Keeping Construction Projects On Track

Facility professionals should plan for the best, but also have a contingency plan with their general contractor to handle potential disruptions.

By Matthew Strong

Construction projects don’t pop up over night. Between the concept phase, design, planning, building, and additional scopes of work, construction projects often last several months, even years, depending on the size and scope of the project.

With that said, things come up. Weather can take a turn for the worst. Permitting can hit roadblocks. Budgets can get constrained. This is when a strong relationship between a facility executive and the general contractor is critical. Disruptions are simply a part of doing business as even the best laid construction plans can veer off-course. The trick is having a general contractor that will plan to deal with these disruptions proactively, anticipating them, and having contingencies in place for the worst case scenarios to avoid significant repercussions.

As a facility executive, it’s important to know what the engineers, designers, and construction crews you’re working with are up against. Here are a few of the disruptions that can come up at the project site, potentially costing you time and money.

  • Safety issues or accidents
  • Weather
  • Owner/design changes
  • Unforeseen/environmental issues
  • Delayed or prolonged decisions, and requests for information (RFI)
  • Delayed permits by city
  • Slow submittal reviews
  • Facility operational schedule changes
  • Schedule acceleration
  • Manpower/labor shortage
  • Material availability

Now the important question: How can you work together with your general contractor to deal with it?

Preplan, Set Realistic Expectations

It is hard to say what disruptions on the list above will happen on any job, so its better to expect them than to be surprised. Thus, having a clear scope of work, being on the same page as the primary contractors, and having a comprehensive, realistic schedule, budget, and logistics plan in place — as well as a back up plan for when something goes wrong — is essential.

To provide a better understanding of the challenges construction projects may face and how to help construction stay on course, here is a closer look at a few scenarios.

Material shortages or delays: With the construction boom occurring now, large projects are taking priority for concrete producers. So if a project will only need 50 yards or less of concrete, you need to ask your general contractor what the plan is to avoid a schedule delay. Can the pour be scheduled well in advance, or at an off peak time? What are the other impacts to the schedule and budget? In another instance, plans call for steel to arrive by certain date. But what If the material is delayed? Can the framing crew make-up the time? If “Plan A” calls for 10 framers, be aware that a contingency plan may be required for a later date that includes 20 workers to expedite the process and keep the project on schedule. It is important to ask as many questions as possible, and be on the team to help solve problems before they become an projects

Unforeseen conditions: This often occurs with retrofits and remodels, especially in older buildings where as-built drawings don’t exist. If you or someone familiar with the facility thinks there is an issue, work with the general contractor to assure a thorough inspection is completed. For example, if a longtime plant employee thinks he remembers someone saying there is an abandoned storage tank under a slab, it’s worth a little money upfront to investigate rather than waiting until the problem is discovered in the middle of construction when this discovery will cause a major delay.

Here are some other challenges your general contractor and their team will face and steps you can take as the facility executive to mitigate disruptions before they occur:

  • Work with your general contractor to make sure a project specific safety plan is in place. Accidents stop everything.
  • Be aware of historic weather data for the project’s location to calculate/plan for weather disruptions and work towards a backup plan if weather is worse than normal, for example if there are 20″ rain instead of the usual 10″.
  • Establish a schedule and deadlines for when decisions must be made; push for decisions at weekly Owner Architect Contractor (OAC) meetings; don’t delay decisions, get them done early to push closure. Ensure an owner’s representative that can make financial and schedule decisions attends each OAC.
  • Share your operations schedule with the general contractor when they are working on occupied buildings, and make sure they understand the facility’s use and how to work within the parameters. This is especially true in manufacturing when production schedules can vary or change drastically with little notice.
  • Ask for access to project management software tools, or at least, weekly project update reports, to ensure deadlines are being adhered to. Make sure the schedule is up to date. A schedule that has not been updated in a month most likely does not have good info in it.
  • Make sure to stay in communications with the construction teams to let them know about any company changes, or issues that may arise with management.
  • Risk avoidance: Make sure all contracts are signed, and that your contractor teams have the necessary insurance in place before starting the project.

Dealing with the intricacies of construction is technical, but is also an art to some degree. When it comes to potential disruptions, understanding up front what can be done to help mitigate those disruptions and what contingencies are in place if they occur can help ensure the projects runs smoothly. Remember: projects fail when people refuse to understand that no project will be free from disruptions, so having a “plan for the best and a contingency plan for everything else” attitude is projects

Strong is the President of C1S Group, a Dallas-based construction and engineering firm. He has more than 24 years of experience in the design and installation of mechanical and electrical systems and has completed projects in a wide variety of industries. Strong is a Licensed Professional Engineer in Texas and several other states, and has National Registration as a Mechanical Engineer.