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WHICH CAME FIRST THE CHICKEN OR THE EGG? - Programmes on major programmes need coordinating, by those leading the project!

Planning, programming or scheduling a project is far from an easy task. There are so many things to think about, so many parties to consult and people and personalities involved. Every party involved in a project has their own processes, their own lead times and of course commitments which, let’s be honest they want to protect, sometimes with little or no regards or interest in anyone else’s limitations or constraints.

As a Main or Principal Contractor managing all of this whilst attempting to coordinate and collate the data into some resemblances of a grand master plan, can be nothing more than a reoccurring nightmare.

Consequently, contract drafting around programme and the risk of time, can differ widely. From the main contract point of view the “get rid of it” approach appears to be the option of choice. We have all read those clauses stipulating that you have an obligation to coordinate with others, or the one that says you must issue programmes and updates of programmes regulalrly, but yet you are still not provided any direction!

When agreeing contracts, “time” clauses need to be reviewed very carefully and it goes without saying, there is an intrinsic link between the length of time things take and the cost of doing it. Sparse information, or worse nonexistent information, plus an inability to obtain commitments or renegotiate on contradicting commitments, will do nothing for your bottom line.

Of late, approaches to programme management have not manifested themselves in a way that embraces the advocated mutual trust and cooperation to which the NEC suite of contracts and others like the JCT2011 suite of contracts, have been drafted to include. Instead what appears to have become modern day practice is almost an opposite scenario, a situation where, depending upon your position within the project hierarchy, the grand master plan, is either classified Top Secret, is a continuous work in progress or a figment of someones imagination, never to be shared or seen.

Now there can be many reasons for this, it may be simply that nobody has created it, which I doubt, or nobody has updated it, which is more plausible, but of late we are finding more and more scenarios where those lower down the hierarchy on projects are being asked to produce programmes without being provided with any reference to when preceding works will be complete and those areas made available for the succeeding activities to commence. Producing programmes in isolation of the bigger picture can be dangerous. For manufacturers if the programmes are not coordinated you could find your delivery stranded in the hustle and bustle of a busy street with no means of offloading materials, or if you are a Subcontractor of services, your labour could end up enjoying a day of rest whilst the preceding activities conclude or progress, at least sufficiently in part, so that the dispatched labour could at best, start on something.

Both of the above scenarios are far from ideal and as a Specialist Supplier or Subcontractor, should something like this happen, you are more than likely going to incurring additional costs, which, even if they are recoverable at a later date, will still have some disruptive influence on your day to day business operations.

Considering all this we started thinking…where programming is concerned, which should come first?... The Chicken or the Egg? Or more particularly, the master programme from the principle contractor or Project Manager or from those lower down the hierarchy, those Specialist Subcontractors/ Suppliers?

The time for completion of projects has always been a hot topic within the Construction Industry, after all establishing Liquidated and Ascertained Damages (LAD’s), or assessing a damage before you start, hardly smacks of optimism that the project will complete on time -does it!?

Regardless of these however, if the programme for the overall scheme is not managed and is not coordinated with each facet of a development and all parties do not talk with openness, there is a high probability that your costs could increase through no fault of your own. (This goes for the Main Contractor as Well!) No matter where you are in the hierarchy, a bit of down time here, extra day there, working up and being asked to demobilise on a Wednesday only to remobilise and restart on a Friday, are all things, depending on your agreed terms, that can legitimately, drive your costs up, up, up!!!

Additionally what is also clear and everyone should accept, is that from avoiding coordination, we should embrace it and we should share plans and programmes amongst all members of the teams. Resigning them to individual subcontractors is unlikely to drive a project to completion, on the contrary it may just drive confusion as everyone is planning their own thing and making demands or having expectations that are far from realistic.

For Specialist Subcontractor’s, there will always be dependencies upon others in a Programme. After all, you cannot hang/ fix a light fitting on a ceiling that has yet to be built. These dependencies all need to be managed and communicated to ensure that as one Specialist finishes the other can take over and start their next activities. Therefore choosing not to have a written score and conductor, conducting a major programme of works is arguably not going to be the most delicate on your ears. Arguably therefore the egg comes first!

So having cleared that one up (!?), as always our advice on this is very simple...in any contract negotiations and formation be proactive! Control the timing, control the outcome and if like us you do not want to place all of your faith in philosophy, and you are of course the Offerer in this scenario, please consider the following few points.

(1) If you do not get issued a programme – issue one of your own!

