Field administration in a fast-track environment
Good communication and documentation practices can help keep a fast-track construction project from derailing.
by Carter R. Rohan
ON FAST-TRACK CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS, total project time is reduced through simultaneous design, contract document production and construction over a portion of the project life. This complicates the construction manager's (CM) administrative efforts, and while there's no magic formula for fast-track project field office administration, complete documentation of events, bolstered by good communication practices, will help. A CM armed with a good set of records can properly administer a project, and if necessary, successfully defend and propel claim negotiations toward a favorable settlement. Anything less than complete and accurate records, kept consistent with procedure, puts the CM at a disadvantage by causing a reliance on other people's records and memories—an undesirable situation at best.
There's no substitute for good records and an effective records management program to organize them. A system to promote awareness of the importance of records is also necessary so that effective records management becomes a well-orchestrated team effort. This team effort becomes the embodiment of field administration in a fast-track environment.
Immediately upon coming onboard, each team member should be issued manuals and training handbooks that provide the form and structure for setting up and operating the field office and procedures for project administration. Also included should be policy guidance for construction management personnel. These tools will provide a proven process for project administration through established procedures for most activities or events typically occurring during construction.
Team members must have a clear understanding of the value of good project documentation, of how it relates to their role in the project team, and of what roles they play as individuals in maintaining detailed and complete project records. This is accomplished by first establishing an outline of responsibilities for each individual working in the field team. The outline should cover daily duties and responsibilities for interface with other team members and engineering and construction counterparts. The outline can also be used to prepare team members for professional conduct in the execution of their duties and responsibilities.
Once this is accomplished, training sessions should be conducted on the processes and procedures covered in the records management tools issued to the team members. The training will familiarize the field team with the construction program and procedures and the effects the fast-track environment may have.
As a time management tool CM team members should be given guidelines governing their presence in the field and field office to ensure proper coverage of the work. This will provide clear indication to the team members of where the focus of their work and presence should be. A common approach for daily time management guidelines for a fast-track project might look like this:
Resident Engineer; 15 percent field/85 percent office. A resident engineer (RE) should spend most of his or her time in the office, managing the project, but should not neglect review of field activities. Periodic tours with other members of the field team will keep the RE apprised of field events.
Field Engineer(s); 50 percent field/50 percent office. As the field engineer works closely with both the A/E and the contractor, the project type should determine the time split, but generally the split should be devoted equally to the field and office.
Field Inspectors; 85 percent field/15 percent office. A field inspector (FI) is responsible for monitoring the construction activity and therefore should spend most of the time on site with the work. The time in the field office should be devoted to writing the daily inspection reports and attending construction quality and safety meetings.
Office Engineers; 10 percent field/90 percent office. The office engineer (OE) is primarily responsible for all of the administrative tasks in the field office, such as review of contractor pay applications, changes and submittals, and recording project meetings. Most of the OE's time should be spent in the office; however, there will be isolated times when the OE should tour the work to get an accurate picture of the construction progress.
The next step in promoting awareness involves identifying some of the key project documentation that will be generated or handled by the field team, and establishing tips and general guidance for each. Some key tips/guidance are:
Contract Correspondence. For contract correspondence certain steps should be followed. First—simple as it seems—answer the mail. Upon receipt of contract correspondence, forward copies to appropriate persons for review. Designate team members to research the subject of the correspondence. If necessary, meet internally to discuss the subject and response. Prepare a coordinated response in a timely manner. Set goals for formal responses. Do not allow any contract correspondence to go unanswered! And, ensure that all outgoing contract correspondence is issued/signed by the resident engineer. When possible, use established language for contract correspondence and strive for consistency in format and terminology.
When drafting correspondence, be factual; avoid stating opinions, drawing conclusions, or including irrelevant personal material in the correspondence. It's also important to ensure that correspondence written and transmitted to the contractor does not(1) accelerate the work; (2) change the scheduled sequence of the work or attempt to manage subcontractors; (3) attempt to increase the quality contemplated by the contract; (4) provide directives dictating the means and methods of the contractor.
When do you issue correspondence placing the contractor on notice? You do so when the work is lagging behind the scheduled progress; materials incorporated into the work do not conform to the contract; or contractor submittals are late, or continually poor and incomplete, causing inordinate amounts of engineering review.
Internal Communications. It is equally important to follow specific steps when dealing with internal communications. Be aware that “confidential”—in the words of Gershwin's famous song—ain't necessarily so. Internal memoranda relating to contract issues, written with the intention to be cloaked as confidential or private, are part of the record, which is available to all interested parties. Be professional and extremely careful with what is committed to writing.
