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OMMA-Goodness!™ Project Management Framework: In Brief

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Successful management of projects is difficult, especially with lots of parties involved and more things to do than you can keep together in your mind, or even in your day-planner. A Project Management system is the closest thing we have to a guarantee of success. The OMMA-Goodness!™ Project Management Framework is a simple process that distills the fundamentals of effectively bringing people together to accomplish a project objective. You will not only succeed in accomplishing your objective, the people you work with will say “OMMA-Goodness!™, what a great project manager!”

“OMMA-Goodness!™” is a memory aid (mnemonic device) that stands for Objective, Method, Milestones and Actions. The OMMA-Goodness!™ Project Management Framework begins with a clearly stated objective and a one-minute summary, which are used to orient the team and help maintain focus. We step through a proven method in a project planning meeting to refine our project plan in multiple passes, keeping our critical data organized in the milestones section, and clarifying the scope with a Work Break-Down Structure. We then identify actions required to complete the milestones. From there we estimate duration and decide when and by whom actions will be performed, which gives us budget and schedule data. At the end of the project planning meeting we set the date and time for the first of our regular project status meetings where we compare progress to plan, which creates a natural feedback loop that leads toward success without relying solely on hope, the force genius, or on natural organizational skill. The method naturally lends itself to a built-in quality control mechanism using hold-points.

Planning Steps

Read straight through the steps. Return after reading the Example, referring to definitions of the Project Management Terms as you go.

  1. Select a Project Manager (or Coordinator) who will accept full responsibility for management and execution of the Plan. Print, open or draw a Project Plan form.

  2. Write your Objective; then “One Minute Summary” the basic project info.

  3. Select a Method or use 7-W’s: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How, and How Much.

  4. Make a first-pass brainstorm of Milestones and Deliverables.

  5. Quickly list Actions to complete the known Milestones; don’t linger in details yet.

  6. Convene a Project Planning Meeting. Begin with the One Minute Summary. Update the Objective. Brainstorm more Milestones and Actions. Refine the Scope into a Work Break-Down Structure. Brainstorm the Schedule and Budget. Finalize Milestones, assign Actions and estimate durations. Set the Project Status Meeting date.

  7. Following the planning meeting, update the Project Plan; refine the Objective, use the Method check-list to ensure the Plan is complete, update Milestones including Hold-Points, complete the list of Actions and assign “Priority, Who, When, Duration and Cost” for each.

  8. Organize, lead, direct and manage execution of the Actions.

  9. Compare progress to the Scope, Budget and Schedule in an Earned Value Analysis.

  10. Conduct a Project Status Meeting; compare performance to plan; update the Plan.

  11. Repeat steps 8-10 as necessary. The last “Project Status” is a “Project Close”.

Example

  1. Carl’s Construction is planning their next Project, called Otto’s Outhouse, using their Project Management Framework. Pepe is a new Project Manager. To avoid the distraction of struggling with a technology-based solution, Pepe will use a new spiral notebook, which will also serve as his project diary, instead of a Project Plan form. He formatted the Plan on two opposing pages; Objective, Method and Milestones on the left, Actions on the right including columns for Description, Priority, Who, When, Duration and Cost.

  2. Pepe modified the standard company Objective: “We will complete the Otto Outhouse as promised, within budget and schedule. We will earn referrals from the client and the planned profits.” (See attached Project Plan form)

  3. Pepe’s used the 7-W’s Method. He summarized his project using each line in the method: (1.) Who: Owner = Otto. GC = Carl’s Construction. Roofer = Ron’s Roofing. (2.) What: New outhouse 4 feet square, 8 feet tall. (3.) When: Next Week. (4.) Where: 100 feet from existing residence. (5.) Why: Old one blew over. (6.) How: Two doors and one interior seat. Wood frame, wood siding, wood shingle sloped roof. (7.) How Much: Fixed price contract for $4,693.95.

  4. Pepe’s first-pass brainstorm of Milestones and Deliverables was easy since he composed the estimate, Carl already signed the contract with the Owners, and the company always begins with a Scope, Budget and Schedule on the list. Estimate categories included: Grading & Excavation, Framing, Roofing, and Final Clean-Up so Pepe added these as Milestones. He also knew they needed to get a permit and have a final inspection.

  5. Pepe listed Actions to complete the known Milestones, but didn’t linger in details yet.

  6. Pepe and Carl met for a Project Planning Meeting and began with the One Minute Summary. They updated the Objective and brainstormed more Milestones and Actions, including adding the Estimate and Contract with the Owner both marked as DONE, as well as the contract with the Roofer that was not yet complete. They decided to use the list of Milestones as the Work Break-Down Structure which would serve as their Scope summary for what they agreed to in the Contract with the Owner. Pepe used the WBS as the outline for a Budget and Schedule. They set a date and time for the first Project Status Meeting which Carl insisted happen before construction started, so the meeting became a Hold-Point.

  7. After the Planning Meeting, Pepe updated the Plan, refined the Objective, used the Method as a check-list to ensure the Plan was complete, updated the Milestones, and completed the list of Actions, assigning “Priority, Who, When, Duration and Cost” for each item.

  8. Pepe organized and managed execution of the Actions, marking those completed as DONE.

  9. Pepe completed all pre-construction activities, updated the Plan, Scope, Budget and Schedule, and prepared an Earned Value Analysis. He prepared an Agenda for his meeting with Carl.

  10. As planned, Pepe met with Carl to compare his progress to plan in a Project Status Meeting. Carl was thrilled! They walked through the agenda and composed and prioritized a list of actions to move through construction, including: a Project Kick-Off Meeting, beginning and inspecting grading & excavation, beginning and inspecting framing, Project Status Meeting #2, beginning and inspecting roofing, final sign-off of the permit, final clean-up, Project Status (Close) Meeting #3 and sending all project documents to storage.

Example Project Plan

Objective

“We will complete Otto’s Outhouse as promised, within budget and schedule. We will earn referrals from the client and the planned profits.”

Method

  • What: New outhouse 4 feet square, 8 feet tall.

  • Who: Owner = Otto. GC = Carl’s Construction. Roofer = Ron’s Roofing.

  • When: Next Week.

  • Where: 100 feet from existing residence.

  • Why: Old one blew over.

  • How: Two doors and one interior seat. Wood frame, wood siding, wood shingle sloped roof.

  • How Much: Fixed price contract for $4,693.95.

 Milestones & Deliverables

  1. Pre-Construction

    • Estimate

    • Contract with Owner, including the Scope

    • Budget

    • Schedule

    • Permit: Get it.

    • Contract with Roofer

    • Agenda for Project Kick-Off Meeting

    • HOLD-POINT: Project Status Meeting #1

  2. Construction

    • Milestone: Project Kick-Off Meeting

    • Grading & Excavation

    • Framing

    • Project Status Meeting #2

    • Roofing

    • Final Clean-Up

Project Close

  • Permit: Final Sign-Off

  • Application for Payment

  • Project Status (Close) Meeting #3

Actions

Project Management Terms

  1. Project: A temporary endeavor, that includes a beginning and an end, to create a product or service.

  2. Project Management: The discipline of organizing and managing resources to deliver a defined outcome (Objective / Scope), within the constraints of the Budget and Schedule.

  3. Project Manager (or Coordinator): A PM (or PC) is a professional responsible for planning, budgeting, scheduling and managing all project resources, including personnel, to deliver the project Objective; one who executes and follows-up on the Project Plan and reports Project Status.

  4. Project Plan: A document that defines the project Objective, Method, Milestones, and Actions; contains a list of documents that define 100% of the Scope, Budget and Schedule.

  5. Scope: The Scope of Work is the sum total (100%) of all a project’s products and their requirements or features, including all labor, materials and equipment required to complete it; a Scope document is the written representation (100%-summary) of the scope, often best depicted in a Work Break-Down Structure.

  6. Budget: An itemized list of expected costs or available funds for a project or specified Scope, often based on the Work Break-Down Structure. A control mechanism to compare to actual expenses.

  7. Schedule: A list or graphic of activities and associated dates, often based on a Work Break-Down Structure; may include who is responsible and how activities relate to each other. Common forms are the Bar (Gantt) Chart or Critical Path Method.

  8. Objective: A concisely written goal of specific, measurable outcomes including a 100%-summary of the Scope, Budget and Schedule.

  9. Milestone: An event that marks the completion of a Deliverable, a Hold-Point on a schedule, or a flag in the Project Plan to highlight completed work; often used to ensure project progress.

  10. Deliverable: A measurable, tangible item produced during project execution. Some are external and subject to approval, but some are internal only.

  11. Action: A discrete, specific, measurable task, often performed by an individual, usually between 1/10-hour and 8-hours and rarely more than 80-hours.

  12. Hold-Point: Milestone or critical stage in a project for verifying conformance with plan or quality standards.

  13. Problem-Solving: A learning situation involving more than one alternative from which a selection is made in order to attain a specific goal (Objective); usually to move the situation from where it is to the best available alternative. One METHOD: (1.) Define the Problem (2.) Identify Options (3.) Identify the Best Solution (4.) Plan How to Achieve the Best Solution (5.) Evaluate Results.

OMMA-Goodness!™ Components

  1. One Minute Summary: An A to Z, 100%-summary “restatement of the obvious” to describe “who, what, when, where, why, how and how much” (7-W’s), in 250 words or less to orient everyone to the bigpicture before emersion into the details.

  2. OMMA-Goodness!™ Project Planning Form: Planning form with sections for writing the Objective, Method, Milestones & Deliverables, and Actions for a project. For use in Project Planning, Project Planning Meetings and Project Status Meetings.

  3. Method: A problem-solving framework or check-list that we apply the specific facts of our project to, as an aid in Project Planning. Some Methods have a check-list or “Menu of Deliverables”. EXAMPLES: Scientific Method, AA’s 12 Steps, Deming’s 14-Points, PMI’s 9 Categories and even the 5-W’s.

  4. Menu of Deliverables (or Milestones): A list of common Deliverables (or Milestones) associated with a specific problem-solving method or project type, used as a check-list during project planning.

  5. Project Planning Meeting: A meeting to perform a structured Problem-Solving session. AGENDA: 1. One Minute Summary, 2. Plan Review, 3. Review Scope, Budget & Schedule, 4. Method and Menu, 5. Brainstorming and Update Plan, 6. Update Actions, 7. Arrange Status Meeting. PM (or PC) deliver complete Project Plan following meeting.

  6. Work Break-Down Structure (WBS): A project management technique for defining and organizing the total Scope using a hierarchical tree structure. The first two levels (the root node and Level 2) define a set of planned outcomes that collectively and exclusively represent a 100%-summary of the project Scope. At each subsequent level, the children of a parent node collectively and exclusively represent 100% of the scope of their parent node.

  7. Earned Value Analysis (EVA): Technique for measuring progress which combines measurement of actual performance of Scope, Schedule, and Budget, organized using a Work Break-Down Structure, and compares them to plan in an integrated methodology.

  8. Project Status Meeting: A meeting for a structured review of project progress compared to plan. AGENDA: 1. One Minute Summary, 2. Plan Review, 3. Review Scope, Budget & Schedule, 4. Old Business, 5. Method and Menu, 5. Performance Analysis, 6. New Business, 7. Brainstorming and Update Plan, 7. Update Actions, 8. Arrange Next Meeting. PM (or PC) deliver complete Project Plan following meeting.

  9. Brainstorming: An activity used to generate many creative ideas that have no right or wrong answers and are accepted without criticism.

Copyright 2008, Pete Fowler

Common Plumbing Construction Defects

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  1. There have been numerous leaks in the copper domestic hot and cold water piping, resulting in property damage. 

  2. The soldered joints in the copper water piping were over fluxed. This has caused flux corrosion and leaks. 

  3. The copper water piping was not reamed at the tubing ends. This can cause internal erosion of the tubing and fittings. 

  4. The water heaters have no drain pan, as per manufacturer's installation instructions. This will likely cause water damage to property in garage. 

  5. The shut-off valves for the water supply are corroded and leaked and caused damage. The valves were not properly selected by the contractor for this service and are dezincing. 

  6. Certain high-efficiency water heater PVC flue vents are not insulated, as per manufacturer's installation instructions. 

  7. There is no insulation on the hydronic hot water supply and return piping that provides hot water heating to certain fan coils. California Title 24 requires this piping to be insulated. 

  8. Certain laundry washing machine indirect drains are not readily accessible and the water valves are not accessible. They are located behind the stacked washer/dryer. 

  9. Certain 3" PVC water heater flue vent penetrations are not properly fire rated through the all in violation of the building code. This occurs through certain units and in the electrical rooms. 

  10. Hot water takes over a minute to warm up in the bathrooms. One minute was used at the criteria even though most reasonable homeowners expect hot water in less than 30 seconds.

