.”

Same with the architect. If the architect goes on site, I do this all the time, I'm out on the job site, I see something squirrely. I'm like, Ah, that's not supposed to be there. Rather than announce in a loud voice in front of the owner, “Where's that? That is the wrong thing and you are doing this wrong,” and rake them over the coals, what I do, unless it's a safety issue, a legit safety issue, then I wait until the meeting's over. I wait until the owner is gone and then I speak to the contractor. Half the time, he's like, Yeah, I know. That guy is coming back later. He just went to get this part, it's going to be fine; or he's like, Oh, I didn't see that. Good eye, good catch. [23:13.0]

But the idea is to say, to give each other the benefit of the doubt and also recognize that what we're trying to do is not raise the owner's blood pressure. We're trying to solve problems for the owner. We're not trying to tattle on each other to the owner, trying to work together even though we don't have a contractual relationship. The architect and the contractor do not have a contractual relationship, but we have a mutual interest in having a happy client, a happy owner. We bring things to each other, try to get it solved and then come to the owner together and say, “We found an issue. Here are three ways we can solve it. It's been vetted by the contractor and the architect. What do you want to do?” Cooperation.

Eric: That's interesting. For most of the jobs that you are on, is the owner hiring you before they hire the contractor?

Marilyn: Yes.

Eric: Okay, and so then you are advising the owner on which contractor to hire or do they just delegate that to you and you go and take care of that? [24:03.8]

Eric: Technically speaking, just my insurance guy and my lawyer would like me to say that we do not advise on which contractor to choose it. It's dicey, right? If I say, “Work with this guy,” and that guy ends up not working out, then it's on me that I recommended the bad guy or something. What I do is I say, “Here's a list of guys I’ve worked with who've done great work for me in the past and I'd be happy to work with any of them. Let's get quotes from these three.”

I also encourage the owners to bring their contractors. That's how I’ve met some great contractors over the years. The owner says, “I’ve got this guy I've worked with a bunch of times or my neighbor worked with them and really liked him, so can we bring him in?” I'm like, Sure, and that's how I’ve met some guys that I work with. I'm always happy to meet new contractors and see if there's a good synergy, because it's important.

Eric: How do you clue in owners who have unrealistic expectations about the contractors?

Marilyn: Yeah, I'm laughing because that happens on every single project. [25:04.6]

Eric: It's like I’ve signed a contract and now I don't want to even think about it. You know what I'm saying? Or something like that.

Marilyn: Exactly. My goal is I'm trying to be the architect that I wanted to work with when I was a GC. I basically used to keep a list when I was a GC of all the things that, if someday, when I'm an architect, these are things I will or won't do. One of the things that I try to do is deliver the project and the client to the contractor in a way that the client is prepared and understands how this stuff works.

We start in my very first conversation with a potential client, before I’ve even signed them, in the first half-an-hour call that we are having to see if we want to work together, I ask them what their budget is and I ask them to tell me a number, and if they can't talk about numbers, then we have to talk through that. [25:56.6]

There is never a scenario where I'm trying to cultivate the client and educate the client along the way, so that when the contractor shows up, the client is already like, Yep, cost, plus, contract, or fixed price, and I know the difference and I know the pluses and minuses, so that there aren't unrealistic expectations. Not always possible because people are people, and construction also has been a little bit of a roller-coaster in the last couple years.

Eric: Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Marilyn: That's difficult. But, to me, every conversation I'm having with an owner, if they're making a design change or something that is in the design phases, I'm saying, You are adding to the budget right now. I don't know how much exactly, but you are adding to the budget right now, so that when the contractor comes in and issues a change order, the client is like, What? We didn't know this. My job is to prep the client and educate them ahead of it. I take it really seriously.

Eric: What would you say the best contractors do when working with clients and architects that the B- and the C-players don't do? [27:02.2]

Marilyn: The best ones are communicative in the ways that are useful to the owner, not just themselves. Many times when a client wants to know “When is my project going to get done? How much is it costing me? What are we doing? What is the scope of the thing?” That's what everybody wants to know, those three things.

But if the contractor says things, if we're two months into the project, let's say we've finished a foundation, we're in framing, we're getting ready to start rough ends or whatever, and we've had a few change orders here and there there's been some delays, whatever, and I say to the contractor, “We need to see a schedule that's updated and we need to see it every two weeks”—because my owner doesn't know and I don't know how these delays might be impacting things or how the contractor is making up time by doubling up on some work somewhere else—the owner wants to know, Look, you said this was going to cost X. How are we doing against that? Are we doing okay against that? You said framing was going to be $30,000. I've paid a bunch of invoices. I've paid $32,000 worth of invoices. Are we done or is there more? [28:06.6]

The A-players don't wait for the client to ask that. The A-players generate those reports already. The B-players don't even generate those reports or they say, “My software, my accounting software doesn't do that, so I can't do that.” Wrong answer. You're not here to serve your accounting. You're here to provide a product for the owner and all you need is an informed, happy owner. Those are the owners that pay the bills that sing your praises and you get more work, and I don't understand-- On top of that, don't you, as the contractor, need to know? Don’t you have a schedule anyway? Why are you fussing about providing a schedule or providing a financial update?

