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GOOD CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT 101

Every time you hire a subcontractor to do a specific piece of a project for "x" amount of dollars, do you get everything you think you are paying for? Or do you get billed after the fact for thousands of dollars in back charges and extras? I can help you eliminate a large percentage of these charges. Let me review your scope of work and plans. I can help you formulate a system that will save you tons of money in the long run. Many thousands on just one project.

I have done millions of dollars worth of projects with less than a percentage point of backcharges or extras. Some contractors factor in up to twenty per cent for this category. Some don't and end up with a big shock when the bills come in. I can show you how I keep these charges to a minimum or in some cases eliminate them altogether.

THE SUPERINTENDENTS GUIDE TO FLAWLESS PROJECT MANAGEMENT

GET IT IN WRITING!

It seems that no matter what you talk about in pre-contract meetings, everyones memory fails them after several months of construction. If it doesn't make it to the contract you have to rely on someones word to get it done. So when ironing out the "gray area" before committing to a subcontractor or vendor, develop a check list of the minor things and get them to agree on them. For example, scaffolding. Some projects require a mason to put up the block walls but also have a concrete subcontractor doing beams and columns on these same walls. It would be a scheduling nightmare to try and get both trades to supply the scaffolding. So in advance I get the mason to agree to let the concrete sub use his scaffolding to facillitate the job progress. On the other hand I get the concrete sub to agree to other terms on the scaffolding, like getting his work done in a timely fashion so as not to tie up or hold up the masons forward motion. The more of these little items you can get agreed on prior to signing contracts the more seamless your project becomes.

BE TRUE TO YOUR WORD

As unfortunate as it may sound, I have found over the years that many project managers, superintendents, builders and general contractors are not trustworthy. Yes you have contracts to sign and litigation fears that keep most of them honest to a point but what I am talking about goes deeper than that. People respect honesty. Project administration revolves around people from the laborer digging a ditch to the man signing the check. "You are only as good as your word." Is probably the most valuable statement ever uttered.

Think about it. If you tell a job foreman how you want something done. And you tell him in such a way that he understands what you are saying (this I will cover in detail later) and he does it exactly the way you want it. Suppose for some reason you made a mistake or the drawings were interpreted improperly. Do you take responsibility? Or do you "conveniently" forget what you originally told this person? He has no real proof that you said what you said. So you make him eat the mistake, fix the problem and move on. This person or the company this person works for pays the price for your mistake or lack of preparation. Over a period of time these kinds of things become known throughout the project. Your word becomes worthless. There is no respect for you. A division has been created that you cannot mend easily. Now, what has suffered is the project as a whole. Any little favor you need will require a written change order. Every minute of extra work you ask from your people will be documented and cost you. Your lack of honesty will follow you around like the cloud of dust follows Charlie Browns buddy, Pigpen. On a multi-million dollar project that could get very expensive.

BE SPECIFIC AND MAKE IT DUMMY PROOF

Oftentimes people only hear what they want to hear. Maybe they are thinking about something else when you are talking to them. Maybe they have already made up their mind on how a problem should be approached and even though you are telling them something different they still interpret your words to go along with their own agenda. Years ago I developed what I call the "dummy proof" method of building.

I try to take the most basic elements pertaining to a project or portion of a project and break them down so basically any "dummy" can understand them. Now don't get me wrong, I am not being condescending to those that work under me. In reality I am making their job easier. It is amazing how even the simplest plans can be misread. So I take the time to go that extra mile, do a sketch, go to the details, get feedback from the person or persons I am talking to so that I know they understand what I am saying. And I always make copies of my sketches to go in my job file as a backup should they go ahead and screw it up anyhow. But it all goes back to the respect thing also. If I have backup in my file and make someone fix a mistake, it will legitimately cost them and not me and they will still respect me for it. This is another reason why I have very few backcharges if any, regardless of project size. Remember too, a picture is worth a zillion words, learn to draw or use a basic cad program and it will save you big money in the long run. Plus it makes your work look much more professional.

GET OFF YOUR ASS AND OUT OF THE TRAILER

You can have meetings with subs. Draw pictures, have all kinds of conversations about scheduling etc. But unless you walk the job and pay attention to what is going on you will never be a good manager. I am not promoting micro-managing every little aspect of a project. Far from it. Our subcontractors pay for their own supervision. But sometimes that supervision may be lacking. Sometimes mistakes are inadvertantly made. By walking the project and staying involved you can keep problems from getting out of hand and your subcontractor suffering the consequences. I hear all the time how my projects are the best. This is one of the reasons why. I want my contractors to succeed and make money. I want them to do things right the "first" time. Every time something has to be torn down and done again it costs someone, it costs you time and the project as a whole suffers.

So whether you are a project manager making your rounds or a superintendent running the job. Get out in the field, make your presence known. Climb that scaffolding. Get a birds eye view of what is going on. It will pay big dividends.

INSPECTORS AND BUILDING OFFICIALS

On most projects you will have to deal with inspectors of some sort. Whether you have "threshhold" inspectors provided by engineering firms or city/county inspectors, you will have someone examining your work as it progresses. Learn to deal with them and your life will take on new meaning.

