Lessons Learned #36: Lessons I Have Learned During The Past 25 Yrs

I trust you followed my advice in last month’s issue and made time during this Memorial Day weekend to “sharpen the saw.” This month marks the completion of 25 years of consulting service for my company in the construction industry. As I was sharpening my saw on the golf course, I found myself reflecting on the past. It’s amazing that so much time has passed since the day when I first decided to step away from the subcontracting world to dedicate myself to the task of advising others.

Through my consulting work, I have interacted with many clients during this period. I have had the incredible opportunity to observe and participate deeply in countless complicated problems and to have played a part in their resolution. I’ve dealt with all types of construction entities large and small. In representing the diverse participants, I have observed the industry through different perspectives, from that of developers, owners and design professionals, to that of subcontractors and specialty trades. Over the years, the accumulated experience has given me a much broader perspective, like that of a pilot or astronaut looking down from a very high altitude. As part of my work, I need to dive very deep into the details of problems, yet at the same time, I find that I’m able to maintain a clear “big picture” view.

This combination of experiences and perspectives has motivated me to share with you some observations that I am calling “Lessons I Have Learned During The Past 25 Years.” I chose only the first 10 that came to mind. I’m sure I could offer a much longer list, but these writings are supposed to be “tidbits of wisdom”, not volumes, after all. So here they are;

1. Construction companies come and go, but their problems remain the same.
2. Projects get started with construction documents that are progressively less complete.
3. Technology has facilitated the work, but the skill and quality of labor continues to decline.
4. Contractors are using more hi-tech software and devices, but their management of the work has not improved.
5. The leverage in contracts continues to shift up the ladder, favoring GCs and Owners, while the risks continue to shift down to the subcontractors.
6. Contractors’ management personnel have more “education” but less communication skills.
7. General Contractors continue to promote better relationships and “teamwork” with subcontractors under various program titles, but their actual practices have hardly changed.
8. The bigger the project size (and cost), the greater the likelihood (and expense) of major problems and disputes.
9. The cost of resolving disputes through arbitration or litigation has almost become prohibitive for all but the largest, well funded contractors and subcontractors.
10. What is common sense, continues to be less and less common practice!

These observations are generalized of course, there have been those isolated cases which have served as notable exceptions to one or more of them, but sadly, they have been very few indeed.

Shortly after I started my consulting practice, I began to advocate training and continuing education to improve the management of construction projects. My emphasis has been on better communications, especially on proper documentation as a tool for managing work and reducing risk. I have devoted a great deal of time to develop seminars and printed materials to accomplish that goal. Many contractors and subcontractors that have taken advantage of this training through my seminars and publications are hopefully better off, as a result.

I have been encouraged by the positive response that I’ve received for proactive consulting that allows me to work as advisor to project management teams on larger jobs from the beginning. That was my primary goal which motivated me to start my consulting work long ago. I believed that I could help others avoid the big disputes that have almost become “a way of life” for contractors on big work. If the disputes can’t be avoided, then my involvement will serve to minimize the associated expense and hardships that are a part of the process. In addition, my clients are better prepared and have a much stronger position when the time comes to sit at the bargaining table or in front of a third party.

I will continue to dedicate a larger portion of my practice to the goal of training and proactive management assistance. If you would like to discuss how we could work together to achieve those goals for your construction business, please contact me for a consultation.

Franklin’s axiom (below) is as true today as it was when he came up with it. By the way, he was referring to fire safety, which I find to be an excellent analogy for the type of problems that arise during construction projects. After all, many of you have come to view the job of a project manager as that of a “fire fighter”, right?

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin

Missed any prior issues? Get copies from the “Lessons Learned” tab on my website. Until next time, Paco Farach.

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