Some contractors will say, “Look, every two weeks is a little too fast for this project. Could we do an in-depth once-a-month review of the schedule and review budget?” Fine, that's great, but to just say like, No, you're adding to my plate, I don't want to do that. I've heard that so many times. I'm like, Wait a second, don't you have a schedule? Don't you know when the plumber is coming in? It's weird. [29:17.8]

Eric: That communication piece of schedule, cost, scope, that's really what sets apart the A-players from the Bs and the Cs.

Marilyn: I mean, I would say, as far as administration, yes, and then, of course, workmanship is a whole other conversation, and project management and actual workmanship, and having really great subs and all that kind of stuff. All of that, for sure, but from my perspective, from the architect's perspective, that's really helpful.

I would also say from the architect's perspective that it's helpful when contractors, this is going to sound really dumb, but when they use email. I need them to use email. If they're texting me, what happens sometimes in the sort of the B- and C-level world is their lead carpenter will text me and ask me a question. [30:04.6]

On one job, that happened eight times in one day and I screenshot all the texts and I sent them to the PM and I said, “Stop it.” The lead carpenter needs to talk to the foreman who talks to the PM. Along those chains, someone is going to be able to answer the questions. Your lead carpenter should not be texting the architect and the GC does not want that.

Sometimes I can tell the contractors are sort of not quite as savvy or you need to provide answers or whatever. I'm like, You shouldn't want this. You should want your guys to be able to take care of these things and not be bothering the architect all the time.

Eric: Day-1, as a GC walks onto a site, they've engaged with the company, what is the most important thing that GC needs to focus on in order to develop that relationship with the architect? What should be top of their mind for the project manager who is going to be engaging? Let's say it's a lengthy project. It's going to take a few months to a year or whatever. What's top of mind for the construction company, in your mind? [31:07.3]

Marilyn: The thing that matters most to the architect on Day 1 is that the GC shows up at the job and knows the drawings. If they come on site and they're like, What do you mean it's this trim detail or what do you mean? I can tell pretty dang fast if they haven't read the drawings, and I don't mean look at them.

I mean, we issue pretty hefty drawings. We're full-service. We show all the interior trim details. We show exterior trim details. We show full MEP. We show it all because we work on high-end custom stuff where that stuff really matters. If they come on the job site and they're assuming a set of details because that's the way that they did it on their last one, it has nothing to do with it. You're not paying attention. It's really disconcerting and a bad sign when they show up on Day 1 and they haven't looked at those drawings.

I'm not saying, on Day 1, you have all of the interior trim details memorized. I mean, that's silly. If that interior trim detail is related to how the walls are plastered, which is related to how they're framed, which is related to how there's some MEP thing that's connected to that, then they should be thinking about that. That's the biggest thing. You’ve got to know the drawings on Day 1. [32:10.6]

Eric: Marilyn, it's been really great talking to you here. I feel it's so important that this adversarial relationship which can develop between contractors and architects is something that's dealt with, and what I’ve gotten from what you've been talking about is, obviously, the communication is a huge part of it and then that understanding.

I think it's so interesting for you because you began by talking about the difference between what it's to draw something and then what it's to actually feel the building of it in the field, the visual and the actual technical execution part. Just give us two or three things, and you may be summarizing stuff that you've already said, but give us two or three things that a construction contractor always needs to keep in mind to be able to maintain that respect with the architect and develop those healthy relationships, which can enable both parties to build profitable projects? [33:02.2]

Marilyn: To help build the relationship, it's baseline, all the things that you would do with anyone that you respect. We haven't talked about it, whatever, I'm a woman on a job site. That's a whole other set of things.

Eric: Yeah, we didn't even go there. That's interesting. That's cool, though.

Marilyn: We didn’t, no.

Eric: I kind of think that's cool, though.

Marilyn: Actually, I actually kind of am not always excited when people are like, As a woman in construction, what do you think?

Eric: Yeah, yeah, sometimes it's like, okay …

Marilyn: I’m like, No … I'm just a person in construction, but that's cool. But the reality is that I show up on the job site and I'm not maybe the same kind of person they're always used to working with, and that can be disconcerting and I’ve certainly faced some pretty rough situations and been pretty severely disrespected in some stupid ways, like annoying ways.