Common Electrical Construction Defects

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  1. The unit sub panel enclosure is setback and has gaps in the drywall greater than the code allowance. 

  2. The A/C unit disconnects have inadequate working clearance. 

  3. The cables are insufficiently supported as required by code. 

  4. The cables within 6 feet of the attic access are not protected from damage. 

  5. The recessed lights fixture sockets have been over sprayed with paint/or drywall texture. 

  6. The electrical device boxes are setback and have gaps in the drywall greater than code allowances. 

  7. The boxes installed in rated walls are improperly installed. 

  8. The conduits and/or cables are insufficiently supported as required by code in the electrical closets. 

  9. The exterior exposed light fixtures are not sealed to prevent water intrusion.

  10. Quality of Workmanship.

Common Mechanical Construction Defects

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  1. Certain flexible A/C ducts are not supported or installed properly, and are kinked.

  2. The A/C condensate drain piping was not installed properly. Based upon the installation instructions, it does not contain proper traps, and is not vented or supported properly. This has caused premature flow to secondary drains causing damage.

  3. The condensing units are not identified with the unit address as is required by the mechanical code.

  4. Clearance around the outdoor condensing units is not adequate and does not comply with the manufactures requirements.

  5. The condensing units are not level as required by the unit manufacturer.

  6. The refrigeration tubing insulation at the outdoor condensing units was not rated for exterior application and is deteriorating from exposure to ultra violet light.

  7. The refrigeration tubing penetrations of the exterior walls are not sealed as required by building code and energy code.

  8. The flexible dryer vents are kinked in the laundry closets. This causes poor dryer performances and creates a fire hazard.

  9. There are no check valves on the hot water recirculation fan coil heating loop. The check valves should be located at the recirculation pump discharge.

  10. The laundry closets were not provided with an exhaust fan. This is a code violation.

Comparison of Common Law (US) and Civil (EU) Litigation Practice

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To make sense of our research on “A Comparison of Construction Claims Handling Practices in the U.S. and the E.U.” we must understand the litigation processes in both the E.U. and U.S. There are similarities and differences to both approaches.

What is a Lawsuit?

A civil lawsuit or a legal action is a method of dispute resolution. Two or more parties have some kind of dispute which they are unable resolve it amongst themselves. Sometimes parties may have used some kind of alternative dispute resolution process like negotiation, mediation (where a neutral third party tries to help the parties reach a resolution) or arbitration (arbitrators are hired to act as judges in a private version of a trial) instead of a complaint being filed in the appropriate court.

If the parties leave it up to the legal system to work out their differences then to certain extent they give up control of the outcome and are left to advocate for their interests, providing facts, witness testimony, evidence and legal arguments in the hope they’ll prevail.

There’s virtually no limit to the types of parties who could be involved in a civil action, from individuals to multi-national corporations, government entities to non-profit organizations. Courts can handle disputes that are in the hundreds of dollars to potentially limitless amounts of money. The outcome of a civil lawsuit may just impact parties living next to each other or countries in different parts of the globe.

What are the Key steps in a Civil Lawsuit in the U.S.?

Generally, litigation in the U.S. goes through a number of steps or proceedings, which can vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, including,

  • Pleadings

  • Discovery

  • Trial

  • Appeal

Pleadings

To start the litigation process the plaintiff files a complaint. It lays out the basic facts of the dispute, states the legal theories for recovery and what’s sought to resolve the matter (which could be a sum of money or specific action by the defendant, the party against whom the complaint is filed). The defendant responds to the allegations with an answer, states possible defenses and may make counter-claims against the plaintiff.

The defendant may ask the court to dismiss the complaint in whole or part, either because what’s being claimed doesn’t amount to breaking the law (a motion to dismiss), or, with the filing of affidavits, claim since there are no material, disputed facts in the case the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law (motion for summary judgment). Normally if a complaint is dismissed, in whole or part, the plaintiff has an opportunity to amend or re-file the complaint.

Discovery

Discovery is a critical part of the civil lawsuit process. Through it both parties should have all the relevant facts of the dispute. With the benefit of these facts the complaint may be amended or could be withdrawn. With newly acquired information a defendant may file a motion for summary judgement. The parties may also have a greater understanding of the strengths and weakness of the case and choose not to risk a negative outcome at trial and negotiate a settlement.

Discovery allows the parties to submit written questions to each other, ask for copies of documents or evidence and ask each other to admit or deny statements of fact. During depositions parties and witnesses are asked questions under oath by attorneys for both sides. Not only can depositions produce facts that the opposing party didn’t know before but both sides see first-hand how well both sides’ witnesses may perform during a trial. How well or poorly a party’s witnesses do may be critical to the decision to proceed to trial or settle the case.

Discovery can be simple and straightforward or drawn out and complex. Parties can object to questions and requests and seek protective orders to limit release of information. One party may seek court help to obtain information, evidence or to depose an individual. Because of the importance of discovery parties may be very aggressive in seeking information or trying to prevent the other party from obtaining it.

Trial – the Third Step

Most civil lawsuits are resolved prior to trial because it can be very expensive, consume a lot of time and energy and depending on the nature of the dispute, emotionally draining or painful. Without a resolution agreed to by the parties it will be decided at trial. Disputed facts and verdicts can be decided by a judge or jury.

Armed with what they learned during discovery the parties tell their stories through documentary evidence, evidence in the form of objects, graphs or charts, testimony of parties and witnesses. Both sides try to simplify the issues and create sympathetic narratives they hope will win the day. Attorneys on both sides try to show the opposing side’s witnesses aren’t credible and their arguments don’t make sense while at the same time bolstering and polishing their version of events.

Trials start with opening arguments and end with closing arguments by the attorneys. Attorneys can ask the judge to rule on evidentiary and legal issues during the trial and object to submission of evidence and of questions to their witnesses. The plaintiff has the burden of showing, in most cases, it’s more likely than not its version of the truth is more credible, the law was broken in some way and the plaintiff is owed an amount of money and/or some action by the defendant for it to be made whole.

The judge or jury makes its decision which may be a dismissal for the defendant or a total or partial victory for the plaintiff. The plaintiff should be awarded the relief sought if the legal claims are successful, though it may get much more or less than it sought.

Appeal

The appeal is a process by which rulings by judges and the outcome of trials may be reviewed by panels of judges. The appeal process isn’t an opportunity to re-try a case, though an appeal can be based on a claim that a verdict wasn’t based on the evidence used at trial. This is a difficult and usually unsuccessful approach. Generally, a party that feels aggrieved by a decision because it violated the law or a rule of procedure can ask the issue go back to the trial court so the decision can be corrected or at least reviewed again by the judge.

After both sides submit briefs containing their arguments why a decision should be overturned or upheld attorneys have an opportunity to make legal arguments before the appellate court judges. They can ask questions of the attorneys and seek additional briefs on particular topics of interest. Eventually the appellate court issues a decision to uphold or overturn the lower court decision. If it’s overturned often lower courts will be issued directions on what to do next. The decision need not be unanimous. The majority opinion is the final decision.

What are the Key steps in a Civil Lawsuit in the EU?

In most E.U. countries the civil lawsuit process is defined by the civil procedures of each of its 28 countries. Generally, the civil lawsuit process in the E.U. breaks down to,

  • Pre-trial pleadings

  • Pleadings

  • Production of Evidence (Discovery)

  • Trial

  • Appeal

Pre-trial Pleadings

In the pre-trial pleadings phase the parties, without the involvement of the court, try to resolve the disputes between them. The parties make various requests, with letters or notices sent between them, where the parties attempt to substantiate their positions on the merits of the case. If the parties fail to reach a resolution the civil lawsuit process continues.

Pleadings

The aggrieved party submits the complaint, with documentary evidence, to first instance court in accordance with the country’s applicable procedural laws, starting the legal action. The party receiving the complaint typically answers the complaint and produces all available evidence to support its arguments that the complaint be dismissed.

Production of Evidence (Discovery)

In E.U. countries the burden of production of evidence (discovery) rests on the claimant/plaintiff, the party seeking the remedy.

Trial

The plaintiff has the burden of proof., however the plaintiff does not have the discovery rights similar to the legal system established in the U.S. To further substantiate then any evidence required has to be requested to the court. The court further assesses the necessity for it and if deemed necessary then requests the opposing party to provide it in accordance with the law. If the dispute wasn’t settled and goes to trial, the judge presumably will have looked over all evidence and paperwork submitted to the court and will guide the parties through the trial. The parties call witnesses and produce more evidence, which is relevant or important to the case at hand. The judge generally acts in an investigatory role, seeking out the truth of the situation then applies the law.

Appeal - the Fifth Step

The appeal is a second stage litigation process, because in almost all cases, the case at hand, an appeal will be submitted to the Court of Appeal (the procedure on how that’s done will vary from country to country). The Court of Appeal consists of two general directions first is an ordinary appeal and second is cassation. An ordinary appeal, when a case is appealed every aspect of it is reconsidered and a new examination of the facts may take place if necessary. However, a court of cassation has limited freedom, especially where the facts are concerned. In cassation it is required by law to base its deliberations on the facts as established by the lower court and cassation would mean quashing a judicial decision on a point of law, including procedural law.

Major Differences Between U.S. and E.U. Civil Litigation Process

Production of Evidence (Discovery)

Discovery is much more limited in the E.U. There are no requests for production of documents, interrogatories or depositions. Documentary evidence is produced by the parties during the course of the litigation.

Pre-trial Pleadings

There are no motions to dismiss or for summary judgement in the E.U., which can be critical tools by defendants in the U.S. system to end a legal claim early in the process or at least narrow its scope. This can greatly reduce the cost for a defendant and the outcome of these motions is an important factor in whether a case will settle and if so, for how much.

Trials

No European civil procedural system uses juries, except the court of Great Britain/United Kingdom. Litigation costs in the E.U. are generally much lower than in the U.S. While in the U.S. the majority of civil cases will settle before a trial verdict, the opposite is true in E.U. where most civil cases are decided by the judge and most of those decisions are appealed.

Roles of Experts/Expert Testimony

This is one of the most important differences. Both regions use expert testimonies differently.

In U.S. civil cases the use of experts is common, especially in more complex cases. In the E.U. it’s rare for a civil case to include use of expert witnesses. If there is such a witness he or she will be named by the judge to help determine the facts, not by a party to help put its case in a favorable light, nevertheless parties may provide their experts as well.

The Roles of Judges and Lawyers

In the U.S. judges are more of a director who must consider court procedure and prior court decisions. The judge is neutral and normally doesn’t intervene in fact-finding except to interpret and enforce rules of evidence.

In the E.U. litigation system a judge is more a referee and the trial is a more investigative process. E.U. judges are also not strictly bound by case precedent, except the courts of Great Britain/United Kingdom, however high authority, even though formally not binding, is possessed for the pronouncements of the Highest or Constitutional Courts. Case law is more informative than dispositive. Greater sources of law for judges and lawyers are legislative statutes and codes.

E.U. lawyers need to demonstrate that statutory law applies in the case for a particular fact so their role is more to advise, inform and point the judge in the right direction, and the procedure largely is in writing. U.S. lawyers engage in more debate, oppose what the other party seeks and are more active, use much more case law, and try to convince the jury and/or judge to believe their client’s side of the story.

In both systems, judges and lawyers interact with each other and depend on each other.

The Scope of the Appellate Process

The difference in this area is at least formally significant. In the civil systems, an appellate court has plenary authority to review an inferior court's judgment, not only as to issues of law but also as to issues of fact.

The underlying theory is that the civil codes determine the substantive basis of the case and the higher court judges have a more authoritative understanding of the code's provisions. The underlying civil-law theory regarding issues of fact traditionally has been that evidence is a legal science and that the strength of an item of evidence is governed by a set of rules. Note

In most civil case appeals in the U.S. the evidence on record is accepted as the fact finder (judge or jury) accepted them. That deference doesn’t happen in the E.U. In common law systems the appellate court reviews for “error” in jury-tried cases and “abuse of discretion” in most judge-tried cases. Note

The E.U. appellate process in civil cases may look more appealing to lawyers and their clients, because they see the first instance courts as a preliminary run or try-out of the case.

Conclusion

It’s worth noting the differences for each type of litigation process: jury trials, the roles of judges and lawyers, the scope of appellate process/review, the role of experts and production of

evidence. These differences significantly impact each litigation processes within each region. They do so by impacting the length and cost of litigation process.

When approaching it from a legal theory point of view, both systems have defined their litigation processes based on their own values concerning justice, fairness and equality.

