Pandemic and Supply Chain
Dear Meryl and Don*,
Here is a typical conversation in the “new normal” building industry.
Vendor, before ordering windows: "The current lead time for windows is 14 weeks."
Builder, 8 weeks after the order: “Are we still on track for delivery in 6 weeks?"
Vendor, in response: "Sure!"
Vendor, ten minutes later: "The manufacturer says that it will be another 4 weeks. Bummer.”
The purpose of this note is twofold. One, to share some general information about current challenges in the design + build industry and our plan to address those challenges. Two, to illustrate project planning and build schedule impacts of the current design + build environment.
While not necessarily easy, there is at least a defined path to address the direct consequences of the ongoing pandemic. Responses include vaccination, testing, communicating and following recommended office and job site safety protocols, retaining and supporting our team during the pandemic, and communicating with our clients, team, and trade partners. Of course, there are schedule impacts and costs associated with these responses. We are grateful for the patience of our clients and our team as we work through each week and month and now, years of the pandemic.
Indirect consequences of the pandemic, the current building boom, and weather events can be surprising and unpredictable and can be harder to address. Supply chain consequences range from rapidly escalating materials costs, limited material and product availability, to wildly increased order lead times on many products. Our trade partners are very busy and have significantly extended lead times and limited availability.
In many ways, the building boom is a blessing. We are working with amazing clients on unique and beautiful projects. We have the opportunity to grow and design and build more well-crafted, high-performance projects. Still, we are cautious about the rapid growth in the context of limited materials, skilled labor, and trade partner availability.
In this environment, BuildSense has been and will be able to fully maintain our commitments to our clients, trade partners, and team with one exception: consistent schedule performance. We are taking creative action to address schedule performance, but we are not holding all the cards. Our vendors and trade partners are in the same boat. Since we cannot predict job schedules and set completion dates in the same way that we could many months ago, we are asking for your understanding and patience, and partnership.
How are we meeting these challenges? What creative action are we taking? Our responses to the current design + build environment fall roughly into four groups: planning, growth, relationships, and perspective.
- It is a simple idea to order materials earlier because lead times are longer. It is a bit harder to execute. Regardless, this is a core strategy. This requires commitment and understanding from the whole team - client, architect, and builder - to make decisions early and stick with those decisions. We have ordered windows, for example, before we reached a building agreement with some of our clients just to keep the job schedule moving. While late decisions or changes to decisions always adversely affect the schedule, the current environment shows an outsized impact.
- In the last twelve months, we have seen well more than double the number of new project inquiries per week than in years past. Our message to these folks is that we can focus on planning their projects in the future, and we can build their projects in the more distant future. We are grateful to our new clients and their understanding of our finite capacity.
- We are hiring and training. We have new (outstanding) team members and have extended additional offers. We are interviewing for open positions. Still, we are cautious with hiring and have a thorough onboarding process. We have built a training/apprenticeship program for Project Managers and Site Leads and have strong team members working through these programs.
- We are continuously vetting new trade partners to expand capacity and have identified and engaged companies proving to be a good fit.
- We have established positive relationships with many local vendors and trade partners and have a reputation for consistently paying our bills on time. With just about everything in short supply, this can be helpful.
- For more than 22 years, BuildSense has created well-crafted, high-performance projects. Despite the current obstacles, we intend to keep doing just that. Again, we ask for everyone's patience in this challenging environment.
P.S. With almost 40 years of marriage, the two of you can probably write a book on planning, growth, relationships, and perspective. Are you interested in a second career?
*Full disclosure: not only have we never worked for Meryl Streep or Don Gummer, we've never actually met them. Indeed, I'm not sure we've ever been in the same city at the same time. They seem like fun people, though, and we would be happy to build a home for them. If any of you are close friends with them, we would be grateful for an introduction!