If the egg is not forthcoming, present the chicken or vice versa!

(2) Include reference to the Works of Others – The/ Your Dependencies

Be specific, if you need the ceiling to fix your light fitting to, then show that in the programme and if that is not completed in time, impact it and assess the affects. Use the plan not only to drive your works but to drive everyone else that impacts you.

(3) Be clear on how many visits to the site that you have allowed for

One continuous visit is always a good start!

Remember that traveling to sites can be costly. This is obviously depended you’re your trade and the equipment used. When you are working on your door step, doing painting this is not a great concern, but what if your project is at the other end of the hemisphere. Getting equipment, other than a paint brush and resources both to and from the site can cost a lot of money.

What is also worth remembering, even if you do not have costly equipment to lug around, be conscious of where your resources can be deployed to at short notice! Or for that matter redeployed when the time comes.

(4) Be clear on who you consider has the responsibility to coordinate other Trades?

Any indirect cost, whether it be discussing with your customer or other Subcontractors take time and when you are spending your time doing this you certainly cannot be burning the candle at both ends doing other direct works at the same time. Imagine this on larger scale projects, if you are obligated to discuss with all interfacing Specialist, simply finding your counterpart in the mass of building can take a day! Be clear and ensure that if you are accepting the obligation to coordinate, you have included for sufficient resources to ensure that you can do it successfully. Likewise, if you have not included it say so.

(5) Identify any risk allowances in your programme

A subjective one appreciated and this topic of including an item for Contractor’s risk on a programme has been debated with vigor. But why should we not be transparent? If the aim is to organise with clinical precision, being vague will simply derail you as you cannot plan when every task has risk built into it. Such practices will drive inefficiencies by their very nature.

Be open, it will rain, there will be windy days when the crane cannot be used, there will be disturbances, etc. Let’s be honest if the details are structured correctly openness will not change the risk profile to the detriment, nor will it result in the Employer stealing your entitlements, unless that is, they assume and take the responsibility for the risks. NEC3 even notes within their administrative clauses on how to deal with Compensation Events, Contractors are permitted to assess risks and make a provision for them.

(6) Make sure you take account for those paperwork Activities! (Plus the approval, commenting, acceptance periods)

Nowadays construction projects are more than just bricks and mortar. There is much paperwork and process that sits around them, such as permits to works, method statements, risk assessments, etc. All of these documents take time to prepare, time to read, assess and acknowledge. Plan for this time, and ensure that you are clear who takes the risk on multiple iterations – if the customer does not like your method and rejects it, but was safe (!), who takes the risk of the lost time arising from the necessity to do resubmit and inevitably doing things differently

(7) Remember a Day is not always a Day!

We appreciate that this may be a new concept but read the small print on this one! Depending upon what the documents say a day could be defined to mean something specific. Even The Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996 as amended by the Local Democracy, Economic Development and Construction Act 2009, includes a definition of what constitutes a day.

These definitions are important as they can redefine your whole strategy. If you plan to work on the project site Monday to Saturday 0700 to 1900 hours, but the agreement (or planning constraints) stipulate that you can only occupy the site between 0900 to 1700, then it is more than likely that you will be late in completing as, in its simplest form, there is not enough hours in the day to work!

In addition to this also remember that a day on site may differ for each working practice. Set up times, etc. will affect the time for each activity and site for that matter if there are particularly onerous access constraints. Also be aware that is an activity takes 2 hours it does not follow that its can be necessarily completed on the same day as a 6 hour activity, nor does it follow that a task can follow immediately afterwards making the works full day activities.

(8) Coordinate the Plan with all other Documents

Make certain that you the programme that you do produce is coordinated with your commercial offer, your proposed methods of working. Remember that the time involved in erecting standing scaffolding is far longer than using a MEWP!

(9) Be Realistic – None of us can stop or reverse time

Optimism – the downfall of many a good plan! When people plan there is always a tendency to be over optimistic or expect that whilst we have taken 6 days previously to do that very same task, now we are experienced in it, we can now do it in 2 minutes and 30 second!

(10) Sleep on it!

It's always good to take a breath and think. Is this what you really have planned for, have you captured all the dependencies, coordinated it with the price, the terms of the agreement generally? Can you provide the necessary resources?

As always, you know it’s OK to change your mind and re-plan -don't you?

Remember don't stand on ceremony debating which comes first the Chicken or the Egg, both are important…. and without one then we arguably don’t get dinner.