Articles in This Series

  1. Introducing Our Latvian Interns

  2. Construction Risk & Claims Management in the US vs. EU

  3. Construction Management Process in the US vs. EU

  4. Comparison of Common Law (U.S.) vs. Civil Litigation (E.U.) Practices (THIS ARTICLE)

  5. Top Issues in Construction Projects in US vs. EU (COMING SOON)

  6. Construction Risk Management in the US vs. EU (COMING SOON)

  7. Construction Claims Management in the US vs. EU (COMING SOON)

References

  1. Civil Procedure Rules for European Courts by Geoffrey C. Hazard Jr

  2. Civil Lawsuit – The Civil Litigation Process Explained In Steps by TorHoerman Law, LLC

  3. Major Differences When Litigating Under Common Law or Civil Law by Howard Colman (Partner at Colman Coyle Solicitors )

  4. Common Law And Civil Law: A Brief Comparison by Legal Language Services

Construction Project Management in the US vs. EU

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In this article I am going to review construction project management practices across the Atlantic. The topic is related to the construction management process which is often the main area of concern for successful construction project implementation. The client expects that effective project management will enable the project’s completion, by the time when it is wanted, of a standard and quality that is required, and at a price that is competitive. Our goal in the series of articles is to help the owners minimize adverse impact on their business from failures in project delivery and increasing construction disputes and claims, focusing on the role of risk management as a proactive approach to project planning in order to make timely and informed decisions towards reducing negative effects to project goals.

What is Construction Management and what it is not?

Project management was introduced to construction projects in the late 1950s. Much of the earlier codification of the principles and practices of project management was developed in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

The Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) is the leading professional association serving the construction industry in the US.

CMAA definition: “Construction management is a professional service that uses specialized project management techniques to the planning, design, and construction of a project.”

The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), UK is the world’s largest and most influential professional body for construction management, with nearly 50,000 members in more than 100 countries.

CIOB definition of project management: “The overall planning, coordination and control of a project from inception to completion aimed at meeting a client’s requirements in order to produce a functionally viable and sustainable project that will be completed safely, on time, within authorized cost and to the required quality standards”

There are four types of construction projects:

  • Residential construction

  • Heavy industrial construction

  • Commercial and institutional construction

  • Civil engineering construction

Essentially, a construction manager is project manager with a specific area of knowledge in built environment. Construction management is compatible with all project delivery systems including design-bid-build, design-build, design-build-operate and construction management at-risk.

For all types and scale of projects (large, small, vertical, horizontal, domestic, or international) a construction manager is the person who ensures the scope of work is skillfully adhered to and the project is successfully delivered. At its core a project involves three main parties, excluding the construction manager,

  • The owner, who commissions and funds the project

  • The architect or primary designer, who designs the project

  • The general contractor, who oversees day-to-day construction operations and manages specialized subcontractors

An owner’s project manager is controlling and monitoring the full scope of project from inception to close-out. A construction manager works as the owner’s representative, and this role often is limited to the construction phase of project. Construction managers involvement in planning, pre-design and hiring of architect, designer, and general contractors can assist owner to make informed decisions at the earlier stages of construction project.

Project management is the professional discipline which separates the management function of a project from the design and execution functions. Professional construction managers are not GC’s nor are they constructors. They typically do not perform the actual construction tasks, but act as advisors, assuring the project progresses according to plan and that it achieves the owner’s business objectives.

Construction Management in the U.S. vs EU

American construction management and leadership thinking historically comes from the United Kingdom (UK), which is the also the home of the European construction management certification system widely validated in the construction industry globally.

There is a great migration of engineers and construction managers in the construction sector due to the different states of economic development of different countries worldwide. For this reason, it is extremely important that construction managers’ qualification and skills are recognized and certified in a comparable way.

Construction has taken on an increasingly global character. US based firms are providing services to international clients just as international firms have become more active in the Americas. Owners in major markets all over the world insist on high performance in every aspect of construction project management: the planning, execution and operation of their capital assets.

In recent years owner priorities are shifting emphasis from initial construction costs to “triple bottom line”, including an asset’s lifecycle performance, environmental and social impacts. Traditional project constrains in terms of cost, time, quality extends for function and sustainability.

Are there differences between the Old World and North America?

The main differences in the approach to construction project management were discovered during this research are in the structure all involved parties and specialists bring their knowledge and experience into the project team and contribute to decision making at every stage of projects.

In construction projects, there are too many specialists involved for it to be practical to bring them all together at every stage.

The different stages of the project lifecycle across the industry in the US and EU have been summarized below. In the UK Code of Practice has defined eight project stages while CMAA have established five phases of main project management activities.

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CMAA Construction Management Standards of Practice define 10 core responsibility areas of a construction managerI:

  • Project management

  • Cost management

  • Time management

  • Quality management

  • Contract administration

  • Safety management

  • Program management

  • Sustainability

  • Risk management

  • Building information modeling

CBOI suggested project managers duties is an extensive list of responsibilities that may be modified depending of client’s needs and nature of project. All duties can be eventually summarized under similar core areas of responsibilities as provided by CMAA.

Key aspects of Success

Success of project can be measured in terms of the actual time, budget and quality of the completed work against the planned goals. The following are key aspects in the CM discipline before and during the project execution that are considered essential by most of construction industry professionals (including developers, owners, GC’s, insurance specialists), both in the US and Europe:

  1. Clearly defined goal and objectives

  2. Defined plan and responsibilities

  3. Informed, timely decision making

  4. Proven risk management system

  5. Effective communication system

  6. Complete and accurate project documentation

  7. Quality control system

Construction management competencies usually are built around these key factors:

  • Competencies = the ability to meet goals by drawing on and mobilizing resources and capabilities on personal and organizational levels

  • Resources = physical assets, human resources, and organizational capital

  • Capabilities = operational activities that are practiced and honed over time until they are mastered, they contribute to the company’s competitive advantage and profit potential

Risk Management As A Core Competency of Project Management

A capability or resource is valuable when it allows the company to capitalize on opportunities or defend against external threats. In theory both opportunities and threats are considered risks. Construction risk management competencies are essential to build and protect competitive advantage in the volatile construction industry, both in the US and EU.

Competitive advantage can be maintained in the construction industry if efficient risk management decisions are made in the earlier phases of construction project management.

Depending on a construction business’ scale, project portfolio risk management competencies vary from entirely informal (ad-hoc) to fully integrated and formal (optimized) risk management systems. More optimized risk management use feedback from the lessons learned for continuous improvement, the advancing and complex global construction industry demands more efficient management systems.

Conclusions

Using proven construction management practices is essential in the inherently risky and volatile construction industry. Many companies still rely on individuals’ expertise and experience when it comes to identification, assessment, mitigation and monitoring construction project risks. Sadly, there are growing number of construction claims and disputes which increase both the costs of the projects, as well as cause headaches for construction professionals. Most of the claims resulting from failures in project delivery can be related to failures in risk management in the earlier phases of construction project management, including making sure there is adequate construction project management expertise among project stakeholders

In my further articles I will offer some findings how construction management processes can benefit using past construction claims and litigation data and improve risk related decision making at each phase of construction project management.

Articles in This Series

  1. Introducing Our Latvian Interns

  2. Construction Risk & Claims Management in the US vs. EU

  3. Construction Management Process in the US vs. EU (THIS ARTICLE)

  4. Comparison of Common Law (US) vs. Civil Litigation (EU) Practices

  5. Top Issues in Construction Projects in US vs. EU (COMING SOON)

  6. Construction Risk Management in the US vs. EU (COMING SOON)

  7. Construction Claims Management in the US vs. EU (COMING SOON)

References

  1. What is Construction Management? by CMAA

  2. Construction Management Evolution of a Profession by CMAA

  3. Construction Management Standards of Practice by CMAA

  4. Code of Practice for Project Management for Construction and Development 5th edition by The Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB)

  5. Redefining Construction Management by CIOB

Construction Risk & Claim Management in the US vs. EU

Construction Risk & Claim Mngmt US vs EU by PF_ SOCIAL 2018-10-09 C.png

Introduction to Our Research Project

So you’ve been introduced to our Latvian Interns Anete and Helmuts. Now it’s time for me to introduce our research project. Since Anete is an engineer and construction manager, Helmuts is a construction lawyer, and PFCS is in the business of building inspection, construction management, and building claims & litigation, it seemed natural to investigate and summarize best construction risk & claim management practices from both sides of the Atlantic.

As I often do at the beginning of an investigative endeavor, I used our "Proving the Obvious Using Google" method to begin this research. I searched the terms "Construction Risk Management" and "Construction Claim Management." The full results are below in the respective sections and at the bottom of this article in the "Research" section. The point is that construction risk & claim management are topics deeply considered by professionals at the top of the construction industry all around the world, and there is a lot to learn and consider for our projects.

A Map of the World

For those new to construction risk management and/or construction claim management, we want to create "a map of the world" so that anyone interested can understand the big picture, and more quickly learn to recognize important landmarks along the trail. One of the many things that makes construction an interesting business is that no two projects are exactly alike. Of course, this also creates difficulty, since construction projects are generally expensive and complex, which creates risks. And sometimes these risks turn into claims.

Construction risk management happens primarily before and during construction, and construction claim management takes place mostly during and after construction. Professional risk and claim management are deeply integrated. In the most sophisticated organizations, claims that arise downstream were considered early in the project, and processes were outlined for what to do, first to avoid them, and second to mitigate the harm they can cause.

The Size of the Global Construction Industry

The global construction industry generated an estimated total revenue of $8.6 trillion in 2016, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.1% between 2012 and 2016. According a to report by ResearchMoz ("Global Construction Industry Guide 2017…") growth is forecast to accelerate and reach a value of more than $13 trillion by the end of 2021.

In the U.S. the construction industry has more than 650,000 employers with over 6 million employees and creates nearly $1 trillion worth of structures each year. Construction is one of the largest customers for manufacturing, mining and a variety of services. A study performed for AGC by Professor Stephen Fuller of George Mason University found that an extra $1 billion in nonresidential construction spending adds about $3.4 billion to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), about $1.1 billion to personal earnings, and creates or sustains 28,500 jobs.

The European construction industry as a whole is worth more than $1 trillion. With 3 million enterprises and a total direct workforce of 18 million people, the construction sector contributes at around 9% to the GDP of the European Union. 99.9% of the European construction sector is composed of small and medium-sized enterprises (fewer than 250 employee). In the EU, the average size of construction enterprises is of 4 workers (employees or not). Small and medium businesses produce 80% of the construction industry's output. Small enterprises (less than 50 employees) are responsible for 60% of the production and employ 70% of the sector's working population.

Construction Risk Management

When you search "Construction Risk Management" in Google you get "Risk management in construction is designed to plan, monitor and control those measures needed to prevent exposure to risk. To do this it is necessary to identify the hazard, assess the extent of the risk, provide measures to control the risk and manage any residual risks."

Our top-level framework, we call the ABCs of Risk Management, includes:

  • Avoid potentially dangerous situations

  • Be really good at what you do

  • Cover your assets

In the following articles we will examine sophisticated strategies for identifying risks and the steps professionals take to mitigate them. The point of all this is to identify (inventory) potential risks, then analyze and control them. Common strategies include transferring risks through contracts and insurance, and reducing them through process management and quality control.

Common Construction Project Risk Management Activities Before and During Construction

  • Composing or adopting and customizing a Risk Management Plan

  • Composing or adopting and customizing a Quality Management Plan

  • Making sure all key team members are adequately skilled, experienced, and capitalized

  • Insurance requirements that are appropriate for all applicable team members

  • Contract terms that distribute risks to the appropriate parties

  • Building in quality control check points and verification mechanisms

  • Documenting the quality of the processes and work, sometimes by independent third parties

  • Identification of potential claims and addressing them prior to their becoming a dispute

Construction Claim Management

We have been working on construction claims since the 1990's, and writing and presenting on the subject for almost 20 years now. As with risk management, there is a spectrum of professional practice that runs from "close to criminal incompetence" at one end, to "so much management that you might as well pay your opposition whatever they have asked for." We want to teach people to avoid either of the extremes.

