Low bid to CMAR - Culture Change

Dr. Robert A. Perkins, PE


There is a transition from the adversarial nature of low-bid public construction to the more cooperative nature of Construction Manger at Risk (CMAR) contracting.  Managers of public construction projects describe the change in attitudes of the parties as “culture change,” and note that it is needed for successful implementation of CMAR project delivery.  This report examines this culture change by exploring the relations between the main parties to a CMAR project - Owner, designer (A/E), construction manager (CM), and subcontractors (Subs) - noting how these relations may change with CMAR experience. 

Public construction projects are almost always performed by ad hoc teams that change as the project progresses, often making communication difficult.  Good communication between the parties is essential for trust to develop.  In CMAR trust is vital to efficient knowledge transfer between the parties, unlike traditional design-bid-build (DBB) projects, where a minimum of trust between the parties is sufficient.  Understanding the process of culture change may lead to better communication between the parties and accelerate the building of trust.

This report examines culture change by exploring issues that are likely to cause tension between the parties and determining if this tension changes with increasing CMAR experience. The research method used was a survey that was emailed to individuals identified as CMAR participants. The survey asked for multiple-choice answers to questions, but also permitted some text comments. The results of the survey were tabulated two ways: by the individual respondent’s employment in one of the four parties, and by the number of CMAR projects in which each respondent had participated.

There are three ways you can access the results of the survey:

  1. The Results and Analysis page has the full results of the survey, question by question, with author’s interpretations and text comments of the survey respondents. This is a long document.
  2. The Survey page has the original survey with links to the Results and Analysis page for each question.
  3. The Conclusions (below) have links to a discussion of each conclusion.  The individual discussions are relatively short and contain the original survey data that pertains to the discussion.

I would appreciate any comments you may have, especially about the conclusions.  Please email me. If you would like to add a text comment to any question, I will try to accommodate you.  I plan to write several technical papers in engineering journals.  If you would like to use some of this data in a more popular venue such as trade journals or house publications, I would be interested in working with you regarding such publications. 


  1. The project needs the participation of key subcontractors early in the preconstruction process, but often lacks a mechanism for getting them on board.
  2. Teamwork improves with CMAR experience.  Partnering, socialization, and frequent meetings are beneficial to teamwork.
  3. Parties’ attitudes differ on the timing of CM hiring; A/Es perceive severe impacts earlier than do CMs.
  4. Most parties did not want CM fees an important part of the CM selection process, but there was clear culture change: with more CMAR experience, fewer wanted fees part of the selection process.
  5. There is tension between the parties relating to scope and budget during preconstruction and a third party estimator and reconciliation of estimates between A/E and CM may not relieve this tension.  Owners, A/E, and CMs disagree on how to handle this tension. See Estimate Reconciliation, below.
  6. Parties have a different view about A/E fees as an impediment to teaming, but this disparity is greatest in those with little CMAR experience.
  7. Owners did not believe there were far fewer design errors in CMAR, while the other parties felt there were.
  8. A strong Owner presence on the job is desirable if it aids decision making.
  9. There was little agreement between the parties on who should pay for design errors and the parities tolerance for small cost-increases.
  10. The parties had differing opinions about fast-tracking.
  11. None of the parties were opposed to the CM self-performing some of the work.
  12. A/Es do not feel their designs are constrained by CMAR.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to the Institute of Northern Engineering for providing travel funds, the working professionals who took the time to respond to the survey, and INE's Sandra Boatwright and Fran Pedersen for turning my Engineering-ese into English.

Glossary/Acronyms About the Survey   Estimate Reconciliation