Constructing Experiences: Why More Contractors Are Integrating Program Management

As general contractors increasingly bring in program managers on specialty jobs, many are discovering the benefits of these partnerships, including more seamless integration of specialty and traditional construction processes.
By Daryl Parker
March 9, 2020

In 2016, revenue from specialty construction projects rose 12% to $112.72 billion, according to consulting firm Helbling & Associates Inc., and this figure continues to climb.

As the number and scope of specialty projects escalates, general contractors are feeling the pressure to deliver increasingly complex, experience-focused environments with highly technical components.

These projects require very specific skill sets that may be outside a traditional construction team’s realm of experience, which can lead to challenges in delivering projects that meet the expectations of today’s developers and owners.

As general contractors increasingly bring in program managers on specialty jobs, many are discovering the benefits of these partnerships, including more seamless integration of specialty and traditional construction processes, access to a vetted pool of specialty vendors and a clearer understanding of costs from the start.

Integration of Specialty Processes into the Construction Plan

Specialty construction requires expertise in certain areas that are typically not needed for traditional construction, such as immersive scenic environments, sound and audio effects, show lighting, visual effects, animated elements, rides and ride systems, among others.

For example, a traditional construction project such as an office building typically uses a standard audio system for music in entryways and lobbies; however, a themed environment may call for a variety of high-end systems with sophisticated, smart systems for music, sound effects and other attraction acoustics.

Program managers not only understand these specialized systems and processes, but they also know how to integrate them into a construction plan and design without sacrificing a project’s schedule or budget.

Access to Expert Vendors

Working on themed environments enables program managers to form relationships with a curated list of vendors that are skilled and knowledgeable about specialty processes and high-quality products.

When general contractors bring in program managers to work on specialty projects, they gain access to these vendors.

Understanding of Specialty Construction Costs

Because specialty projects are so complex, they tend to be more costly to develop than traditional construction projects.

Program managers are well-versed in these costs and will work with general contractors to fit them into the project’s budget, preventing emergency value engineering later in the process or even a complete rescaling of the development plan.

For example, nFusion recently worked on a theme park construction project where the developer started by hiring architects, designers and contractors who were told “the sky was the limit” when it came to a budget. But, when the design and costs were presented, the developers quickly realized that they couldn’t afford the project.

As program managers, nFusion was able to help the contractor on this project scale back and construct a project that met the developer’s intent, while maintaining high standards and cutting costs to a realistic budget.

In this case, it took nearly a year to redesign the project, eight months of which could have been avoided.

As today’s general contractors take on increasingly specialized projects, many are seeking guidance on how to select a program management partner. The three most important traits include:

•The right people: Choose program managers that have deeply experienced people on their teams, with the right resources and a specialized level of expertise. Ideally, the chosen team has experience working together to deliver successful projects; these tend to be more efficient and have a better level of communication than those working together for the first time.

•A strong book of business: Ask about volume and variety of past projects. Half-completed projects should be a red flag; these indicate that the project ran out of money, which is probably due to poor planning on the part of the development team. The right program manager can help to avoid this, and a strong book of business indicates a good track record.

•A proven process: Look for a proven system for delivering specialty construction projects. nFusion, for example, developed a process comprised of four “gates,” through which each project’s feasibility, buildability, deliverability and operability are determined. Steps are taken to deliver project controls, as well as a suite of documents and templates that are ready-made and can easily be tailored to specific projects.

General contractors that partner with an experienced program management team that offers a strong track record and a proven process will find that specialty projects can be delivered on time and on budget—and often, these partnerships are key to contractors winning new business.

by Daryl Parker

Daryl Parker is a program director at nFusion. Learn more at

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