After more than a decade in the business of dealing with claims (in 2010), we outlined our "Claims Management Strategies" continuum:

  1. Head-In-Sand: Delegation outside the organization = Abdication

  2. Hope and Prayer: Hope is a strategy. But a bad one.

  3. Cowboy / Caveman / Swashbuckler: Yee Haw!! Usually O.P.M.

  4. Project “Piles”: Most common.

  5. Force of Genius: Closely related to Project Piles, only better.

  6. Project Files: We’re getting there :-)

  7. Project Level Data Structure & Analysis: Yea Baby!!

  8. Portfolio Level Analysis & Analysis: The Promised Land.

Common Construction Claim Management Activities During and After Construction

  • Understanding the contract documents, especially as they relate to the scope of work, and change management

  • A professional file (document) management process discipline, so that all relevant files can be easily and quickly retrieved (this is WAY harder than it seems like it should be)

  • A mechanism that verifies files and project documentation are being managed consistent with the plan (inspect what we expect)

  • Structured training for construction managers in documenting changes in the scope, budget, and schedule for the purposes of assigning responsibility for these variations from plan (or contract)

  • Third-party verification of conformance with plans and contracts compared to actual scope (including quality), budget, and schedule

  • Regular (monthly) reports to management regarding potential claims or quality problems

  • A team “First Responders” is identified prior to or immediately upon notice of a potential claim: Lawyer(s). Expert(s) (internal and third-party)

  • A written Claim Management Plan

  • A Claim Management Budget (best, probable, and worst case scenarios) that considers the cost of lawyers, experts, expenses, time, and settlement or verdict

  • A structure for regularly updating the Claim Management Plan and Budget to reflect current realities

Our Method

We always make a preliminary review of the existing literature.

Then we have meeting and conduct interviews with the smartest people we know. In this research, this will include:

  • Contractors

  • Risk Managers

  • Insurance Brokers

  • Lawyers

  • Mediators / Arbitrators

From there, we will publish our findings via this blog, eventually more formally in printed articles, and maybe even presentation at a construction risk and claim conference.

Articles in This Series

  1. Introducing Our Latvian Interns

  2. (THIS ARTICLE) Construction Risk & Claims Management in the US vs. EU

  3. Construction Management Process in the US vs. EU

  4. Comparison of Common Law (US) vs. Civil Litigation (EU) Practices

  5. Top Issues in Construction Projects in US vs. EU (COMING SOON)

  6. Construction Risk Management in the US vs. EU (COMING SOON)

  7. Construction Claims Management in the US vs. EU (COMING SOON)

Research

  1. Google "Construction Risk Management"

    1. Construction Risk Management by IRMI

    2. http://constructionexec.com/article/the-basics-of-risk-management-in-construction-contracts

    3. https://blog.capterra.com/the-ultimate-guide-to-construction-risk-management/

    4. https://www.stakeholdermap.com/risk/risk-management-construction.html

    5. https://cdn.intechopen.com/pdfs/38973/InTechRisk_management_in_construction_projects.pdf

    6. https://www.fminet.com/fmi-quarterly/article/2016/06/a-blueprint-for-risk-management-in-construction/

    7. https://www.spireconsultinggroup.com/en/professional-services/risk-management/

    8. https://geniebelt.com/blog/risk-management-plan-in-construction-guide

    9. http://www.cbre.us/real-estate-services/investor/construction-risk-management

    10. https://www.constructconnect.com/blog/operating-insights/identifying-managing-construction-project-risks/

  2. Construction Claim Management

    1. https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/construction-project-claim-management-7582

    2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212567115003275

    3. http://constructionexec.com/article/claims-management-a-problem-solving-approach

    4. http://constructionexec.com/article/claims-management-a-problem-solving-approach

    5. https://www.hillintl.com/PDFs/How%20to%20avoid%20CC,%20and%20what%20to%20do%20about%20them%20if%20they%20occur-MGriffin.pdf

    6. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/215908277_Contractors'_Construction_Claims_and_Claim_Management_Process

    7. https://www.managementconcepts.com/Course/id/1020

    8. http://www.xperagroup.com/services/construction-claims-management-process

    9. https://www.petefowler.com/construction-claims-management/

    10. https://www.projectcubicle.com/claim-management-in-construction/

PFCS Building Rehabilitation Process

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Investigative Expertise + Contracting Discipline = Savings

Pete Fowler Construction Services, Inc. (PFCS) is unique. It's rare that a single firm has both deep technical expertise in building performance analysis AND professional construction estimating, contracting and management discipline. This combination of expertise in both inspection & testing and construction management was created by our being named as expert witnesses thousands of times over the last 20 years. And this building claims & litigation work profoundly informed our understanding of building performance and building economics.

So after spending a lifetime developing professional contracting, construction management, and estimating discipline, we then were blessed with 20 years as expert witnesses paid to investigate construction defects and create the most cost effective solutions. We got paid to refine a science-based investigation framework, and we proved time and again that it worked to figure out what needed to be fixed, what did not, and how to do it. Now we combine (1.) the investigation framework and (2.) the professional contracting discipline for building owners, managers, and receiverships to save money and get the closest thing to a guarantee of quality possible. Our Building Rehabilitation Process help clients make intelligent, fact-based decisions about building design, construction, maintenance, repair, and improvement, while considering the entire service-life and lifetime-costs of the property.

These services generally cost 5-15% of construction cost and they ALWAYS save more than they cost. Sometimes as much as 90% (Really… We have case studies to prove it.). 

How this saves

  • Only do necessary work

  • Competition

  • Accountability (The Golden Rule)

  • Change Management

  • Good construction specifications, executed competently, last longer

  • High quality construction lasts longer

  • Dramatic reduction of risks

  • Leverages the time value of money

  • Less drama

Phase 1. Evaluate Property

1A. Before Inspection

  • First 10 Things

  • Plans

    • Site Plan (From public records if possible, transferred to 11x17)

    • Roof Plan (Buy it online and transfer to 11x17)

    • Floor Plans (Footprint from having purchased the roof plan, transferred to 11x17)

  • Room Schedule (Printed 11x17)

  • Window & Door Schedule (Printed 11x17)

  • Budget Form (v. 1) (Printed 11x17)

1B. During Inspection

  • Photos & Notes

  • Interviews

  • Update Plans, Schedules & Budget

1C. After Inspection

  • Property Condition Assessment (PCA) / Property Condition Report (PCR)

  • Update all above from inspection documentation

  • Site Plan

  • Roof Plan

  • Floor Plans

  • Room Schedule

  • Window & Door Schedule

  • Budget Form (v. 2)

Phase 2. Define, Budget & Specify

2A. Scope - Budget - Schedule

  • Scope of Work

  • Budget (v. 3)

  • Progress Schedule (v. 1) Form

2B. Making Smart Decisions

  • Project Status Memo

  • Project Status Meeting

2C. Specifications Update, including

  • Plans

  • Schedules

Phase 3. Pre-Construction

3A. Package RFP

  • Invitation to Bid (memo)

  • Plans

  • Schedules

  • Scope & Specifications

  • Schedule of Values / Bid Form

  • Progress Schedule

  • Payment Application Form

  • Contract (form)

  • Quality Control Hold-Points

  • Subcontract Agreement Form and Requirements

3B. Tendering

  • Identify All Possible Qualified Bidders

  • Receive and Analyze Bids

  • Recommendations Memo

  • Budget (v. 4) Update

3C. Preparing for Takeoff

  • Project Status Memo

  • Project Status Meeting

3D. Contracting, including

  • Plans

  • Schedules

  • Scope & Specifications

  • Schedule of Values

  • Progress Schedule

  • Payment Application Forms

  • Compose and execute prime contract between Owner (or Receiver) and Contractor

  • Quality Control Hold-Points

  • Subcontract Agreement Form and Requirements

Phase 4. Construction & Project Close

4A. Project Kickoff

  • Coordinate Work

  • Project Meetings

  • Project Correspondence

4B. Verify Quality. Compare work to: 

  • Plans

  • Schedules

  • Scope of Work & Specifications

  • Industry & Trade Standards

4C. Construction Management

  • Change Management:

    • RFI and RFI Log

    • COs and CO Log

  • Payment Processing

    • Schedule of Values

    • Progress Schedule

    • Payment Application

  • Project Status Memos

4D. Project Close

  • Budget (v. 5) vs. Actual

  • Project Close Memo

The PFCS Weekly Planning Method

Who, What, and Why

Getting the right things done is hard. I have never met a professional who does not struggle with it. The pace of modern life and business has quickened, the margin for error is smaller, and the pressure to produce results has increased.

I have studied the subject of personal productivity extensively. Mostly because being focused and productive do not come naturally for me. I've joked since the 90s that "If it weren't for spell-check and my day-planner, I would have to push the hamburger buttons at McDonald's." FranklinCovey company has a great system for Daily Time & Task Management, and we have been sending our employees through their programs for almost two decades. But I have yet to find a fully "engineered" system for translating "big-picture" goals, project management milestones, and individual action steps, into a reliable system for getting the right things done in our business; so I created my own.

Living in a way that integrates our values, big picture goals, plans and projects with your daily time and task management system is hard. I hope this helps. It's the best I have come up with so far. 

Everyone should agree that it is better to do the right thing slowly rather than doing the wrong thing fast, but how do we know if we are “digging in the right place” or not? The answer is Weekly Planning and daily focus on that plan. I have found that the best time for me to do this is the weekend before the upcoming week (except for Sunday night right before bed, which is a terrible idea if you're really busy), but any regularly scheduled time is probably OK.

All PFCS staff are obliged to come to our Weekly Staff Meeting with the following information:

  1. What you are doing during business hours for the following week

  2. What you have due (Deliverables) during the next week or in the near future

  3. How much time do you have available during the next week

How: Summary

Let's be clear: This is "a" system, not "THE" system. It is one way that works for some people. If it does not work for you, then this system should at least be some help in developing your own system that allows you to exercise dominion over your schedule, rather than being a victim to the million little pieces of our work lives that can enslave us. For PFCS, the measure of success is simple: Can you consistently show up to our Weekly Staff Meeting with a plan for the next week that includes a schedule of where you are going to be, a list of what you have due, and an estimate of your available time.

Definitions for Key Terms

  • Milestone: An event that marks the completion of a Deliverable, a Hold-Point on a schedule, or a flag in the Project Plan to highlight completed work; often used to ensure project progress. 10.

  • Deliverable: A measurable, tangible item produced during project execution. Some are external and subject to approval, but some are internal only.

  • Big Rocks: The most important things you have to accomplish. If you have not watched the Big Rocks Video by Franklin Covey, do so. It's awesome and 10-minutes very well spent. See the link in Awesome Resources at the bottom of this article.

To use this weekly planning system, first set aside time to plan the week ahead, print the Weekly Planning form, and either print a Weekly Calendar or use your normal calendar. Quickly review and summarize your (1.) Values, (2.) Mission and big-picture (3.) Goals. (4.) Compile and review your previous Weekly Plan, calculate the percentage of success for the last period, Project Plans and (5.) Master Task List (MTL), adding critical activities, Deliverables and Milestones to your Weekly Planning form as you go. Make sure all your (6.) "Hard Calendar" appointments are blocked-out on your Weekly Calendar and calculate the amount of (7.) "Discretionary Time" available for completing your critical Deliverable and Milestone activities. (8.) Estimate the duration of time required to complete each of the Deliverables and Milestones identified on the Weekly Planning form, and prioritize each, first by categorizing with an A, B or C, and then sequentially numbering within each category. (9.) "Soft Calendar" (apply) each of the activities required to accomplish the Deliverables and Milestones identified on the Weekly Planning form, to the Weekly Calendar. Finally, exercise discipline on a daily basis to in taking (10.) action in working toward accomplishing what is most important.

How: More Details

  1. Values: Same every week. Write Values as a weekly reminder.

  2. Mission: Same every week. Write Mission as a weekly reminder.

  3. Goals: Annual and Quarterly goals.

  4. Plans: Project Plans and Goals / Plans with many Actions. Review the previous week's Weekly Plan. Calculate your percentage of successes based on completion of Milestones / Deliverables. Forward incomplete items to the Master Task List (MTL) for re-prioritization. As an example, you should have a Project Plan for every PFCS project under management. In addition, you might have a plan to get a certification or degree that has many incremental steps. You might have a Fitness Plan that has many steps. Any multi-step project that is worth doing is worth having a written plan. In order to make sure you decide well which tasks you will get accomplished, you need to collect all of your plans and review them from "above the game". Get perspective on where you can and should spend your valuable time.

  5. Master Task List (MTL): Keep a separate list of all the tasks you need to complete. This is not the same as your Daily Tasks or the Weekly Plan.

  6. Hard Calendar: Hard Calendar items are those which are set and would be considered unacceptable to miss. For us, hard calendar items are the Weekly Staff Meeting, a Quarterly Review, Inspections, Meetings, Testimony, etc...

  7. Discretionary Time: Calculate the number of work hours you have available, subtracting Hard Calendar items. For example, if Monday of next week is a holiday (40-8=32), you have an inspection all day Tuesday (32-8=24), a half-day meeting on Wednesday (24-4=20) and the Weekly Staff Meeting (20-1=19), you only have 19 hours of discretionary time.

