Lessons Learned #37: Prepare To Win

I assume most of you are familiar with the degree of preparation that is undertaken by all teams prior to their participation in a sporting event. It’s also generally accepted that the team best prepared for the event will have the upper hand, and the best chance of winning.

Although as a subcontractor (or contractor) you are not actually engaging in a sporting competition when you start a new project, I think there’s a valid comparison that can be made. When it comes to your potential successful completion of a project, the better prepared you are, the more likely you will be to have a profitable outcome.

The most critical time for a project is at the beginning, before major work activities are undertaken. Your investment of resources to prepare thoroughly at this stage in the life of a new job should reap rewards for you as the work unfolds. In addition to having a “game plan” for the new project that anticipates the key points or crossroads through which your team must maneuver, you will also have a more informed and prepared management staff that will be able to deal with the problems that are bound to materialize along the way.

Having been a participant, or a consultant on many projects during my career, I have concluded that the construction industry as a whole does not devote sufficient management resources during the early phases of a project to maximize the possibility for a successful outcome. I am referring in particular to the two critical periods during the early life of a project – the transition from estimating (or sales) to construction and the period from mobilization to the release of the first substantial group of work activities in the field.

Transition from sales to construction:

Quite often it seems that the hand-off from sales (or estimating) to construction (or production) takes place hastily, without much interaction or detailed explanation of the assumptions that were made in the estimate that led to the contract. This can be due to many factors, such as 1) lack of available management staff to assign to the new project (until the last minute), 2) lack of time to perform a proper project transition, 3) failure to recognize the importance of the transition process to the success of the new job, or 4) numerous other reasons.

There are several key points that bear emphasizing during the transition from sales to construction:

  • The transfer of information must be thorough – all of the information available to the estimating staff (including errors or omissions in the estimate) should be shared with the construction team.
  • All relevant contract clauses that affect the execution, changes, re-sequencing, delays, and other key aspects of the performance of the Work should be reviewed and understood by the management team.
  • If contract negotiations have not been completed, the construction team should offer its recommendations during the transition period.
  • In addition to sharing all information known by the estimators, the estimate and underlying assumptions should be challenged by the field management staff (access to work, means and methods, work conditions, and other factors that may affect labor production).
  • Adjustments to the estimate (budget) should be made based on this thorough review during the project transition meeting.
  • There should be a review of the contract schedule and its treatment of your work activities (completeness of work activities, predecessors, logic ties, sequence, duration, concurrent activities, etc.).
  • This is the time to prepare a more detailed schedule of your work that ties to key predecessor activities from the overall project schedule, if one doesn’t exist. If at all possible, a resource loaded schedule should be done (incorporating at least the planned labor man-hours into the baseline schedule).
  • Significant potential conflicts and equipment submittals that are critical to the schedule should be identified and communicated to the customer.

Period from mobilization through the release of first substantial group of activities:

During this initial period on-site, there are numerous important administrative tasks that need to be performed in addition to the establishment of personal working relationships with your customer’s field staff, as well as that of the other key trades. Furthermore, you may not be afforded a great deal of time between mobilization and performance of your first field activities, which means that you may have the added burden of gearing up quickly with manpower, tools, equipment and materials for active production.

Below are some of the many tasks that need to be performed during this initial period with emphasis on some key aspects of the tasks that should not be missed:

  • Establishing a nucleus crew (make sure that your key supervision is fully informed from the project transition meeting).
  • Acclimating to the job and other trades on site (establish a good working relationship with the key trades that affect your work; especially for predecessor activities).
  • Set up operations, logistics, supplies, storage, tools, access to work, etc.
  • Establish a system to monitor the key predecessor activities and other events that impact your work (prepare forms to provide notices as required by contract).
  • Submittals, substitution requests, Value Engineering items (set deadlines and track their progress).
  • Set up job cost to track work and production (to monitor labor productivity).
  • Set up Daily Reports, payroll reports, and other administrative forms (make sure superintendents and foremen understand what information needs to be provided in the Daily Reports).
  • Attendance and procedure for project coordination, scheduling and safety meetings (have procedure for correcting, or supplementing all meeting minutes).
  • Establish procedure and system for documenting progress of work through photographs, charts, and schedule notations.

I have only covered some of the key steps that must be taken during the transition and early phase of a new project in the lists above. I think you will agree that in order to accomplish all of the tasks properly, it’s necessary to devote substantial management resources and time. The more thoroughly your company prepares during the transition and dedicates the appropriate resources during these early phases of a new project, the more effective it will be in its execution of the work.

I have seen many poorly prepared project teams fall behind early in the life of a job and never fully recover from their lack of preparation. Those that fall behind continue to struggle throughout the job and are in a constant state of “reaction” to unexpected events that they simply could not foresee, since they were unprepared. The management teams in those cases never get the time to plan, so they are managing from one crisis to the next.

I hope that your company will prepare for its next new project just like a professional sports team – with any luck, your results will put you in the winning column!

“It’s not the will to win that matters. Everybody has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” – Paul “Bear” Bryant

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

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