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The Outsourcing Totem Pole

April 2020 – by David Jobe

In the construction industry, we often think of outsourcing as passing responsibility from one trade to another. Flipping the mindset of how we think about outsourcing allows us to see where we—or those we hire to help us—truly fall on a totem pole.

Take a Number

Your position on a totem pole can vary depending on the services or the perceived value you bring to a project. It seems funny to imagine that an exterior facade would be conceptualized at an early stage of design; but, the actual installer, engineers, and fabricators required to execute the facade get brought in at a later stage in the process. A fabricator may be consulted earlier to confirm materials and aesthetics, but other parties involved in the same component may be brought in after the product is purchased or committed to. By engaging critical stakeholders late in the process, a project invites risk through re-work, workarounds, and extensive coordination cycles that could have been resolved earlier and perhaps easier. For example, natural stone selection at a thickness not properly vetted could impact the base structural design, long term durability, and increased installation and anchoring requirement. Worst case, the material may not be suitable at all for the application or environment.

“We like to believe that all necessary tasks are considered before the next step is decided or action is taken; but, in construction that is rarely the case. There is always a timeline and almost always a push—any schedule or cost opportunity that can be taken, will be taken. This isn’t solely exhibited by trades and workers; design teams and engineers may prioritize areas and not encounter any conflicts until they return to areas later in the project timeline. As work shuffles down the totem, the expectations of how long things will take can also quickly become unrealistic and should be kept in check or re-evaluated.”

Broken Telephone

As children, we all played the game broken telephone. As communication extended to more and more people, the resulting message became less accurate to the original intent. This type of risk can easily impact your projects negatively should a project communication matrix not be fully understood. For example, a person taking field measurements may not be the same person distributing the information to the rest of the project team. Information accuracy can be compromised from verbal to written instructions, from one person to the next, or from one software to another. As information is passed along, time delays are inevitable; and clarity can become questionable. Transfer/coordination of information can take hours, days, or even weeks depending on those involved, and if/or how much information must be verified. As changes are dictated and passed down the line, details can be forgotten or misinterpreted. This delay can result in work being installed or fabricated that is no longer required or should have changed. Distribution of information to project teams and communication is rarely reviewed. Each time however can be a great moment to review processes and adjust. Since each stakeholder company often assigns numerous resources to a project, they must effectively manage their internal processes with accountability as not to introduce risk to the project.

Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • The shop drawing phase is not the time to make design changes. Although not always avoidable, try to establish a completion of design activities prior to requesting shop drawings from your suppliers. This will help avoid costly time delays, solution re-work, and a re-engagement in the coordination and approval cycle.

  • In a perfect world, areas that have been reworked can be pulled out of the assembly line and put on hold until final approval. When drafting edits are made, check that the stated dimensions work and are understandable. This step can further put a project on hold again until dimensions can be re-checked, and additional site dimensions are taken.

  • When hiring another company to assist in a project, it's important to give clear information and maintain communication. Anytime information is passed from one party to another, the first party should ensure they have a full grasp on the context of the situation and the impact. The more removed a working party gets from the source of information, the higher the chance that issues will arise.

  • Your company may choose to outsource due to staffing capacity or to control time and operating costs. If you are outsourcing work, take the time to review and coordinate clean and concise markups from the design team, the infield team, and other trades to help coordinate information and streamline the project before passing on.

Rise to the occasion!

Everyone involved in the project has the same end goal for success. Let’s reconsider the way we participate in and cross-communicate information. Simple acts such as writing emails to document changes, or documenting meeting minutes from a conference call can help prevent disputes further down the line. And while not every job is perfect, we all have a responsibility to make it right.


By David Jobe

CAD/BIM Technologist

David has been with PICCO Engineering since 2015, quickly becoming a key member of PICCO’s 3D BIM team. As a graduate of Sheridan College’s Architectural Technology program, he found his ability to adapt and integrate the technical learnings presented a key to his success. David found a niche creating technical solutions for existing developments through previous work with post construction plans, modeling, and documentation. Bringing that experience forward and applying it to new projects has allowed him to continue to find new methods for existing ideas. Today David splits his time between projects and researching new methods to advance the industry.


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