  8. Milestones: Milestones, Deliverables or "Big Rocks" as Stephen Covey says: Add them to the Weekly Planning sheet. Include an estimate of how much time this task will take. Once you have all of the items you think you might be able to accomplish in the week, during your discretionary time, prioritize them; first with letters A, B or C. A is critical and you should not do any thing else until this is complete. B is a really important milestone or deliverable and should be completed but the world would not stop spinning if you did not. C would be really great to do, but not until all of the A and B items are complete.

  9. Soft Calendar: Put blocks of time (in pencil) on the Weekly Calendar to complete the activities from your Weekly Plan list of Milestones / Deliverables / Big Rocks.

  10. Action: Exercise the discipline to return often, at least once daily, to the Weekly Plan. Stay focused on the tasks as you prioritized them.

Weekly Planning Forms

Milestones/Deliverables/Big Rocks & Planning Steps

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Weekly Calendar View & Daily Tasks

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Sample Milestones/Deliverables/Big Rocks

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Weekly Calendar View

These tools operate as both sides of a valuable coin. The Weekly Planning Form is a simple task list with columns for prioritizing Milestones or Deliverables and a place to estimate the time needed to accomplish the desired end. The Weekly Calendar View is for blocking out time so that we avoid the dreaded “over promise and under deliver” syndrome that so many of us suffer from today. The Weekly Calendar View is best for Weekly Planning but if you have a planner with a calendar, then respect the fundamental planning rule of “use only one calendar.”

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Practice

The 10 Weekly Planning Steps

These steps are repeated weekly and daily.

  1. Values

  2. Mission

  3. Goals

  4. Plans

  5. Master Task List (MTL)

  6. Hard Calendar

  7. Discretionary Time

  8. Milestones

  9. Soft Calendar

  10. Action

How: Deeper Thoughts on the Planning Steps

Remember: The Weekly Planning process is iterative.

1. Values

  • If you have been through the Franklin Covey Focus course, then this will be easy; just review your list of personal values.

  • Everyone will come face-to-face with difficult situations. Sometimes we have to tell people no. Values help us to make hard decisions. Making explicit our values makes the decision making a little easier. We all have values that we will not violate for money or career advancement. What are yours? The funny thing is, we earn more respect in the end for making hard decisions that are consistent with our values.

  • Consider reviewing PFCS Core Values.

2. Mission

  • Why are you here (both in general and here at PFCS)? This is the question that is answered with your mission and purpose.

  • If you have been through the Franklin Covey Focus (or similar) course, then this will be easy; just review your Personal Mission.

  • Naturally, almost every person and business will have to spend some significant amount of time doing the work that “pays the bills.” For some, this is directly “on-mission” but for most, we have to squeeze in the work of moving closer to the fulfillment of our mission. When we have a written mission, we can look at our Weekly Plan and decide if we are dedicating enough time to the fulfilling our mission. We are more apt to take the many steps in our 1,000 mile journey toward fulfillment of our mission if we revisit that mission every week.

3. Goals

  • If you have been through the Franklin Covey Focus (or similar) course, then this will be easy; just review your Personal Goals.

  • Some of your Professional Goals with PFCS have been identified already in your Job Description and KPIs: Project Planning and Management, shipment of Deliverables, Billable Hours, Training Milestones, etc… Keep this list handy and review it every week during your planning time.

4. Plans

  • For each Goal or PFCS Project you should have a Project Plan that identifies the Objective, Method, Deliverables / Milestones / Big Rocks, and Actions required to achieve it (see PFCS Project Planning for a step-by-step method).

  • Review and prioritize your Plans.

  • Add Deliverables / Milestones / Big Rocks to the PFCS Weekly Planning Form

5. Master Task List (MTL)

  • You will or should have a Master Task List (MTL) in your planner for things that you need to do which are not on a Project Plan.

  • Review and prioritize your MTL.

  • Add items from your MTL to the PFCS Weekly Planning Form.

6. Hard Calendar

  • Hard Calendar items are items blocked out on your calendar for things like meetings with clients or other activities with firm dates and times (also see Soft Calendar items below).

  • Review your Hard Calendar items and confirm them.

  • This includes standing meetings.

  • These items are time specific and relatively inflexible.

  • Include travel time in your calendar.

7. Discretionary Time

  • Discretionary Time is working hours that are not consumed with Hard Calendar items.

  • Calculate Discretionary Time by adding up your working hours that are not consumed with Hard Calendar items.

  • This is time you have available to work on Deliverables / Milestones / Big Rocks.

8. Milestones

  • The milestones should come from the Deliverables section of your Project Plans, Life Plan, Annual Plan, Quarterly Plan, and from your Master Task List (MTL).

  • Deliverables / Milestones / Big Rocks are what you need to accomplish this week.

  • When you see house movers load a truck, they always put the big stuff in first (i.e Big Rocks) and then fill in the truck with the smaller items. If done in reverse, the big stuff simply won't fit very well, if at all. Don’t put the small stuff in first. That is how life and success works too.

    • A = Critical and Must Be Completed

    • B = Really Important

    • C = It Would Be Great

  • Within each category (ABC), assign a number corresponding to the chronological order things need to happen in.

9. Soft Calendar

  • Soft Calendar items are time you block out of Discretionary Time to work on Deliverables / Milestones / Big Rocks that you need to accomplish this week. This is in contrast to Hard Calendar items, discussed above.

  • If something critical comes up, it is easy to re-shuffle Soft Calendar items, as long as the deadline is not too close for that that Deliverable / Milestone / Big Rock.

  • These are items that are time-flexible; that is, they don't need to be done at the time set on the calendar.

10. Action

  • Exercise discipline in keeping to the plan.

  • Refer to and revisit the Weekly Plan and Daily Task List many times per day and throughout the week to help you stay focused.

  • If something comes up that makes you vary from plan, then change the plan.

  • Document what you spend your time on.

  • This is really hard.

Schedule Crashing

"Crashing is the technique to use when fast tracking has not saved enough time on the schedule. It is a technique in which resources are added to the project for the least cost possible. Cost and schedule tradeoffs are analyzed to determine how to obtain the greatest amount of compression for the least incremental cost."

So what if we plan our week, but we realize that we don't have enough Discretionary Time to accomplish what needs to get done? Do we just use "The Prayer Method"? I had a great mentor who used to say to me "Pete: Hope is not a strategy." My smart aleck retort was always that "hope" IS a strategy; it's just a terrible one! So our choices are limited if we realize we don't have enough Discretionary Time to accomplish what we need to get done:

  • We can decide to just lower our expectations;

  • we can work overtime;

  • we can renegotiate our way out of other "Hard Calendar" obligations to free up Discretionary Time; or

  • we might "add resources" (a project management term and strategy) by delegating some of the work to others.

What ever you decide, neither The Hope Method or The Prayer Method are acceptable. 

Planning and Managing a Life 

Components of A Life Planning & Management System

  1. Life Plan: A document that memorializes your Values, Mission & Life's Goals

  2. Annual Plan

  3. Quarterly Plan (Optional for personal, MUST have for business)

  4. Individual Project Plans with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Assertive, Realistic, and Timed) Milestones

  5. Master Task List (MTL)

  6. Calendar

  7. Weekly Plan: Without this, you can get lost in the forest of daily planning.

  8. Daily Task List: This is on our Weekly Planning Form, but if you don't use it, you'll need a permanent place that you look to often throughout your day to keep focused (or in my case, to constantly re-direct myself back to the plan).

  9. Journal (Permanent record that's carried with you virtually everywhere you go)

How I Do This Now

This material was originally written and published as an internal company training back in 2007, or maybe even before. So of course there are changes in technology. Also, my role has been evolving from individual contributor, with a BUNCH of little tasks that needed to be accomplished, to the leader of a larger group. As the leader of a larger group, it's become more important that I accomplish a small number of critical things, compared to my role as an individual worker. 

Components of MY Life Planning & Management System

  1. Life Plan

    • I have a written Life Plan in Google Docs that gets updated every few years (It's 3 years old right now.

    • I have done this many times throughout my life.

    • The more I plan and the more I revisit my plans the more successful I am. During the times in my life that I have not looked at or updated my Life Plan, I have been less successful.

    • I highly recommend using Keith Ferrazzi's 6 Steps to Set Your Goals for Success.

  2. Annual Plan

    • I have a Daily Meditation that I review often, although not daily. When I find myself off-track, reviewing this every day is a great way to get me focused.

    • I used to spend some time between Christmas and New Year's to review the previous year's plan and update the plan for the year to come. I am going to get back to doing this.

  3. Quarterly Plan

    • I have sometimes done this for my personal planning, but I get too busy to update them every quarter.

    • For business, we create Quarterly Plans for the Business, Marketing & Sales, and Information Technology, each with a list of the 3-9 Big Rocks from the previous quarter on a single PowerPoint slide and how we performed compared to those goals, then we list 3-9 SMART Big Rocks for the current quarter on a single PowerPoint slide, then each of the Big Rocks gets it's own individual presentation slide with sub-items, actions or milestones that will lead or contribute to accomplishing that objective.

    • In 2018 we will have quarterly plans for each of the following: Business (over-all), Marketing, Finance, Operations Management, Technical Management, Information Technology.

  4. Individual Project Plans with SMART Milestones

  5. Master Task List (MTL)

    • I am using SimpleNote (simplenote.com). See notes in Weekly Plan below.

    • I am seriously considering going back to a paper journal

  6. Calendar

    • I now use a shared Google Calendar.

    • For many years I used a paper calendar, and if I were working alone and the calendar did not need to be shared, I would return to it.

    • I have gone back and forth from electronic to paper planning and back many times. I don't know that I will ever stop going back and forth. I think I might just be a person who needs something new from time to time.

    • When I am using a paper journal, I screen shot and print the weekly view of my Google Calendar and tape it into the paper journal on the page opposite my Milestones/Deliverables/Big Rocks page.

  7. Weekly Plan

    • Right this minute I am using SimpleNote (simplenote.com). It synchronizes with cloud so I can open it as a tab on my desktop or laptop, as well use it from any hand-held device (I use an iPhone). It's like a really slimmed-down version of Evernote. It's text only, and I like it that way. I have had a couple instances where I lost some data due to synchronization problems, but I think those qualified as "Operator Errors." The point is that it, like any other system, is not foolproof.

    • My Weekly Plans and Daily Task Lists are in the same page or file in SimpleNote.

    • This is not ideal for me, and I am seriously considering going back to a paper journal, because paper is more visual and my learning style is to write things out and look at them.

    • When I was last using a paper journal, I would purchase various hard-bound journals with lined pages. I draw the Milestones/Deliverables/Big Rocks & Planning Steps on a full page and I screen shot and print the weekly view of my Google Calendar and tape it into the paper journal on the page opposite my Milestones/Deliverables/Big Rocks page.

  8. Daily Task List

    • I am using SimpleNote (simplenote.com). See notes in Weekly Plan above.

    • I am seriously considering going back to a paper journal.

  9. Journal

    • I am using SimpleNote (simplenote.com). See notes in Weekly Plan above.

    • Each month gets it's own Journal page/file/document in SimpleNote.

    • I number each note I take throughout each day. The second note I take on the 15th day of each month would be numbered "15 b." So if I write down thoughts about a new blog post, and I want to make a note in my MTL for easy reference I would write "Blog Notes: See 2017-10-15 b." And I would know to go to the second journal note from 10/15/2017.

    • I am seriously considering going back to a paper journal.

Awesome Resources

This is in no particular order (which is SO unlike me!). 

  1. Weekly Planning and Weekly Calendar Forms (Blank)

  2. How to Plan Your Week video from Art of Manliness (This is REALLY good)

  3. Getting Things Done from Ivy Lee via Mary Kay

  4. Dr. Stephen Covey's Big Rocks Video. (FranklinCovey keeps having this video removed so if the link does not work just search YouTube)

  5. Big Rocks Video from Art of Manliness

  6. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. Drucker is the Godfather of management theory, and this book is his seminal work. If you're a manager or trying to be more effective as an individual, and you have not ready it, then you're not trying hard enough. Here is an interesting 7-minute summary video.

  7. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Covey

  8. The Ten Natural Laws of Time and Life Management by Smith

  9. First Things First by Covey

  10. What Matters Most by Smith

  11. Time Management from the Inside Out, Second Edition: The Foolproof System for Taking Control of Your Schedule -- and Your Life by Julie Morgenstern

  12. Getting Things Done by David Allen

  13. The ONE Thing by Gary Keller

  14. Keith Ferrazzi's 6 Steps to Set Your Goals for Success

  15. Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses: If you're a business owner, I HIGHLY recommend this program. I have done lots of executive education and it's the best so far; and it's FREE! The conclusion of the 4-month program is that you compose a business plan focused on growth that they call your "Growth Plan."

