From CREATING INTELLECTUAL COMMUNITIES, Volume 1, Number 1, 2003
Each year, Robert Dillman goes before the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia for approval of $300- to $500 million in construction. Every time, someone asks, “Why does it cost more here than at a comparable institution?” And every time, he explains that it doesn’t – in 25 words or less.
Those words are different for each project, but Dillman always sticks to his short answer policy. He is UVA’s chief facilities officer but spent nearly three decades in the Navy, completing his career in the Navy’s Civil Engineer Corps as head of design and construction for its worldwide construction program. As such, he was required to make monthly appearances before Congress to explain the status of $7 billion in annual projects around the world, particularly those with cost overruns – or funding shortfalls. The less he said, the better his point was understood.
Dillman’s approach is part instinct but mostly experience. “I learned to rely on my own historical data to deliver true cost estimates and back them up,” he says. He advises looking at all direct costs, not merely design and construction; not relying on cost estimators, although his campus uses three of them; and to referring to notes from prior jobs, articles, and case studies for guidance.