Everyone has a job to do. Same with inspectors. The sooner you realize this the better. They are not antagonists in a Greek tragedy. They are humans with a specific agenda: To make sure things are being done properly. Honestly, as project manager or superintendent that should be your goal also. Oftentimes though, many superintendents look at inspectors as a "thorn in the side". Wrong approach.

Make it a point to walk with inspectors. Don't just farm them out to whatever trade supervisor they are there for. Take them out to the site personally, find the trade supervisor and make the entire visit personable. By doing this you are doing yourself a favor. Hopefully you will have done a "pre-inspection" yourself to make sure the work is ready for the "certified" inspection. Nothing ticks off an inspector more than to be called out to a project and the work not be complete or no one there to show them precisely what is going on. This is just one of many inspections they will be making during the day and they are usually in a hurry so do what you can to make sure they can get in and get out.

As a project progresses and your inspectors get to know you and come to trust you there will be times when they will take your word if something isn't quite complete, that the work will be completed before you cover it up. It is these times when you receive the benefits of proper "inspector etiquette". A red tag or a failed inspection can be costly to a tight schedule. So have your plans ready, a smile on your face, the work as far along as possible and a trade supervisor handy to walk with you. But most importantly don't try to pull the wool over their eyes. Go back to the section above "be true to your word". Don't tell them you are going to do something and then don't do it. You might get away with it once or twice but when you get caught there will be hell to pay. I remember years ago when I was an assistant super on a huge condo project. My boss kept telling an inspector that he was going to have some firewall problems solved by the truss manufacturer on one of our buildings. He kept putting it off and putting it off. One morning we came to work and found a big red sticker on the building that said "REMOVE THIS BUILDING"..Needless to say the work was done that day. But that inspector was a tough customer after that episode for the entirety of the project. You might not think these things matter now, but when it comes time for your final inspections needed before "Certificate of Occupancy" the better your relationship with your inspectors the better chance you have of closing the project out on time.

THE SUBMITTAL PROCESS

Most projects have a submittal process in which sub-contractors for the various trades submit detailed information regarding fixtures, piping, duct sizes, etc. Most of the time these submittals mimic the architects original specifications. Some times for value engineering purposes, time saving reasons or just because what the architect specified will not work in the field, different manufacturers or product types are submitted in lieu of the original specs.

It is the project managers role to review the submittals in conjuction with the architect. If the project manager doesn't do this and depends on the architects approval, problems will occur. Not can occur but "will occur". The main reason being that most architects are not builders. As I mentioned in earlier segments on this page, we as builders need to look at the omni-dimensional aspect of every element in constructing a building.

A sub-contractor will always submit what is easiest for them. This makes them more money obviously. But in the process they might ignore everyone else. This comes to play most often in structural steel, reinforcing steel,fire sprinkler layout, HVAC duct, electrical conduit and fixtures, etc.

So don't just rubber stamp a set of submittals without yourself or your project superintendent going over them in detail. Sometimes it's even better to redline the submittals with your comments prior to them going to the architects office. This way the architect has a leg up on what will work and what might need some help.

Sometimes with time constraints the submittals need to be looked at congruently. If this is the case then the final submittal as it comes back from the architect needs to be reviewed by the project manager/superintendent one more time before it goes back to the sub-contractor for fabrication or ordering.

By the time this submittal process begins, you should already have done a redline review of the building plans and be quite familiar with them. Now you can get even more specific because the size of materials etc.are contained in these important submittals.

A word of caution. Make sure that once the submittal has been approved by all parties any old submittals are thrown away or filed in a seperate file (if they contain important notes etc.). You don't want to grab an old submittal and possibly use some bad information from it.

Safety, safety, safety!

I just finished a 30 hour OSHA safety in construction course. It was an eye opener as always. I take these kind of courses ever so often to help keep the scales from my eyes when it comes to safety.

We can grow complacent over time about safety issues. We let ourselves become too reliant on our sub-contractors to self monitor their own safety programs. And most of them do a decent job with safety. It has become better over the years for sure. However, it can be even better yet with a little pro-active consultation and with a good safety program in place for the overall company as well as the jobsite.

I'm not going to beat this issue to death with my readers but a visit to the OSHA website and enrolling in either the 10 hour or 30 hour course from a qualified instructor will do wonders for your job safety statistics.

It's a nice feeling going home, after a tough day on the job, knowing that all of the employees entrusted to you for that day made it home safe and sound to their families. More and more of our projects are getting cut to the bone and need to be fast tracked to make a profit. Don't let this be an excuse for overlooking safety. And don't let it be used as an excuse for your workers either.

When workers are in a hard hat area and not wearing their hard hats, they are an accident waiting to happen. Some may say that a hard hat impedes their ability to work, or slows them down or whatever silly reason, just so they don't have to wear the hat. But believe me it's not a matter of if but a matter of when that person gets a head injury. And then it becomes your responsibility.

And that is just one instance. Fall injuries, electrocution, excavation cave-ins, etc. can be avoided with proper safety training.

Don't let Safety be the last thing you do in a day's work..but the first thing you address, every day, all day..

Good luck..and stay safe

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