The year 2020 was an incredible year with unforeseen circumstances and occurrences. Stepping aside from the talking points we have heard tirelessly, I want to point out a few thoughts and stories that the construction industry faced during the 2020 campaign.
Order soon as material stock and prices will soon be gone; sequence your work as you never know when something will derail your plan; communicate often because with many shifting parts one forgotten lug nut could halt the entire movement; and finally, give grace.
We learned in year 2020 that customer and vendor stock material can quickly evaporate due to increase need and decrease in availability. Speaking with an electrician in July 2020, there was once a five-week lead-time on 20-amp breakers, the most standard commercial breaker there is in the electrical panel box. A common shelf item quickly turned vacant within a few months of shutdown. A couple reasons for this was one, the trucking industry halted due to an outbreak, and two, more high-volume jobs and high paying customers were given priority over others. This gave an advantage to the subcontractors that could hold their inventory or pay for materials in advance. After hearing this story, and putting their experience into practice, I quickly turned to all other subcontractors and encouraged early buying to avoid missteps that could delay or halt our projects.
One of the most difficult tasks to preform on a normal five-day workweek is scheduling and sequencing your trades around one another. There are many factors that could shift or prohibit the desired tasks to be successfully completed. During our typical management meetings, we have a 30 days outlook and a 30-day past progress to take a detailed look at “where we are going and where we have been.” In the course of these meetings we give clarifications for our upcoming tasks as well as reasons and/or explanations for the tasks we didn’t complete during the last 30 days. As a Design-Build general contractor we want to ensure all the trades working harmoniously with the project are informed of changes in the workplace and can adjust their workload and on-site labor, depending on the needs of the site.
During one particular project we had a subcontracting sprinkler company have a sickness outbreak that prevented their labor force from coming to our project for over three weeks. We took all the proper precautions during that time and wanted to ensure no further spread was apparent or occurred on our jobsite. During the three-week layover, many tasks had to wait until the sprinkler contractor could fulfil their duty to the jobsite, however, we were fortunate that other companies were able to leapfrog the sprinkler contractor and mobilize to site sooner because they had been notified 30 days in advance of their ideal arrival. This was ultimately a “win” for the project and client.
Like all relationships, communication is key. Communicating with your family and friends as well as your contractor and co-workers is a formula for success. As a prime contractor, the subcontractor depends on your communication to be trustworthy and knowledgeable about the needs of the project. Keeping in mind there are many people and entities to communicate with, here is a story of how one poor communication can erode a project’s success.
After a five-month delay in the project, sending contractors home to ensure the safety of all, the owner/ general contractor/ client called an emergency meeting and enacted a return policy within 10 days for all trades. This quickly turned heads from material scheduling, transportation, workforce availability and general 2020 safety protocols. While the companies involved pushed back on the strict timeline, most trades were able to produce enough of an efficient output to please the owner/ general contractor/ client and continue working on-site. After two days on-site, the overload of workers began to overwhelm the jobsite’s capacity. Workers begin hoarding space for their trade and counterproductive arguments begin to ensue. Complaints from field management quickly flowed upstream to upper management and soon everyone was feeling the squeeze that the project would soon shift change into a rusting gear and less a well-oiled bicycle. Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed and after two weeks smaller, more manageable crews were brought back, under a uniformed schedule that had been thought out and agreed upon.
The moral of this story is trying to think about both sides of the situation and ask for help when tasks seem daunting. When schedules seem too difficult to figure out on your own, communicate with the ones around you, the ones that your decisions are going to directly effect.
The last conclusion and learned behavior that is more evident than any other, and the one that will stick with me forever, give grace. During 2020 more excuses were given, reasons were explained and “I don’t know …” were emailed than any other. At first, it was hard to understand, hard to comprehend and honestly, sometimes, hard to believe. The first time I was told a common part was not going to be available for eight weeks my jaw dropped, and I felt bad once I found out the vendor was doing everything in their power to expedite my needs. Be understanding when you hear your plumbing contractor is sick and can’t be there for their final inspection or when your concrete contractor does not have enough able manpower to prepare and pour the slab as originally discussed in four days, only because six men are out for illness. Unforeseen circumstances cannot be predicted and cannot be remedied with anything except time and patience.
All these lessons learned from 2020 I will take into my daily tasks and routines. No single act more important than the other when it comes to construction but all working in conjunction with one another is a recipe for a quality project that the client will be pleased with.
When working on your next project call a trusted Design-Build general contractor and ask about their experience working through adversity. Ask them how they will handle your project and ultimately have the success of the project never waiver or be in question.