Jeff Jungsten: The importance of TEAM

We recently had the opportunity to interview Jeff Jungsten of Caletti Jungsten Construction on subjects surrounding construction planning, team development, and management.  Jeff is an experienced professional and a leader in green building and sustainability in this ever evolving industry.  Jeff was on the panel at a local National Association of Remodeling Industry meeting where discussions on these topics inspired me to gather more information.  A special thanks to Jeff for his efforts in pushing the envelope in green building, team building, and improving the way General Contractors are perceived and do business.

What are some advantages to working in a negotiated format?

One prime advantage is found in the construction documentation, in that it is initially presented in a less structured format.  With less bid rigidity to conform to, all elements of the team cooperate, working to agree on the best options to pursue, and when best to accomplish them.  This saves money up front, and almost without exception, engenders greater trust and understanding within the team.  In a competitive bid scenario, the contractor is mandated only to reflect in the budget what is shown in the plans.  This often forces change orders during the life of the project – and is frequently found to add unnecessary cost and contentiousness.

Negotiated contracts also are accompanied by some level of preconstruction, and in this initial work activity valuable information is provided at the very outset, assisting all phases of decision-making, the production process, and the evolving design.

Please list some factors you find most helpful that lead to successfully completed projects:

Trust, ethical information exchange, due diligence, careful selection of team members, consistently favorable weather, timely delivery of critical path details, good listening skills, and a healthy dose of humility.

What do you look for in an Architect?

I look first for a firm that is team oriented, operates with full integrity, shows appropriate attention to detail, and is thorough in their presentation.  We respect and welcome a firm that holds us accountable to our high standards of quality, to our inventive sense of design, one that fully understands building science, and one that follows certifiably sustainable methods in their work.

We also seek to ally ourselves with those outfits that have built solid reputations showing great process for the client BEFORE a team is chosen.  Invariably, these firms also exhibit great understanding of the true costs of construction, and can be found to rely on the team to present information in an honest, unbiased way.

At the end of the day, we seek to form a team that meshes perfectly with the architectural firm, one that can accurately convey information and deliver results when operating under any sense of urgency associated to the project timeline.

What do the best Architects do to help project delivery?

It begins at the first meeting with the client, when his/her expectations are expressed, refined, and recorded.  The best architects are those that capably manage those expectations to the degree of satisfaction the paying client demands, and to what is realistically do-able by all parties involved.  They understand efforts not only in terms of money costs, but in the time necessary to achieve, they perceive the level of design understanding the client can grasp and assist in, and perhaps most importantly, they embrace how the client wishes to experience the project upon completion.  The team then drives to produce the client’s imagination in three dimensions, concurrently managing the emotion of the project.  It is tough to do right, but when it is, it’s pure magic.

What are some challenges you face working with Architects?

Some of the most difficult situations arise from incomplete communications that then result in assumptions not equally understood.  Information cycles that take too long, and a lack of focus on team add difficulty to a process that doesn’t match the delivery intent of the project.  There is a gap in sustainable design in my opinion, in that some architects believe that architecture is art and sustainability is an “overlay”.  This can create a big gap in trying to create an environment that is much more focused on sustainable design intent first. I see that there is a need for more diligent design intent toward the entire system of a project.

What do you look for in a Client?

Someone who understands the process, who is willing to make tough choices, who is willing to hold us and themselves accountable, who can make clear decisions and stand by them, and most importantly someone who can trust their team.

What are some of the challenges you face working with Clients?

Oftentimes it is simply the lack of time.  People are busy and they don’t have the time it takes to make all of the decisions needed to accomplish a project. Some times it is a level of trust that might be missing, or a lack of understanding for a certain portion of the project that leads to confusion. Some people have situations in their lives that add stress to the project which is understandable, but still provides some level of challenge. In the end it is simply working together over periods of time that can create more stress than they are accustomed to.

Where do most conflicts arise during construction and what practices do you have in place to combat them?

Changes in scope are one, colors and finishes are another. Time and cost management are some others. For each of these steps we have a deliberate and complete system to make sure that the process is understood upfront and meetings are held regularly to review.  It all comes down to having an automated system that prioritizes and manages the critical milestones of the project.  Our system of scheduling, cost control review, and alterations to scope assessment ensure that project priorities are kept in proper order, and insures the information will be delivered in a timely fashion.  This avoids the stress and inevitable cost overruns associated with a critical construction phase being approached, with too little time to accurately confer and find agreement with all parties.

Jeff makes some really great points about the importance of team building and using systems to navigate through the long list of decisions made throughout a project.  A lesson I learned recently was never substitute price for dependability.  I decided to go with a couple subcontractors that I hadn’t worked with in the past simply because their price was lower and it helped with the budget. I won’t bore you with the details but it was a mistake I won’t soon forget or duplicate.  I guess it just goes to show you get what you pay for and nothing changes that, not even a down economy.  And oh yes, never hire someone who’s answering machine is full…..or in my case, doesn’t have one at all. 

Thank you for your interest on this topic.

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About Peter Kasten

General Building Contractor serving the San Francisco Bay Area.
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