Is Hiring a CMAR at the 30% Design Milestone Really a Best Practice? The Impact Timing has on Project Success

by | Aug 31, 2018

Being on a CMAR project is like being part of an Olympic 4 x 100 relay team. Similar to the way the countries select the fastest runners for their Olympic relay teams; as an owner you select the best design and construction teams in the industry for your project. But having the fastest runners or the best CMAR and design teams isn’t enough. All the relay runners must come together as a cohesive team and the most critical aspect of any relay race is the transition between runners. Runners must be in lock step; they must be able to adapt to each other’s speed, excitement, and timing to move the relay baton through each leg of the relay and win the race. The same holds true for a CMAR project team. As a project moves from conceptual design, detail design, construction, and finally start-up and commissioning, each handoff of the project baton must be seamless. What would happen if you waited to find your third and fourth runners until after the race had started? Undoubtedly, that would put your relay team at a major disadvantage.

When Should You Hire a CMAR?

The generally accepted industry best practice for hiring a CMAR is no later than the 30% milestone. However, most experienced collaborative delivery owners hire their CMAR either in parallel with their designer or right after the designer has been selected. In most instances where a project has utilized an off-ramp or the owner’s expectations were not met during the design phase, the CMAR was brought on later in the design phase and could not overcome the perception the owner and designer held about their project in the early planning stages. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Establishing the Right Budget

Too often when a CMAR comes in at a 30% or later design milestone they are playing catch up. The designer and owner have been working together making decisions and relying on a project budget established earlier in the project. When a CMAR is hired at 30%, in a short time the CMAR must do the following:

  • Learn everything they can about the project.
  • Build trust and a working relationship with a new team of designers and owners’ representatives.
  • Analyze the schedule and phasing for the project.
  • Establish an accurate market-based estimate that fills in the gaps of what is not in the documents at a 30% design stage.
  • Provide constructability and cost saving comments on the documents.

The CMAR spends the first month or so of the project getting up to speed with all the history of the project while also preparing their first deliverables. It can also be a disruption in the team process already established by the designer and owner. By the time a project gets to 30%, the owner and designer have hit some rhythm and are operating efficiently as a team making decisions, analyzing options, etc. Having all team members engaged early can avoid potential pitfalls and ensure everyone is aligned.

What Happens If Your New Team Member Has Bad News at 30%?

Once the CMAR is up to speed, after burning the midnight oil preparing schedules and cost estimates, and they present an estimate that is different from what was anticipated, what now? What do you believe, all of the information you have been working with for months, even years, or the new teammate? Do you have time in your schedule to figure this out? How far into 60% are you? How the project team chooses to answer these questions and the resultant steps forward will set the tone for the project. Exceptional teams who have built trust will take time to pause and analyze the data. Did the CMAR over assume or under assume the scope? Have there been recent changes in the market? Has the budget been updated with decisions made throughout the planning stages? Did the original budget accurately capture the scope and costs of the project? All of these elements need to be vetted.

There is no silver bullet that prevents this scenario. Hiring a CMAR earlier in the process does not, by itself, guarantee a successful outcome. However, hiring a CMAR earlier in the process can greatly increase your odds of a successful outcome.

Chris Anvik, McCarthy Building Companies

Chris Anvik is the Chief Estimator with McCarthy Water ( and a member of the Water Design-Build Council’s advisory board. Chris can be contacted at