Use e-mail to communicate project issues internally and keep personal or non-job-related issues out of the e-mail communication. Be professional in preparing and transmitting email communications. Keep both electronic and hard copies of all e-mail communications.
Inspector Daily Reports. Inspector Daily Reports (IDR) should be written while the issues are fresh on the mind. Establish a standard time each day to prepare the IDR. In the IDR, record only facts—opinions and other excess verbiage have no place in such a report. And keep it clean; don't use the IDR to bash the contractor, engineer, client, or other team members.
Again, at the risk of stating the obvious, actually inspect the work! IDRs must be accurate and factual, so base the writing of the IDR on the inspection performed. Don't treat it as just another piece of paper to be filled out.
Identify and record every piece of equipment used on site, with the manufacturer, model number, and capacity. Equipment failures and periods of nonuse shall be recorded. Ensure that equipment leaving the site and/or returning to site is reported even if the period away from site is short. Also, identify and record the workforce size and number of hours worked. Check on the count by talking to the contractor or trade supervisor and verify any differences in count. Periodically check that human resources are not being shuttled between projects.
Use inspector field notebooks as a basis for preparing the IDR and coordinate with other field inspectors to ensure that contractor personnel and equipment reporting is not being duplicated.
Designate one inspector and an alternate to be the weather reporters. The reporter will read the rain gauge and thermometer each day and establish the climate record for the day. All other inspectors will use the reporter's records in their IDRs or refer to the reporter's IDR for consistency.
Be as precise in the IDR as the available information will allow; limit the use of general adjectives when describing events. For example, it isn't adequate to describe an event as: Heavy rain today. Contractor knocked off. This statement will mean very little to someone reviewing the records three years after the project has been completed. It would be better to describe the event as: Rain began at approx.10:00 a.m. Contractor decided to knock off at 11:00 a.m. due to wet conditions. Refer to the Civil Inspector's IDR for rainfall record.
Take pictures to document events. All photographs taken should be marked with the date/time taken, name of photographer, and subject of the photo. If photographs are intended to be attached to the IDR, use the Instamatic type, for obvious time reasons.
Resident Engineer's Diary. It is good practice to keep only one field diary for construction projects, primarily because there is great potential for conflict between multiple diaries. The resident engineer should be responsible for keeping the diary. (Bear in mind that everyone views events differently. In situations where several diary-keepers record the same event, even if all have the same view, the diaries may conflict due to the manner with which the event is recorded.)
Record daily events in the diary—daily. Record matters not addressed in other contract reports.
Be accurate and factual and avoid bashing (of anyone). Don't write anything in the diary that would create an uncomfortable feeling when repeated under oath or on the witness stand.
Some general suggestions for keeping a resident engineer's diary: Record events in a bound book with numbered pages. Make all diary entries in ink. Make entries for every contract day. Limit corrections. Initial and date all corrections. Leave no gaps between daily entries. Use as much detail as necessary to describe an issue. Limit the contents to events or issues affecting the project. Write or print legibly.
Other methods of keeping the RE diary may be used, such as audio recordings or computer-generated diaries kept as part of a document management software program. Hand-written diaries may follow less stringent guidelines; however, bear in mind that the RE diary will be a primary document used in the defense of claims. Professionally maintained diaries carry considerable weight in litigation.
Administratively, the handling of project documentation plays an equally important role in the records management system. Here are some key guidelines that should be established for document handling:
■ Be diligent about stamping a receipt date on all contract correspondence on the day it is received.
■ The filing system is extremely important. Be careful in taking liberties when setting up the filing system. Use a standard filing system provides a thorough and consistent system.
■ Ensure that all incoming contract correspondence is immediately forwarded to the RE for action. Copies should be made for other personnel, the read file, and the project files.
■ Ensure that all records are filed in appropriate locations—the document will serve no purpose if it cannot be found three years after the project is completed.
■ E-mail shall be handled as internal correspondence and hard copy filed appropriately.
■ Do not annotate records/documents to be filed.
■ Do not destroy documents generated or received. All business records can be used as evidence. These are records that are kept in the ordinary course of business and relate to the project in any way.
■ Punch and place documents in the appropriate file folder. Papers loose in a folder can easily be lost.
■ Appoint one person the responsibility for the contract files. Access to the files can be gained through this person. This will minimize the occurrence of missing/misplaced records.
Communication is key to keeping all parties motivated throughout the life of the project, and motivation plays a big role in team focus and productivity, especially in fast-track projects. Here are some techniques that can be used to enhance the communication and ultimately improve the quality of the project records:
Internal Communication. Encourage team members to communicate among themselves regarding the work. Discuss problems in enough detail that any reporting of an issue in the IDRs or administrative reports will be consistent with a common understanding.
