Given my work over the last few years, I sense that many contractors are not well prepared to handle issues that arise during construction because they are using the same planning and management systems that they used in the 1960s. These techniques are effective only if there are no changes, differing site conditions or delays and disruptions. For many years I have urged contractors to be better prepared for events that affect their work. The lack of planning on the front end of a project could result in not giving the contractor required notice or not having the documentation necessary to substantiate the effect of an event or events on the time and cost to perform the work.
For a contractor, being prepared to handle a potentially difficult project begins in the bidding and preconstruction phase. During the estimating process, thought is given to the means, methods and sequence of construction in order to establish the most cost-effective use of resources to build the project.
In the book Productivity Improvement in Construction the authors state it is essential that estimators build the project in their minds in order to envision the risks and opportunities that lie ahead and then using those images, estimate the amount and costs of materials, equipment and labor and the time necessary to complete each task. The total estimating process requires that the estimator, and appropriate field personnel, develop a very clear vision as to:
- What the project involves;
- What the contract requires;
- The methods that will be used to do the job;
- The equipment and manpower resources needed to carry out the work; and
- The cost and productivity of the resources and materials needed to complete the work.
Planning done by contractors for a successful transportation construction project is not unlike the planning done by football coaches for a successful season and for the next game. Football teams consist of specialized units: offense, defense and special teams. Within those teams there is a further specialization.
For example, the defensive team consists of linemen, linebackers and secondary. All of these specialized units must plan and work together in order to be successful.
In construction, the specialized units consist of crews headed by project superintendents or foremen or both. Contractors need to spend time planning, especially if there is a good chance changes, delays or differing site conditions may be encountered.
For many contractors, the planning is done in the minds of the superintendent and various foremen, with little or nothing put down on paper and little discussion among them. Because this process occurs informally, a significant amount of valuable information as well as reasons behind certain decisions is lost. In addition, the opportunity to uncover conflicts in the various plans is lost.
Using this approach is analogous to flying an airplane visually and not using instruments; when the skies are clear, you simply look out the window to see where you are going and where you have been. But when the skies darken and the air becomes turbulent, trying to fly without instruments results in absolute disaster.
Many years ago I suggested contractors use play books and crew plans in the planning process. I will discuss that approach further in my column next month.