Thursday 27 April 2017

Improving Project Preparation

Building Client Capabilities

Understandably, clients tend to under-invest in project preparation during the initiation phase as they seek to minimise design, development and feasibility study costs. However, because many projects are put to tender with incomplete documentation and before their cost has been estimated accurately, tenderers have to add a significant risk premium to their bids. Project costs cannot be accurately estimated without detailed design and specifications, and high cost bids for a project allow the later diversion of funds. On the other hand, incomplete design can lead to estimates below project costs, with consequent claims and disputes obscuring the eventual recipients of funds. Contractors’ claims for reimbursement can lead to significant cost increases, and an unscrupulous contractor will also cheat on materials, compromise on quality, and deliver below the specification, resulting in poor quality assets with high maintenance costs.

Therefore, the first reason clients should invest in the development of some internal PM capabilities is because the quality of design and documentation before tendering reduces contractor risk and thus total project cost. Whether these documents are being prepared internally or externally, this task is one of design management. If the interaction between designers, consultants and contractors is managed by the client project team, they take responsibility for the project’s overall design and development at the earliest stages. Separating the design stage from tendering will also improve opportunities for consultation.

The second reason clients should invest in the development of internal capabilities is because they are, in reality, holding the eventual risk of their projects when they complete and become operational. The ability to manage that risk with their own client team on major projects, responsible for the process of project shaping and front-end definition, is an opportunity to add a great deal of value for the client. Even when consultants and contractors work to the best of their abilities, their firms have separate interests from the client.

The key factor is the extent of the specifications. On some major projects there may be a limit to how much design can be completed upfront, as this develops over time and the project details are refined and defined. It is unreasonable to expect a complex project to be fully specified at tender, and in most cases this would not be possible. It may also be advantageous to look for innovative ideas or design options, so for these projects an incremental approach would be followed to allow contractors and suppliers the opportunity for input during the development of the design. This also has the advantage of reducing uncertainty from poor tender documentation, thus lowering risk and cost for tenderers.

The client PM and project team should be responsible for overseeing the design and documentation of the project, ensuring the most appropriate construction options are chosen. Despite the proliferation of contracts used in the building and construction industry most major projects are delivered using either the traditional design-bid-build or Design and Build (D&B) and Design and Construct (D&C) contracts. The trend has been toward D&B and D&C contracts for major projects, and these account for a larger share of work done than number of projects. There is some support for design and construct procurement of buildings and social infrastructure from school PPPs in Australia and hospital PFIs in the UK. This may be due to the buildability issues found in complex buildings with many services, like hospitals, or the emphasis on maintenance costs with schools. However,  the problems found in D&C projects of design changes by the client and conflict of interest between design team members and the contractor are common.

Nevertheless, Ed Merrow argues for traditional construction procurement for the types of projects in his database. This is when consultants are appointed to manage the design, and a competitive tender is held for one or more contractors to execute the works on site against a complete design. Using evidence from the 11,000 private sector resource, industrial and engineering projects in his database, Merrow believes the best form of project delivery is what he calls ‘mixed’, with engineering design contractors hired on a reimbursable contract, and construction contractors hired on a separate fixed price contract. The evidence from the database suggests this is the most effective form of project organization, and represents traditional procurement with consultants appointed to do the design, and a competitive tender run for one or more contractors based on the finished design.

The approach advocated here combines elements of both the D&C and traditional procurement strategies. By engaging the PM and project team early, before detailed design work commences, the integration of design development with construction options retains the advantage of a D&C contract, as the PM manages the consultants as they develop the design solutions. However, the loss of control and the premium that is paid for management of a D&C contract is avoided.

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