Contributed by Liz O'Sullivan
Construction industry waste – where does it start? Sometimes it starts with the contractor team. Sometimes it starts with the design team. And sometimes it starts with… owners.
Have you ever suddenly needed ice to make an icepack for a child’s injury, or drinks for unexpected guests, gone to the freezer, and found nothing but empty ice trays? Ever needed toilet paper and suddenly realized all you had in the bathroom was an empty cardboard roll?
These are familiar experiences for people living with children. But we understand that we just need to teach the children to consider the needs of the people who come after them. (This may be an ongoing effort.)
When people living with only other adults experience these things, it’s incredibly frustrating. (Why didn’t she just tell me we were out of toilet paper? Why didn’t he just fill the ice tray after he emptied it? It’s so much harder for me to get ice at this point – it will take hours to freeze after I fill the trays. If he had just filled the trays when he used the last ice cubes last night, there would be ice for all of us now.) The shirker saves herself a little time, but creates a problem for someone else in the household. Adults should know better, but sometimes, like children, adults need to be reminded, too.
A little work done at the right time by the right person means that things get done the right way. If they don’t get done right, the next person has to expend more work, or more time, which is inefficient in the big picture. It’s not the right way to work.
Lately, my deadlines have been moving targets. One week last month, I had 3 bid sets going out 3 days in a row. I turned in the first one, a relatively small project, early on the due date, and got going on wrapping up the next one. A few hours after I turned in the first project, my architect-client emailed me with an address change for the building. (Head smack.) The building’s address was on every header of the project manual, and scattered throughout Division 00. (When I use my own master spec sections, changing all headers is not terribly time-consuming, but I had to use the owner’s messy “master” spec sections on this project, and had to change each header manually.)
If I’d had the correct address before I’d started the project, instead of the address that I was given (without any warning that it may not be the correct address) I would have wasted no time. If I’d been given the correct address after I’d put in the wrong address, but before I’d done the final edits for the project, I’d have wasted only about an hour, at a much more convenient time. If I’d been using my own masters instead of the messy documents, I’d have wasted only about a half hour. As it was, I wasted 2 hours redoing the address, at the most inconvenient time imaginable in the entire month of October.
I could have refused to make the changes, because I had 2 other clients’ projects to consider, but then the documents would have had an incorrect address throughout, causing confusion for bidders, the building department, and the constructor. I couldn’t have delayed until after my other 2 deadlines – we were going to bid and permit that day – three days later would not have been acceptable. Laying blame: The city had assigned an address to the project that was not the address the owner wanted. The owner should have spoken up right away, or should have told the architect that the address they had was probably not correct, and the architect should have told me, so we could plan for that situation. (I would have waited on my final edits until after I had the info. I would not have wasted time compiling the project manual and getting it over to the architect.)
Though distressing to me at the time, because of my other work, this address issue was just a small thing. The last-minute change-of-address affected very little of the project, and affected none of the design. But some owners give answers to the architect’s questions about products and assemblies, just to give answers, knowing that they’ll probably change their minds later, but not letting the architect know that the answer was not their final answer. Some owners assign communication duties to a person that they’ve given zero decision-making authority to, so the architect expends a lot of time and energy trying to get information from, and through, the middleman. Some owners give the architect no guidelines about important building assemblies such as roofs, expect the architect to just know what they want as far as type, service life, and warranty, and don’t answer questions in a timely manner.
Except when dealing with a sophisticated owner, architects may want to consider explaining to the owner, up front, why decisions need to be made, and when. Explain why the glazing tint choice is an important thing to firmly decide on early (it affects other design decisions, and several design professionals, including, but not limited to, mechanical systems and the mechanical engineer). Explain why the roofing assembly is an important thing to select early (it affects COMcheck calculations, which are used to help determine that all other assemblies making up the building envelope are in compliance, and, of course, lots of drawing details). Explain why a completed geotech report very early in the design process is necessary (it affects foundation design, which affects, well, everything).
Some things, such as the desirability of avoiding last-minute address changes on projects, seem so self-evident, but others are much less obvious to owners. Except for those of us who’ve had many different jobs in this industry, we do not know what it is like to be the people downstream from us. We can know, intellectually, what they will be doing with the information we provide, but it’s hard to know exactly how late changes will affect them, unless they tell us.
Owners who make thoughtless or late changes are a bit like the people who don’t replace the toilet paper and ice after they use up the last of them. Maybe they are like adults, and just aren’t thinking. Or maybe they’re like children, and no one’s ever told them to refill toilet paper and ice trays, so how could they know? They may just need to be told what’s expected by the people doing work downstream from them.
Let's Fix Construction is a collective group of construction professionals who want to better the industry by sharing our knowledge, openly communicating and encouraging collaboration.
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