As contractors we hear this refrain frequently. The too easy, flippant response is if you don't want change orders then don't change anything. Clients don't want to hear flippant responses. They want seasoned professionals to tell them how to get the project built on time, to the needs of the user and within the budget required.
How then to avoid change orders?
- Spend the time and money to get really good plans. As a client Home Depot is famous for having extremely detailed drawings which show exactly what they want, where they want it. Every item of the store is laid out, detailed and specified. They've built enough of the stores to know exactly what they want and it all has been reduced to the prototype drawings. Money spent up front on good quality drawings reaps rewards during construction.
- Know what you want. It is far cheaper to spend the time up front with the facility user to determine quantity, quality and schedule for their needs than to scramble at the last minute to add square footage, power, lighting, compressors, widgets, or whatever it is that the user demands. A proper planning process with the people who are actually going to occupy the space reaps huge dividends at the time of construction.
- Start early. There is an old racing adage that goes: Speed costs money, how fast do you want to go? The same building built at a breakneck pace costs far more than one built to a schedule that allows proper time for ordering, fabricating and installing the various components of your facility. You can get a VW Bug to go 150 MPH, it is far easier to leave for the store ten minutes earlier.
- Be realistic if you can't spend the time in design, planning and scheduling. Some projects start late due to elements outside your control. It takes a lot of time and effort to get ten pounds of stuffing in a five pound turkey. Carry a reasonable contingency, whether owner controlled or contractor controlled, and use it judiciously and often early. If you get to the end of the job and you're late delivering but haven't touched the contingency then why did you have it in the first place? Decide very early in the process: Do you want to be late but on budget or on time and over budget. The client is the best judge of which of the two unappetizing choices make the most sense.
- Cut, cut, cut. If you don't need something then it can be considered a luxury. There is no sin in dispensing with a luxury to pay for a necessity. Only you can define what is a necessity and what is a luxury.