Improving Construction Management: Observations From an Interested 3rd Party

Improving Construction Management

I am the founder of a company that gets deeply involved in construction projects of all shapes and sizes. The types of products my company provides are part of the data, communications and electrical infrastructure of most any building under construction or renovation today. We manufacture products that are installed in interstitial spaces; under raised floors or above dropped ceilings. But we could be talking about any building sub-system here.

The point is, my company should be involved in the planning stages of a construction project from the outset. In fact, we have an entire engineering department dedicated to helping clients draw plans for the simplest, fastest and most cost-effective integration of our products into a structure. We understand how critical advance planning and tight scheduling are to successful project completion.

Yet just the other day I found myself walking into an active job site where the project manager brought us in to request information about our solutions. While appreciative for the opportunity and positive we could help, my first thought was, how much will an RFI at this point delay construction and inflate costs?

We should have been consulted before any dirt was turned. Now the project would be slowed as the builder reviewed alternatives. Our proposed solution might not be the best it could be, as we now have to design around obstacles that might not have been there had we been involved at the beginning. And it will take more time. Engineers and contractors need lead time to plan, procure and deliver components to the job site. These steps are usually built into very tight scheduling windows. One missed milestone can have a domino effect on multiple synchronized processes and target occupancy dates. Delays mean raw materials and workers sit idle on the job site, or perform tasks out of sequence. And when it’s finally time to install the overdue system everyone has touched it twice, costing more money. Management may throw more bodies at the job to get back on schedule, further adding to cost overruns.

Predictability positively impacts construction management

What is lacking in this instance is predictability; something which I believe is critical to successful construction management. Identifying exactly how much of everything is required to complete the job before construction begins. Knowing precisely when the materials will arrive on the job site, and having the proper amount of skilled labor on hand ready to get to work when the trucks roll in.

But predictability is about more than just building delivery windows into a Gantt chart. Prefabrication can go a long way towards driving down construction costs and keeping a project on schedule. Whether that is finished windows, doors, escalator sub-assemblies, roof trusses or cable conveyance systems, knowing exactly when the right quantity of components will arrive in a ready-to-install state means more accurate budgeting and expense forecasting with less on-site material handling. Together, predictability and prefabrication remove ambiguities. Still, it is impossible to foresee every issue that may complicate a construction project. But I do know that better advance planning and tighter scheduling over the variables you can control leaves more flexibility to handle the challenges of less-predictable events such as labor or material shortages, accidents or weather-related delays that you can’t control.

The bottom line is that just a little forethought can minimize disruptions and lead to better outcomes – projects completed on time and on budget – for all interested parties. And as a partner on many marquee construction projects, I am an interested party as their success is a reflection on my company as well.

Roger Jette is the president and founder of Snake Tray, a manufacturer of cable management, power distribution and enclosures based on Long Island, New York, and a big believer in predictability and prefabrication.

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