I would say, as a baseline, treating the architect with respect and understanding that, if they're a good one, if they're a good one, they come to you with so much knowledge and so much ability to help the project be awesome and better. I think that's baseline respect and how you would treat anyone you respect. [34:06.7]

Then I think, beyond that, it's understanding what the goal is. The goal of the project is to have a happy client and for everyone to make some money, and we all go home, right? That's the goal. We want to build someone's house. We want to make someone's building. We want to do it in a way that they're thrilled, and we all want to run profitable businesses. Understanding that means that I'm thinking not just about me, but I'm thinking about the contractor. The contractor is thinking about me, too. Hey, when you send me a cut sheet for some item, don't send me the 40-page PDF that I have to sift through. Take five seconds and circle the things you want me to look at.

When we think about that in terms of our common goal is to have a happy owner and run good businesses, then that helps filter out a lot of that crap and a lot of that adversarial stuff, because you can't be adversarial and have a happy client and have [relationship]. [35:01.6]

I mean, the contractors I work with, there's also a longstanding relationship. We're looking beyond that job and saying like, well we want to have a good relationship because Marilyn brings in a lot of work, so there's also the long-term view for both the architect and the contractor of saying, Hey, I'm not here to turn the screws on your thumbs right now. I want a happy owner and I also need good contractors that I can keep working with. It's in my interest to continue developing those relationships as well.

Eric: It's a very simple framework. Happy client. Let's make some money and let's have long term relationships. Hey, I just have to ask your Marilyn. I noticed in your bio here that you have a BA in History. I do as well, so I've got to ask you, what's your favorite [era]? Do you have a favorite era that you like to study or that you're interested in?

Marilyn: I like all eras. So many eras I enjoy. I wrote my History thesis on World War II, Germany, so I focused on the military.

Eric: No way.

Marilyn: Yeah.

Eric: That's my favorite, too. That's cool. I mean, World War II is a huge thing. [36:00.8]

Marilyn: Yeah, it's super interesting. I've lately been on a kick of 1960s NASA, so I'm learning about all NASA missions, so that's really fun. I've been on a kick for that. Last year, I was on a Gettysburg kick, so learning civil war stuff.

Eric: Did you go and visit the battlefield? Because I know you're out on the East Coast there.

Marilyn: Yeah, I've been many, many times. I grew up sort of close to Gettysburg.

Eric: I've never been there. Can you kind of picture it as you're out there? Do you get the idea? Really?

Marilyn: Oh, yeah. It's beautiful. The park is really beautiful and they've done a really good job of preserving. I mean, there's monuments everywhere, so you have to erase the monuments in your mind when you're imagining, but a lot of the old houses survive and the barns and stuff, and you can see go to all, like Devil's Den and Little Round Top, and you can see everything. It's pretty cool.

Eric: Just as we close here, and I know this is kind of not sideways, but in your study of history, what have you taken into your business that's most useful, if anything? And if not, that's fine. I'm just curious. [37:00.5]

Marilyn: I love that question. Also, lot of people are really down on humanities degrees and saying that they're not useful. I really feel what I learned from my history degree is equally as useful as what I learned in my architecture degree, which is to say vital. The main thing that I feel translates is the concept of digesting a bunch of sources, figuring out sort of where those sources are coming from intellectually or their bias or whatever, putting them all together and creating a picture of what's going on, building an argument, so “Here's my argument. Here's my three supporting points.” And how do I do that? How do I sort of flesh out that argument?

Also, writing. A lot of architects are really terrible writers and, in a history degree, you really have to learn how to write. Being able to construct verbal and written arguments is really helpful.

Then weird stuff, historic facts that I know or things that I understand about. I work in Boston, so there's a lot of historic homes we work on, so sort of understanding that kind of stuff is a big part of it. [38:03.1]

But I would say, it's the mindset of a historian. People think it's like, Oh, you memorize dates and names. That's 10 percent of it. The rest of it is understanding people, understanding patterns, figuring out trends over time, trying to understand motivation. Why did this happen? Getting to the bottom of things, solving mysteries. That's all in a history degree.

Eric: That's a nice touch. I really like that. I think we're going to end at that point, Marilyn.

Marilyn: Sounds good.

Eric: Yeah. I really appreciate you joining us here today and I know I got a ton of takeaways here so that I’ll be able to work with my contractors a little bit more to bring them on the side of the architects now. I really, really appreciate your time.

Marilyn: Awesome, yeah, and I wish I could have asked you all those questions because I want to know what architects can do better from contractors’ perspective. Next time.

Eric: Yeah, maybe next time. I appreciate that. Thank you.

Marilyn: Thank you so much. [38:55.1]

Eric: Thank you for listening to today's episode of Construction Genius with Marilyn Moedinger. I know there's tons of takeaways that you have that you can use to improve your relationships with the architects that you work with and the owners. If you want to contact Marilyn, you can do so at RuncibleStudios.com. She's also on LinkedIn. She’s on Twitter. All the links are in the show notes. A big shout out to Marilyn again for joining us here today. I really appreciate your time.

Thank you for listening to Construction Genius.

This is ThePodcastFactory.com

Have a podcast in 30 days

Without headaches or hassles


Copyright Marketing 2.0 16877 E.Colonial Dr #203 Orlando, FL 32820