Good Working Relationships. Require all field personnel to maintain good rapport with their contractor counterparts. This will ensure that communication between the two will continue through to the end of the project. Avoid confrontations and elevate problems that cannot be resolved to a higher level for resolution.
Staff Site Tours. The resident engineer should make informal tours of the project site periodically with each field inspector. The tours can be used as a means of two-way communication on issues that affect the work. The inspectors can use the tours to advise the RE of any potential impacts they see in the work.
Interface Coordination Meetings. Conduct informal design/construction interface meetings to discuss coordination issues, requests for clarification and upcoming submittals. A representative of each design discipline, field office personnel and contractor counterparts should attend. This is a powerful tool in a fast-track project's administration. Face-to-face meetings will allow each side to elaborate on their ideas for issues requiring clarification and the Us-Them mentality can be held to a minimum.
Project Read File. Establish a project read file and circulate it within the field office on a weekly basis. All project information occurring within the current week should be placed in the file every Friday. The file will be circulated through the field office, giving all field personnel the opportunity to keep abreast of issues that they wouldn't normally be advised of.
Weekly Construction Progress Meetings. Progress meetings should be conducted each week to discuss administrative issues, technical issues, scheduled progress, and problems. The meetings should be attended by the contractor's field management staff, the CM field staff, Safety, Scheduling, Estimating and Quality representatives, the project engineers, and client representatives, if appropriate. Record the meetings.
Field Staff Meetings. Hold weekly staff meetings. Every member of the field team should attend and brief issues relating to their responsibilities. Other issues such as upcoming design changes, submittals, construction schedule, administrative issues and general personnel issues can be discussed.
Schedule Review Tours. The project scheduler should conduct weekly tours to review the construction progress against the current approved baseline schedule. An emphasis should be placed on the identification of work activities deviating from the schedule that have a potential to develop into claims. The project scheduler will brief the RE of issues and findings at the end of each site tour. The tour frequency can be increased if warranted by the stage of the project.
Estimator Verification Visits. The project estimator should visit the site weekly to observe the work. Particular attention should be given to production and the use of equipment and personnel staffed for the contractor's normal work activities should be noted. The information gathered will prove useful in negotiations for changes.
Keeping meticulous records and using a well-organized records management program will not guarantee that there will be no disputes or claims filed for the project. Claims are a reality and some should be expected in the construction industry. Claims submitted on projects with poor or incomplete records will invariably result in calling in outside experts after the fact, which is very costly and somewhat ineffective in reaching a favorable settlement.
A sound claims administration system will provide good records for analyzing any claims once filed. The records will corroborate the claim if it is meritorious, or provide a sound defense against an unfounded or exaggerated claim. Tips for a claims administration system are:
Watch and Listen. Keep a close eye on activities and events as they occur on the project. Be on the lookout for any activities or events that break from scheduled activities or appear to be causing impacts on the work.
Talk to the contractor, subcontractors and suppliers. Pay special attention to complaints regarding time, cost or scope.
All incoming and outgoing correspondence should be reviewed to flag issues indicating changes in scope; opportunities taken by the contractor to provide substandard materials; opportunities taken by the designer to improve the quality at no additional cost; impacts to other trades or materials; delays to scheduled progress.
Expect the unexpected!
Communicate. Spread the word to the field team. Advise the team of the issue discovered and of any specific impacts expected.
Document. The RE diary and Inspector Daily Reports should pay special attention to any issues that are flagged as prime targets for potential claims. Record staff and equipment specifically used in executing work for the activity or event. Document any extenuating circumstances or impacts created by the contractor, subcontractors, or others.
Take photographs of the work associated with the issue. Take video if deemed necessary.
Ask questions regarding the issue in meetings. Record the responses/results.
Quickly answer any correspondence from the contractor relating to the issue by pointing out his or her responsibility in the matter, if any.
Organize. Once an issue is elevated to a potential claim by the contractor, begin compiling a list of parties involved. Prepare a notebook containing all related correspondence and records pertaining to the issue.
ALTHOUGH FIELD ADMINISTRATION for a fast-track project is more complicated than for traditional construction projects, process/ procedures need not be reinvented. The complexities can be overcome with thorough training and preparations, resulting in a sound field administration program that works well, even for a fast-track project. ■
Carter R. Rohan is an experienced construction management professional who has provided services for a wide range of project types over a 20-year career. He is currently a construction administrator for Parsons Brinckerhoff Tudor-Turner Associates.
Reader Service Number 5027
PM Network • October 1998