Lessons Learned #26: When Plans Turn Into Chaos

You’ve been working on the project for a year and things are tense, the job has slowly but consistently been falling behind schedule to the point where the original schedule is no longer of any use. The two week look-ahead schedules show that the key activities continue to slide, and despite the arguments, finger pointing and promises, there hasn’t been any improvement.

Everything seemed to be fine at the beginning. You started out going along with the flow of the job, playing by the “team approach” trying not to rock the boat, but something about the current situation doesn’t feel right. A few months ago you started working some overtime to help out in one area, as a favor to your customer, but now it appears that the entire job is working overtime for all kinds of reasons, and worse, the overtime is expected to continue.

Problems are occurring more frequently and randomly. Serious field conflicts between subcontractors are taking place daily all over the project. At the last project meeting there was even mention of the threat of liquidated damages! The job appears to have gotten out of control. What was once a working plan has now turned into chaos.

You know all of these problems are costing your company money that was not in the budget. Looking back now, you realize you were always so busy dealing with issues, putting out the fires that you were not able to write about the conflicts, the delays, or the overtime work. You know you voiced your concerns in some of the meetings you attended and you believe there may have been one or two emails in which you wrote about the problems. But you’re getting nervous because you vaguely remember there may have been something in the contract about giving notice in writing for issues, as you skimmed through the documents before the job started. Does this sound familiar?

The situation I describe above is more common than we care to admit. Managing construction projects is tough work, loaded with pressure day after day. As a subcontractor, I experienced it directly from the trenches, dealing with the consequences and feeling the effect on my company’s bottom line. In my role as a consultant during the past 24 years, I’ve been called in when things go wrong on projects. I have reviewed the records of countless projects and tried to help my clients, despite the usual deficiencies that I noted in their documentation.

My experience has convinced me of the following:

  1. Contractors wait too long to begin to document issues on their jobs.
  2. They fail to use their contract to manage their projects.
  3. When they finally decide to document issues, they take the wrong approach.
  4. The lack of proper, timely documentation of issues is at the heart of most unsuccessful projects.

Documenting significant project issues is not as difficult as it seems. The time and effort required to prepare a good record of the issues is insignificant, when weighed against the benefits that result. What’s required is a good understanding of the reason why it’s important to give notice and the knowledge of how to do it in a manner that is proactive and preserves your rights under the contract.

The seminar “Document to Reduce Risk” has been presented to many contractors who recognized the problem and decided to take action. This seminar is presented with a practical, “hands on” approach to drive home the reasons, the timing and the manner in which project documentation should be done. A private, in-house seminar for your key employees is a very affordable way to enhance your company training program. Make the decision to improve the quality of your project management team, contact me to schedule this seminar for your company.

My book “Construction Management: Document to Reduce Risk” is the perfect supplement to the seminar, offering additional training and resources that go beyond what is presented in the seminar. You can order copies from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or The Book Patch.

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