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Getting started

Posted: February 9, 2015 in Uncategorized

Starting a new project is like going on that long awaited vacation. It’s exciting to pack and plan and look forward to the good times ahead. Even a long flight to your destination brings excitement as anticipation fuels your efforts and makes time fly. But the excitement of the beginning of a successful vacation is tempered with good planning and preparation. Getting there and having the experience you were hoping for requires having everything you need with you and being prepared for problems that may come up.

Okay, so construction is work and it’s nothing like a vacation so that’s where the similarities end. But the need to plan and prepare is similar. Construction projects are more likely to succeed if properly planned out including preparations for what may go wrong.

Let me begin by pointing to the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Most project management teams are reactive versus proactive. They spend the majority of their time of their time solving problems rather than forecasting or looking ahead. In fact the maximum range of vision for most superintendents is 2 weeks because that’s the look ahead period they are required to publish. The problem with this is they are behind a lot of the time and just having to manage the crisis of the moment rather than managing from in front and being prepared when things happen. The “tyranny of the urgent” is the rule of the day. It’s management by panic instead of by planning.

So, how do you manage by being in front? The key is to have a strategy in place and have things ready before things happen. An example would be to have plenty of visqueen on hand and a crew scheduled when there is a possibility of rain. The norm is to look at the next days forecast and send a laborer to get rolls of plastic at the last minute. But the laborer may not be available on short notice to procure the materials needed and cover the work before it gets damaged. This kind of shortsightedness can have huge impact on the success of a project.

Something else that may be an issue is a conflict in management objectives. Some companies choose to shoe string the project. That means that materials and manpower are provided only when there is an obvious need. Of course there has to be some prudence when it comes to expenditures but this methodology can handcuff the field staff when it comes to issues like the one above. Having $200 in plastic sheeting around and being ready makes good sense versus the potential water damage to materials and the project if you get hit by rain. So management has to plan into the project budget enough freedom for the field staff to be able to plan ahead.

Another example is in subcontracting and scheduling. These are the nuts and bolts that determine the success of a project. This example assumes that you have time before the project starts to actually plan ahead, build a good schedule and get your subcontractors on board. We all know that in the real world it does not always work like that but if the principles are there even a quick start project can incorporate good practices. The keys to planning ahead are:
1. Getting subs on board as early as possible (buy out and get them on board)
2. Getting input from the subs on the project schedule (what amount of time do they need, what preparation is needed, what is the lead time for materials, etc.).
3. Work through the “what if” scenarios (what if the sub is busy and can’t start, what if he can’t perform, etc.)

If you have a good plan and you have addressed and forecasted the way to respond to negative scenarios then you are ahead of the game. Then, the field staff can concentrate on early notice for schedule changes, verifying commitments regularly and hopefully minimizing the the need to panic in a crisis. Your project may not turn out to be a vacation but it should run a lot smoother.

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