  16. One-Page Personal Plan (OPPP) from Scaling Up and Verne Harnish.

  17. To Do Doing Done by G. Lynne Snead and Joyce Wycoff. I love this book and think it's awesome.

How To Write by Meyer & Meyer

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I have been inspired significantly by this book called How To Write by Meyer & Meyer. It’s excellent and the paperback can be purchased for as little as $1.99 or downloaded to your Kindle for $5.49 on Amazon. I assure you: This is the very best ROI on an investment in yourself in human history. Buy the book. Read the book. Do what the book says to do.

The Meyer & Meyer Writing Process

1.0 Preparation & Organization

1.1 Choose your format

1.2 Identify your points

1.3 Collect data regarding the points

2.0 First Draft

2.1 Compose your theme (Introduction)

2.2 Draft your outline (from the points identified in 1.2)

2.3 Write first draft

3.0 Polishing (make multiple passes to improve the previous draft)

3.1 Be accurate

3.2 Be precise

3.3 Be consistent

3.4 Be brief

3.5 Be Fair

3.6 Keep a steady depth

3.7 Keep a steady tone

3.8 Use an established layout (corporate look & feel)

3.9 Use good grammar

Here is My Book Summary

Writing is critical. Writing is a process. The writing process is always the same 3 steps (organize, draft, polish). Don’t try to do step 2 until you have completed step 1. Some of the steps in writing involve not writing. Figuring out the theme (in a few short sentences) is a critical step and might require some time. Writing takes tenacity. We are entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts. Be clear and concise and cut unnecessary stuff. Use an established layout. Read the work out loud to check for grammar. If there is time, always review the work one more time. Communicating your intended meaning to the reader is the most important thing.

Recommendation

Buy this book. Read it. Use this process as a checklist when you write. Literally: Print out the list and tape it to the wall at your desk. 

Contracting 101

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Explain It Simply

"If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough." - Albert Einstein

The building industry is terrible at explaining how it does what it does. And this is coming from a guy who has a Bachelor of Science in Construction Management! It’s so bad that I was once working on a construction litigation matter and needed the most basic of organizational charts to explain to a jury the most common roles, relationships, and responsibilities of the various parties involved in a typical construction project; but there was none to be found. I would have loved to have had a reliable source like American Institute of Constructors, The Construction Specifications Institute, the American Institute of Architects, or some similar organization to rely on, to tell my story to the jury. I searched and searched and there was just nothing simple enough to use for a group of people with no construction experience. Everything was overly complex, attempting to account for every possibility. So I locked myself in my office alone one weekend with a pile of flip-chart paper and made iteration after iteration, and finally I nailed it. That was more than a decade ago. Since that time almost every trial or arbitration I have testified in has included some version of this org chart to explain the roles of the parties to one another and to the physical work.

The Contracting 101 Framework

  1. An Owner wants a project, similar to anyone who wants to buy something, such as a car, but with a construction project the product being purchased is not something that is already built.

  2. The Owner goes to an Architect (or in some cases a non-architect designer) to translate his/her desires into a set of documents. This process is intended to “define” what the Owner wants to buy (often from a General Contractor).

  3. The Architect works with Specialty (Sub) Designers such as structural engineers, mechanical engineers and interior designers to further detail the Plans and Specifications (also referred to as Construction Documents) because buildings are so complex that many specialized professionals are required.

  4. The Plans and Specifications are sent to qualified and interested General Contractors, who submit proposals to the Owner. Ultimately the Owner and a General Contractor compose an Agreement (or Contract).

  5. An Agreement for construction is simply a promise by the Contractor to deliver what is described in the Plans, Specifications, and other contract documents, and a promise by the Owner to pay for it.

  6. The Agreement refers to the Plans & Specifications and should include clear definition of the Scope, Budget, and Schedule, including at Scope of Work document that includes: Inclusions and Exclusions, Allowances, a provision for handling Change Orders. The Agreement should include a Schedule of Values and Payment Milestones (for management of the Budget). And finally, the Agreement should include a Progress Schedule.

  7. GCs usually hire specialty trade contractors, commonly referred to as Subcontractors when they are working for a prime (or general) contractor, who are specialists in their respective trades, to help deliver what has been promised in the Agreement. This is, again, because buildings are so complex that many specialized professionals are required.

  8. There is nothing in this scheme that prohibits the Owner from directly hiring Specialty/Trade Contractors (that are called Subcontractors if they are working for a General Contractor) for work that is not in the Scope of Work in the Agreement with the GC. In this situation they are Prime Trade Contractors.

  9. Most of the Subcontractors, and Prime Trade Contractors, have their own suppliers and subcontractors: these are called Sub-Subcontractors. (See diagram below)

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Using the Contracting 101 Framework

So the point of the Contracting 101 Framework is to foster understanding of the project at hand. Begin by printing the diagrams above and writing the names of the project players over the generic descriptions. Virtually every project will be different than the Contracting 101 Framework, so you might have to compose multiple iterations, moving the boxes around to fit the peculiarities of your project. I often do this in my office where we have multiple whiteboards and I move back and forth from one to the next until I get my organizational chart to accurately reflect the complexity of the roles and relationships of the current situation. The "compare and contrast," from the simple "Contracting 101 Framework," to the complexity of the real world, is often incredibly instructive. 

Sample Project: Custom Single Family Residence

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This project was a train wreck. 

The Architecture firm and the General Contracting firm were both owned by the same person, but the Owner did not know that (which is unethical and illegal without following strict consent laws). By the time the Owner tried to get control of the project, the two firms had taken $3.5 million dollars to turn a $2.9 million home (initial purchase cost) into a lumber pile. The contract called for distinct design phases but the design was never finished, and it called for the Architect to serve as the Construction Administrator (Owner Representative), but that was a sham since the entities are so closely related and have employees who work for both businesses. The construction work, based on an incomplete design, was executed negligently at inflated prices. The construction work onsite should have been halted long before it was. When the Owners finally asked for a legitimate halt to the construction work, to sort our a plan to go forward, both entities terminated the agreements (using the same lawyer) and engaged in a scorched-earth litigation policy that ensured the maximum economic damage possible from this terrible situation.

Sample Project: Construction Site Accident

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Above is a slide from a 2010 trial presentation. This case came precariously close to trial. 

The project was a four story 445-unit apartment community. The property Owner was also the developer. The General Contractor entered into a cost-plus prime contract with Owner. The General Contractor entered into an agreement with the Plastering Contractor for $6.5 million. When asked by the General Contractor to perform scaffolding work outside their scope, the Plastering Contractor contracted with a specialty Scaffolding Contractor to furnish a system to access the interior walls of the air shafts at the project. So the key parties included the Owner, General Contractor, Subcontractor (plaster), Sub-Subcontractor (scaffolding), and all of their respective staff. 

The injured individual was the crew lead for the Sub-Subcontractor. That day he was part of a three-man crew setting up scaffolding in an air shaft of one of the buildings. The crew was removing the temporary wood flooring previously installed by another subcontractor and the injured employee fell approximately 35 feet to the concrete floor below. 

Sample Project: Claim for Nonpayment / Counter Claims for Defects & Delays

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This project was the complete renovation of a commercial retail center. The Owner entered into a direct contract with our client, a Paving Company, as well as many other contracts with prime and trade contractors. The Owner had an independent contractor, who was a formerly licensed general contractor, on-site as a supervisor. Our client's initial complaint and mechanics lien were filed to collect $282,400 in work performed. The Owner cross-complained that the work was not completed in the 30-day agreed time limit, that some items were not completed ever, that some work was performed that was outside the contract scope of work (all of which had very sensible explanations).

The primary argument the Owner / Developer was trying to make was that they were NOT playing the role traditionally played by a general contractor or construction manager (which was RIDICULOUS). The Contracting 101 / Roles & Responsibilities Analysis PFCS performed in this matter, particularly the organizational chart above, made their argument seem silly (because it was). 

Sample Project: Condominium Conversion

This project arose from construction defect allegations related to the conversion of a 32 unit apartment complex originally built in 1975 into condominiums. The Developer/Converter purchased the 32 unit apartment complex and almost immediately began the conversion to a condominium complex utilizing a Specialty General Contractor (our client) and many other other contractors. Plaintiff alleged that the Specialty General Contractor's scope included defective work. Our client was a general contractor who, according to invoices, performed property maintenance, repair and improvement work related to the conversion including demolition, work in garages, on balconies, stucco, fences/gates, finish carpentry, doors, and electrical totalling $186,165.00.

One of the key allegations was that our client was THE General Contractor, which was not the case. You will see from reading two and a half pages from the 56 page report that our Roles & Responsibilities analysis made clear that the Owner/Developer was in the drivers seat for all important decisions on this project. 

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A Sensible List

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The rumors are true. I am a crazy person. Anyone who knows our company knows that we are REALLY into training. And this training module, called "A Sensible List," has been included in more of our training programs than any other. BY FAR! And the reason is (as Charles Kettering said): "A problem well stated is a problem half-solved." And our job, above all else, is to solve problems. 

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So yes; I am a crazy person. Any time someone brings me a collection of data that is not first organized into A Sensible List (or some sensible order), it makes me feel sad. So sad that people who won't stop bringing me "project piles" rather than sensible project files, are invited to work somewhere else, where they might better thrive. 

But people protest: "'Sensible' is SO subjective!" 

No it's not.

Organizing our world "sensibly" has been obvious since the dawn of civilization, and ultimately research psychologists figured out why. When you get bored or need a sleep aid, read "The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two." This is one of the most highly cited papers in psychology. It was published in 1956 and argues that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is 7 ± 2. This is why SO many things are arranged in groups of 5-9. It's not a miracle. It's just how humans think. 

So over time the folks who manage big, complex projects made some rules about making lists that conform with the way the human mind works, and they called their Sensible List a "Work Breakdown Structure." I highly recommend you study the subject, even further than I will go in this post. 

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As it says on the slide above, I highly recommend you Google (search) each of these Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) terms. Until then, take my word for the following: 

  1. A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a decomposition of a project into smaller components.

  2. 100% Rule: This means your list needs to add up to 100% of whatever it's summarizing. Not 99%. Not 101%.

  3. The magical number seven, plus or minus two: In general, each level of the WBS should be no more than 9 items long. In construction cost estimating, this rule gets broken. It's OK in this circumstance because most of the audience for construction cost estimates are people who deal with them often and can conceptualize these longer lists due to this familiarity. But any time we can't get the list on a single sheet of paper, we should usually "chunk" it down to size. At PFCS we usually arrange our WBSs using numbers at Level 1 (L1) and capital letters (A, B, C...) at Level 2 (L2). That way, if you get past Z at L2, you know you're in trouble and should consider re-thinking your list. 

  4. Mutually Exclusive Elements: In addition to the 100% rule, it's important that there is no overlap in scope definition between different elements of a work breakdown structure because this ambiguity could result in duplicated work. But sometimes an element of your list could fall naturally in two locations on the WBS, so from time to time we have a "zero value" item that refers to another element, just so everyone is clear. An example of this might be if we decided to sort documents first by "Who," then chronologically, where the name of the person or organization (Who) = L1 and the individual documents, that are listed in order by date, are each a L2 item (a common organizational scheme). If a document in this collection was authored by two parties we might list that document in both places (under both names), but refer from one of those items to the other so that we don't need to duplicate the document. 

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So the only thing I don't like about the diagram above is that they call the entire bike "WBS Level 1". Bit it's NOT broken down yet! So I call their "WBS Level 2," a Level-1 WBS because it's the first level of breakdown. It's a sensible 100% list. That is: A Sensible List. 

The PFCS Standard WBS numbering-lettering scheme for this example would be: 

1. Frame Set

A. Frame

B. Handlebar

C. Fork

D. Seat

2. Crank Set

A... 

The numbering scheme used in the slide above is appropriate for highly technical documents, like codes and standards. But our work at PFCS needs to be consumed and understood by smart but NOT technical people. Literally, our job is to help our clients make smart, informed decisions about buildings and property, and we know that if they don't understand our work, then we have not served them well. My experience is that some people get confused when you refer to section 1403.2.2.4. So we prefer an approach that is as simple as possible (but no simpler), conforming with the way humans best understand things. 

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If you've studied project management then you know "The Golden Triangle" includes the project "Scope, Budget, and Schedule." These are the big three aspects of getting a complex project planned and done.

In addition, if we layout our WBS just right, then we can manage all three aspects in lock-step, as depicted (in a simplified way) below. 

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“No plan can be considered complete - or satisfactory - until it produces measurable outcomes and incorporates mechanisms that allow mid-course corrections based on results.” - Judith Rodin

That is my favorite management quote (well... I have lots of favorite quotes :). It's so true! Most people's plans are more "hopes" than plans. I have worked on many projects in litigation, where the owners had no idea how far over budget they were until they had already paid MORE than 100% of the original contract price, because the plan did not "incorporates mechanisms that allow mid-course corrections based on results." I had a mentor who used to say to me "Pete: Hope is not a strategy." I would always retort: Yes it is! It's just a terrible one!! I recommend you NOT use hope as a strategy in your planning. 

