So how does a project start hemorrhaging dollars? I aspire to the old fashioned school of thought which states very simply “you make your money before you start on site, once you start construction you have to prevent losing money”.
Managing the risk with the client should be resolved in the tender process, what are we prepared to sign up to? Can we accept the draconian terms and condition the client wants? Have we allowed the gung ho business development manager too many long lunches, convincing himself in a haze of narcissism and red wine, that we can deliver a project on time, on budget but beat the rest of the tender pack by a country mile. Hopefully a company’s internal checks and balances and counteract this over-enthusiasm, stand up to the client and if need be, simply walk away. Often the client manages to wrap the contractor tightly within the contract, but the contractor is too loose with their subcontractors.
OK, we have won the job. The business development manager accepts the accolades and moves on to their next conquest. The cost planners have covered themselves with a multitude of caveats. The accountants are expecting the profit at tender to increase. All we as a construction team have to do is deliver. The first task is to sign up the subcontractors. So often we get a relatively inexperienced administrator to put “packages” together, to add to those issued at tender. These packages contain a scope of works, drawings, specifications, etc. The administrator fields the queries from the subcontractors. Eventually a short list of subcontractors per trade is prepared. How many times have we heard the cries of joy as a substantially lower price from a subcontractor is paraded around the office, until someone with the word ”commercial” on their business card slows it all down by actually reading what the subcontractor has offered. Often, the enthusiasm of the team is tempered by the Grinch aka: “The Commercial Manager”.
Next step – the deal with the subcontractor. There is no point in screwing someone in to the ground only for them to go broke mid-way through the project. Their price has to be based on a fully detailed scope of works with no “gaps” between their trade package and others. But all too often this is where many increased costs originate. The reason is that all too often, the wrong person has issued the package. Issuing tender packages requires construction knowledge, commercial acumen and rigorous internal review. Inexperienced administrators do not have the requisite experience or negotiating skills.
We are now underway on site. Every subcontractor has a signed subcontract so why do we not implement it. We have time requirements for claims, procedures for variations and extensions of time, so why do we not apply them. The reason we do not is often this task is left to an inexperienced administrator. We have a subcontract document, no doubt prepared by internal or external legal eagles, and often the people managing it do not understand it.
The hemorrhaging has commenced. Poorly written scopes of works, lack of contractual and commercial knowledge, now compounded by a third factor. That being the team’s self-denying something is going wrong. Somehow they believe by not reporting bad news, it will make it all go away. It does not.
The way to manage risk is through focusing and identifying, analysing, prioritizing, and managing risks to eliminate or minimize their impact on a projects objectives, profit target and success. We need the same rigor applied throughout procurement and construction that should is be applied at tender stage. This requires experienced construction professionals, and this usually means they have been burnt previously.
Picture courtesy of betanew.com