As you can see from the slide above, with the right WBS (Sensible List) we can summarize the scope, budget and schedule, then we can compare actual performance compared to the plan throughout the life of the project, so that we can "incorporate mechanisms that allow mid-course corrections based on results." This is the promise of professional project management. And the foundation of project management is a well designed WBS. And a well designed WBS is the most Sensible List. 

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In a construction project it's not only the scope, budget, and schedule that should be connected using A Sensible List (WBS). Most construction documents will either be organized or filed using the Sensible List (WBS). Often this is simply by Who, then When; that is, by party (name) and then chronologically (by date). That would be a 2-Level WBS (who-when). Other schemes go another level deep. 

An example 3-Level WBS for Construction Document Organization: 

1. Name 1

A. Contract Documents

1. YEAR-MO-DY Document 1

2. YEAR-MO-DY Document 2

3. YEAR-MO-DY Document 3 

B. RFIs and Change Orders

C. All Other

D. Correspondence

1. YEAR-MO-DY Document 1

2. YEAR-MO-DY Document 2

2. Name 2

By the way: If we adhere to this scheme electronically, with individual electronic files organized with the date first and the format of the date YEAR-MO-DY, or 2017-10-20 for today's date, then we always know the most current version of any electronic file is the one at the bottom. Any other scheme adds complexity, which adds the likelihood of error. Even if the file has lots of different files, you can easily scan from the bottom to find the most recent version of a file (Ex. 2017-10-20 Change Order 17). So I highly recommend this scheme. 

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And the same goes for construction claim and litigation matters: A Sensible List often makes the difference between order and chaos. 

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I said above that people protest that "'Sensible' is SO subjective!" And that I totally disagree. This is not to say there is only one way to be "sensible." There are lots of ways to be sensible... And even more ways to be NOT sensible. So suffice it to say: Use one of the sensible ways. Think about how your Sensible List might get used before you begin, and work backward. Planning backward from a successful end is the essence of excellent planning. 

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When PFCS is making lists of building elements, we use Uniformat, unless there is a compelling reason to use some other scheme *. "UniFormat is a standard for classifying building specifications, cost estimating, and cost analysis in the U.S. and Canada. The elements are major components common to most buildings. The system can be used to provide consistency in the economic evaluation of building projects. It was developed through an industry and government consensus and has been widely accepted as an ASTM standard."

Lots of construction professionals use CSI Masterformat because most specifications manuals from architects are often written using this scheme, but since PFCS does so much building performance analysis, and we store building data (forever, for free) Uniformat is a better standard for us. 

* In claims and litigation, we need to be very careful about making our Sensible List(s) because so much of the work is about comparing and contrasting. If we are on the plaintiff side, then all the other parties will likely use our list to respond to our claims. When we are on the defense side, and someone else has created a reasonably sensible list, then it's usually better to adopt their's, rather than re-inventing the wheel. Unfortunately, the work of others is sometimes so poor that we have to create our own organizational scheme. But we only do this as a last resort. 

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Unifromat's Level-1 structure is a simple, Sensible List that categorizes all aspects of any building project, using capitol letters at Level 1 (because there are WAY more than 26 Level 2 options, and they wisely switch from letters to numbers when going from L1 to L2): 

A. Substructure

B. Superstructure

C. Interiors

D. Services

E. Equipment & Furnishings

F. Special Construction & Demolition

G. Building Site work

H. Other (This is added by PFCS because lots of our projects are in litigation and the issues don't always fit into Uniformat's building element codes. 

The actual building elements nest comfortably at Level 2 under the respective L1 categories. 

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In lots of what we do, we explain things by "working from large to small." I have explained this hundreds of times by asking people if they ever used Google Earth, where you start with an image of the entire Earth. You type in your address and the globe turns to orient toward your hemisphere, then it starts moving in toward your continent, then the your country, then your state, county, city, neighborhood, and ultimately your rooftop. And in going from large to small way we have been oriented perfectly to where in the world we are. First explain the forest we are in, then talk about trees. 

So buildings are, for the sake of consistency in naming, composed of "Elements" like foundations, walls and roofs. A "masonry wall" is a particular type of building element (at Level 2 in Uniformat). The bricks and mortar are "Components" of that building element, that would be at Level 3 or deeper. 

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This project was a Property Condition Assessment for twin high-rise condominiums, so virtually all of the building elements were addressed in our report. 

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This project was a construction defect litigation matter with discrete problems and repairs for all of those issues. 

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Even our Core Values are laid out in a 2-Level Work Breakdown structure! 

And from there, so, so many of the things we do have to be arranged in a sensible list: 

Contractor Pre-Qualification Checklist

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Introduction

Background checks are necessary. There is a reason you are screened before buying a car, a gun, or getting hired for a prestigious new job. Pre-qualifying contractors and subcontractors is one of the most important steps in reducing risk associated with construction projects. It is crucial to outline the expectations of a contractor in order to make sure they can handle the work you want them to do.

At PFCS we have found that pre-qualifying contractors is an important step in our own unique system for hiring. In a blog post called "Avoid Bad Contractors: Basic Due Diligence in Hiring," Pete Fowler outlined 17 crucial steps in order to hire a good contractor. Pre-qualification falls on number 8. It is such an important step that it has seven sub-steps for ensuring the pre-qualification process is done thoroughly.

The following is a checklist compiled by FIRST, VERIFY that details the important steps in pre-qualifying a contractor.

The Checklist

Business

Business Attributes
Corporate Officers and/or Shareholders/Partners/Proprietor
Parent, Affiliate, and/or Subsidiary Companies
Employees
Operations
Equipment
Litigation/Bankruptcy/Judgments

Insurance

Contact for Insurance Information
Insurance Information
Surety Relations

Financial

Job History
Largest Contracts
Capacity
Anticipated Annual Volume

References

Banking Relations
List three (3) major suppliers
List three (3) General Contractors for whom you have worked in the last three (3) years

Bidding Interests

Add Bidding Interests

Safety Statistics

Experience Modification Rating
Contact for Insurance Information
Workers Compensation
OSHA Recordkeeping
Safety Performance History
Regulatory

Safety Programs & Procedures

Written Safety and Health Program
Written Safety Program Administrative Procedures
Site-Specific Safety Plan
Policies
Substance Abuse Policy
Respiratory Protection
Management
Utilize Services
Medical
Benefits
Accident Investigation Procedure
Safety Inspections
PPE, Equipment Inspections, Audits
Meetings
Subcontractors
Safety Training/Orientation
Training Records
Safety Orientation Program for Newly Hired or Promoted Foremen/Supervisors
OSHA Construction Safety Courses
Craft Training
Comprehension

Supporting Documents

Certificate of Insurance
OSHA 300 Log
NCCI Letter (EMR)
Contractor General Conditions Agreement
Other Desired Documents

Article of the Week: "Turning Negative Thinkers Into Positive Ones"

Introduction

In a recent article from The New York Times, Personal Health columnist, Jane Brody, explores the advantages of positive thinking – even if only for a few moments a day.

Summary

Barbara Fredrickson is a psychologist at the University of North Carolina. She has done extensive research on fostering positive emotions and came up with a theory called "micro-moments of positivity." These micro-moments refer to events from everyday life. Fredrickson's research shows that people who are able to generate positive thoughts and feelings towards everyday tasks are more likely to succeed than those who do not.

Negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions are normal phenomenon of life. However, Fredrickson's research proves that "chronically viewing the glass as half-empty is detrimental both mentally and physically and inhibits one’s ability to bounce back from life’s inevitable stresses." The amygdala is the part of the brain which processes negative emotions. Another researcher and neuroscientist, Dr. Richard J. Davidson found that people who recover slowly from negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, or threat are more likely to develop health problems.

Both Dr. Fredrickson and Dr. Davidson found that practicing mindful meditation with a focus on kindness and compassion generate changes in the brain that increase positive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Aside from mindful meditation, Dr. Fredrickson and other professionals recommend trying a few of the following things to promote a more positive mind:

  • Do good things for people around you - even if it's as small as opening the door for someone!

  • Appreciate the world around you. It's the little things that make life great. Take a detour to watch the sunset or admire the trees swaying in the wind.

  • Develop and bolster relationships. Surrounding yourself with friends and family increases self-esteem.

  • Establish goals that can be accomplished. Being un-realistic about goals can be a downer when they don't come to fruition. Aim high, but keep yourself grounded.

  • Learn something new. Again, be realistic! Don't frustrate yourself by trying something you're going to fail at - ease into it. The more you learn, the more you want to learn.

  • Choose to accept yourself, flaws and all. Narrow in on your positive attributes. The rest are pesky details.

  • Practice resilience. Use your negative encounters as learning experience for how to better handle your emotions in the future: "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade."

  • Practice mindfulness. "Let go of things you can’t control and focus on the here-and-now. Consider taking a course in insight meditation.

Why We Care

Here at PFCS, we strive to keep a positive environment. To maintain an upbeat atmosphere, it is important that each of us exercise a positive attitude. The more positive feelings and emotions harvested in the workplace, the more productive we can be! The list above is a nice, concise summary of best practices we can use both in our work and in our personal lives. 

Article of the Week: "For Want of a Comma, We Have This Case"

Introduction

Earlier this month, the FindLaw blog posted an article highlighting the importance of grammar and editing, especially in the legal field.

Summary

This article discusses the state of Maine's case of O'Connor v. Oakhurt Dairy. In this case, dairy delivery drivers were fighting their employers for overtime pay. However, Maine's law requiring employers to pay workers time and a half after 40 hours a week exempts a variety of jobs in the food production industry.

The law excludes "canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution." This case was brought to court to settle the dispute over a misinterpretation due to the lack of an oxford comma. The dairy drivers argued that the grammatical format of the law required they be paid overtime, while the Oakhurt Dairy strongly disagreed.

Both parties referred to the Cannons of Construction in their defense, but there was not enough evidence to fully support either side. In the end, the courts settled in favor of the drivers because of the unclear interpretation of the law.

Why We Care

"Things should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." - Albert Einstein

Clarity of written communication is critical. Construction is not theoretically difficult to understand; it's not much more than sticks and stones stacked neatly. If we, as contractors, can't communicate our message clearly to someone who does not have much background in construction, it is a problem with the communicator (us), not the communicatee.

Making Drive Time Productive: Getting Your iPhone to Speak to You

Introduction

Are you getting tired of listening to the same silly pop songs on the radio while you're stuck in traffic on your way to and from work? So were we! Ever since one of our employees discovered the "Speak Screen" feature on the iPhone, sitting in traffic has never been the same.

To make the best of time spent commuting (and to keep yourself from having to look down at your phone while driving!), have your iPhone read out loud to you. By enabling the setting called "Speak Screen," your phone will read the words on your device out loud.

Speak Screen

Follow these step-by-step instructions to enable your iPhone to read aloud to you:


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Step one:

Open the Settings application on your iPhone. It looks like the image on the right.


 

 

 

Step Two:

Under Settings, click General, located at the bottom of the page.

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Step Three:

Under General, click Accessibility, located towards the bottom of the page.

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Step Four:

In the Accessibility folder, click on Speech. It is located in the middle of the page.

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Step Five:

Finally, to get your iPhone to read to you, turn on Speak Screen. All of the settings within the Speech folder will help to adjust the speed and tone of voice your phone will use to speak aloud.

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Final Step

Last, but not least, close out of Settings and navigate to a page with text (ex: a web article, your text messages, etc.). Drag three fingers from the top of your screen and your iPhone will begin to read to you.


Other Applications for the Car

Audible

Audible is an Amazon application that allows you to download and listen to audiobooks, radio and TV programs, and audio editions of newspapers and magazines. To use Audible, make sure you have an active Amazon account. Then, simply download the Audible application to your phone or computer and browse the shop – the first 30 days are FREE!

Pocket (the iPhone App, not your pants)

Pocket is an application that our president, Pete Fowler, swears by. This app was originally intended for desktop computers and went by the name "Read It Later." Once you have downloaded Pocket, it allows you to search for articles across the internet that interest you. The best part is that you can save the articles to read at a later time (hence, Read It Later...) or as we prefer – to listen to later!

Pocket has features to adjust the size of the text for easy reading, but more importantly, it can play the articles aloud for you.

Why We Care

Using your phone and driving is dangerous. Using Speak Screen or applications like Audible or Pocket keep you entertained while your eyes remain on the road. Next time you're in the car and need something to listen to, sign in to PFCS Client Access and tune in to one of our past webinars!

National Safety Council 2016: OSHA's Top 10 Violations for 2016

Article of the Week

As the year comes to an end, we tend to see a lot of "Top ___ of 2016" articles floating around. This week, we are taking a look at the preliminary list of OSHA's Top 10 Violations for 2016. The list consists of violations through September 30, 2016.

One Minute Summary

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1. Fall Protection - While the data shows that 39.9% of deaths in the construction industry are fall-related, this citation remains one of the most common violations year after year. In 2016, there were just under 7,000 violations.

2. Hazard Communications - This year, there were a total of 5,677 hazard communications violations. When two parties work together on a project, it is both parties' responsibilities to ensure worker safety. Violations included inadequate training, outdated data sheets and lack of programming to address hazard chemical exposure.

Scaffolding

Scaffolding

3. Scaffolding - With about 3,900 violations, fall protection plays a large role in scaffolding. The most common violations were improper assembly and insufficient access.

4. Respiratory Protection - OSHA found various instances where companies failed to provide medical evaluations of employees who wore respirators in situations with overexposure to contaminants and  instances where respirators were not property fit-tested. There were a total of 3,585 violations in 2016.

5. Lockout/Tagout - 3,400 citations were given for improper, inconsistent and nonexistent lockout/tagout training procedures.

Powered Industrial Trucks

Powered Industrial Trucks

6. Powered Industrial Trucks - There were about 2,900 instances where trucks were being operated in an unsafe manner, including being driven by uncertified workers.

7. Ladders - Citations were given when ladders were not being used according to design specifications. There were about 2,600 violations in 2016.

8. Machine Guarding - Machine guarding is hazardous and if machinery are not anchored/fixed, it can lead to amputation. There were almost 2,500 violations.

Electrical

Electrical

9. Electrical Wiring - Violations included unsafe substitutes for permanent wiring and dangerous use of extension cords.

10. Electrical, General Requirements - Improper installation of electric equipment was the most common electrical violation of 2016 with 1,700 citations.

Why We Care

PFCS is dedicated to provide an environment that is free of accidents and to ensure that every employee is provided safe and healthful working conditions free from recognized hazards.

Finding the Best Social Media Managing Site for Small Businesses

Pete Fowler Construction Services is trying to improve our social media presence by incorporating the use of a social media management tool for the Marketing Team's convenience. As PFCS's Social Media Manager, I spent some time researching the best platform for the company to utilize.

It is important for the company to use a program that is both cost and time-effective and allows some flexibility and creativity with the content of the posts.

After scanning multiple articles, it became clear that Hootsuite is the highest ranked and most popular, overall. Hootsuite is preferred over similar programs because there is a feature that allows the user to interact with their news feeds directly inside of the application.

Throughout my research, I was keeping a close eye on Buffer because it had been recommended to PFCS by another company's Social Media Manager. However, I wasn't consistently seeing Buffer in the top three websites listed in articles, like I was with Hootsuite. The article "15 Tools Every Social Media Manager Should Use" listed Buffer at number six saying, "It's particularly useful for small businesses that don't have the time or resources to update their social media channels regularly, but would still like to maintain a social presence." Upon reading this article, I realized I needed to narrow my search and get a closer look at which site would be best for a small business like PFCS.

After limiting my search, I found that the top three social media management sites for small businesses were consistently Agorapulse, Sprout Social and Buffer. In the cases where Agorapulse and Sprout Social were favored, it is because the two sites allow feed browsing and interaction inside the application. On the other hand,  Buffer's simple intention is to build a social media queue and the user is required to open the specific social media platform to browse and interact with the news feed.

A screenshot of Buffer's Tweet Schedule feature

A screenshot of Buffer's Tweet Schedule feature

Following my research, I decided that Buffer is the best social media management site for PFCS because it allows freedom to customize posts and still set up a consistent queue on all relevant social media forms. I will start using Buffer to manage PFCS's social media and report back in a month!

End of Month Update

After messing around with Buffer and doing further research, I have chosen to accept defeat make the switch to Hootsuite.

Hootsuite is the #1 recommended social media management site for a reason. The "Professional" account package on Hootsuite offers more posts, more account access and better analytics for the same price as Buffer's "Awesome" account package. Sounds like a deal to me!

Avoid Bad Contractors: Basic Due Diligence in Hiring

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Introduction

We recently published a post called Who Would You Prefer As Your Contractor? So here is our method to find professional (not criminal or incompetent) Contractors or consultants. The process works for any type of hiring BTW, including doctors, lawyers, accountants... Seriously, anything. In list form, it seems like more work than it is. Jump to the bottom for an abbreviated procedure for small jobs. 

Big Picture Hiring Process

  1. We define what good performance looks like.

  2. We identify minimum qualifications, keeping in mind that the only reliable predictor of future performance is past performance.

  3. We find candidates and ask them if they are interested.

  4. We negotiate the terms of a win-win performance agreement, based on our definition of what good performance looks like.

  5. We create and follow-through on a mechanism to verify that the good performance, defined at the beginning of the process, and communicated clearly in the win-win performance agreement, is taking place.

This applies to: 

  • Hiring a plumber to fix a leak

  • Hiring a part or full-time employee

  • Hiring an Independent Contractor to perform a specific scope of work

  • Hiring an architect to design a home

  • Hiring a contractor to build a $50 million project

  • Hiring a dentist!

Hiring Procedure

  1. Outline the Scope of Work in a Sensible List.

  2. Define the Scope of Work clearly enough so the contractor knows exactly what to do and where, including material specifications and so that a third-party inspector can verify conformance with the specification.

  3. Layout a Budget and Bid Form using the Sensible List.

  4. Layout a Progress Schedule form using the Sensible List.

  5. Use a blank contract form in coordination with the Owner’s lawyer.

  6. Write a "One Minute Summary" (less than 250 words) of the project and what you're looking for.

  7. Package all of the above in an RFP (Request for Proposal), including an invitation to bid document that includes the One Minute Summary, minimum contractor requirements and qualifications, your selection process, some project images to give an idea of where and what the project is, etc.

  8. Identify and pre-qualify interested contractors, and send them the RFP Package. If you don't know any contractors, then first apply Proving the Obvious Using Google to find some, then:

    1. Call anyone remotely connected to the contracting specialty we're looking for. Get them on the phone and:

    2. Read the One Minute Summary and ask if they offer the kind of help we're looking for. If yes:

    3. Interview them and take really good notes. Ask all the who, what, when, where, why, how, how many, and how much (8 W's) questions. If no:

    4. Ask them if they know who can help, and try to get more than one referral, if possible. Ask "Who is the best person in this field?"

    5. Repeat this from item 8.1-8.4 until you have spoken to AT LEAST 3 qualified, interested vendors. More than 3 is WAY better; up to as many as 10 because people often fail to deliver the bids they promise.

    6. Each vendor we speak with we learn something important, so after the last one we sometimes need to re-interview the earlier people before making a decision.

    7. If you are new to an area, this could take 2-4 hours but you will begin to hear the same names over and over. This is when you know you've made enough calls. It's best to keep track of how many people referred you to each of the prospective contractors.

  9. Job walk the contractors.

  10. Accept bids only on the Bid Form and with a Progress Schedule filled in by the contractor and a list of 3 current and applicable references with contact information.

  11. Evaluate proposals, contractors, bids and schedules.

  12. Call references and verify contractor's license and insurance.

  13. Make a hiring decision.

  14. Execute the agreement.

  15. Collect all insurance documents.

  16. Set a date for the Project Kickoff Meeting.

  17. Keep planning for project success.

Abbreviated Process to Quickly Hire a Specialty Contractor for A Small Job

  1. Write a "One Minute Summary" (less than 250 words) of the situation and what we're looking for.

  2. Call anyone remotely connected to the specialty we're looking for. Get them on the phone and:

  3. Read the One Minute Summary and ask if they offer the kind of help we're looking for. If yes:

  4. Interview them and take really good notes. Ask all the who, what, when, where, why, how, how many, and how much (8 W's) questions. If no:

  5. Ask them if they know who can help, and try to get more than one referral, if possible. Ask "Who is the best person in this field?"

  6. Repeat this from item 2. until we have spoken to AT LEAST 3 qualified, interested people / vendors. Each one we speak with we learn something important, so after the last one we sometimes need to re-interview the earlier people before making a decision.

  7. Verify contractor's license and insurance.

  8. Review notes and make a hiring decision.

  9. Update the One Minute Summary and use it as part of the written "Agreement" (contract) with our chosen professional. Make sure the Objective is stated really clearly. For construction, you also need a detailed, written Scope of Work (too much detail for this post).

  10. Refer back to the written Agreement throughout the engagement, especially when payments are being made, to make sure the objective is being met.

A Super Simple Example

One of my friends reached out for help with a problem he needed solved at his home due to vandalism. So I used Google Docs and spent 5-10 minutes to compose a "One Minute Summary" of what my friend needed.

"We are looking for an electrician to replace and install the keypad for a residential gate, check the motor, and reprogram the keypad. The home is located at 1234 Main Road in Happy Town, USA. The keypad at the gate on Main Road needs to be replaced because it was cut and taken in the course of a minor vandalism. Please call XXX-XXX-XXXX or email (xxx@xxxx.xxx) for details or to arrange a visit. As you can imagine, time is of the essence."

It always takes several passes to get a One Minute Summary right. The goal is to make it easily understandable and readable by anyone, in less than 250 words. We use small words and short sentences, all in a sensible order. We usually work from large to small. Use the 8 Ws as a checklist: Who, what, where, why, when, how much, how many, how. The best way to know if you have succeeded is to find someone to "peer review" your work. Before they read, tell them "The objective is to make this easily understandable and readable by anyone. I am completely open to constructive criticism." If they have to ask a question about what you have written, it needs another pass.

Then I used Google Maps and a very simple screenshot program (Faststone Capture) to create a few images that showed exactly where the work was to take place. I saved the images with the One Minute Summary as a 2-page PDF file that served as a mini-RFP (Request for Proposal). The original document was 4-pages, so I made the images a bit smaller and changed their order to get it down to 2-pages.

I did all of this work to make the project seem small, simple, and as easy to understand as possible. I know from experience that this attention to detail makes a difference in the quality of the proposals we receive and their price. If contractors think the work is going to be easy, the price is lower; if they perceive it as difficult, the price will be higher. By thinking through these details, as simple as it may seem, we make the project easier for the contractor to quote, easier to contract, easier to plan, easier to perform, easier to complete successfully, and easy to get paid quickly. THIS is how we get the highest quality and lowest prices!

Since this was my friend, and not a client, I then explained that he (rather than I) should ask for referrals from friends and colleagues, and search for qualified companies on services like Yelp, Angie's List, and other local sites that have a mechanism for ratings from past clients. Most people think getting a referral from a friend is better than a site like Yelp, but as a construction litigation consultant, my experience leads me to disagree. My experience has taught me that only competition leads to higher quality and lower prices; nothing else. I told my friend that he should send the document (our mini-RFP) to somewhere between 5-10 companies that seemed qualified. Not 100% will even respond. Then talk on the telephone to each who responds. Ask the 3-5 smartest sounding contractors to give you a proposal.

When making a selection, don't only consider lowest price. Sometimes “lowest price” means “dumbest contractor.” And when you get a dumb contractor, it leads to headaches, defects, and usually an even higher price than you would have paid a competent contractor with a higher (more sensible) price. I highly recommended that my friend ask for and call references.

When my company hires contractors, we typically do so using an industry standard form (like ConsensusDocs or AIA), but this is a small project, the Owner does not have easy access to standard form agreements, and he wants to make it easy on the most qualified contractor to get to work, so I told him to just make sure there were no really egregious terms, and to verify that the contractor carried a current Commercial General Liability (CGL) insurance policy. Most state contractors license boards keep this information current, so I advised my friend to check there for license and insurance status.

Finally, after receiving the price, but before signing the contract I told him to ask "What are the most likely ways this could cost me more than your proposal amount? I understand that if the motor does not work any longer, replacing it will be an additional charge. So what else could happen to cost me more? And if one of these happens, how do we price that additional work?" I told him to make sure to write down the contractor’s answers to these questions.

With all that, my friend was ready to get his gate fixed at a fair price by a competent contractor. But of course he said "Ugh. That seems like a lot of work! I am busy and just want my gate fixed." I explained that most work like his project is contracted by owners using the "Hope & Prayer Method" rather than mine, and that he was welcome to do that, but it's the reason the home improvement industry competes every year with used car dealers for the most consumer complaints. Granted, my method will take 1 to 3 hours, but it will likely save 10% to 300% (literally) and is the closest thing possible to a guarantee of success.

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