Symptom 6 – Incompetence/ Ineffectiveness
Program delays, blown budgets, nonconformance reports, and health & safety incidents. Every project has them, some worse than others, but every project has them. They’ve come to be expected. If a project does not report them, rather than assume the project is performing, people assume a fault in the reporting system. They might assume the project team isn’t carrying out inspections properly. Or that they don’t understand what they should and should not report. Or there is dishonesty on the project. People rarely believe a ‘zero’ report to be true, not once the project is in full swing anyway.
We Don’t Do What We Say We’ll Do
At the start of the project, the contractor is given contract documents defining the job to be completed. It is the contractor’s job to deliver precisely what the contract documents specify; including the agreed program and pricing schedules. I.e., the contractor should complete on the end date agreed, within the agreed price, to the standards agreed and with no one put in harm’s way. As contractors, this is what we say we will do when we sign our contract, but we don’t.
Note, while this post focuses on the contractor, they aren’t the only ones under fire. “We don’t do what we say we’ll do,” refers to all who take on duties in the construction industry; clients, designers, subcontractors, suppliers, etc.
Is it Too Much to Ask?
People might say this level of perfection is not realistic. I would ask, why? Because there are always unforeseen circumstances? There should be allowances made for things unexpected, and we should not see the project and budget overruns as considerable and frequent as we do.
One might say, “everyone makes mistakes!” I agree but as competent planners should we not also add contingencies to our plans that allow for this? If we aren’t, then can we say we are competent? Can we say we are doing our job?
We Are Not Doing Our Job
The brutal truth is, we are not doing our job. A fact many will want to deny but ask yourself this. Recognizing excuses are just excuses, are those responsible for delivering London’s Crossrail project doing their job? It was supposed to be in operation in December 2018 and is now delayed, potentially, as far as spring 2021. Its original cost estimate was £15.4bn ($19.6bn USD) which has now grown to £17.6bn ($22.4bn USD).
While £2.2bn ($2.8bn) is an obscene amount of money, this cost overrun of 14.3% is below the average according to a paper published by the International Journal of Innovation, Management and Technology in 2017 ( Abdulelah Aljohani, 2017 ). This paper cites a study of 52 megaprojects (those valued between $0.5bn and $50 billion) across which the average overrun was 88%! The paper cites another study, of eight US rail projects, identifying an overrun of 61%. Remarkably, compared with the average, Crossrail is over-performing!
In an industry where an overspend of £2.2bn ($2.8bn) is better than average, can we say we are doing our job? Can we say we are competent?
Why Are Significant Errors Acceptable?
I agree you should allow people to make mistakes, but the consequences of those mistakes should remain minor, infrequent and recoverable. If you dine at a restaurant, order steak, and the chef cooks you fish, do you think they are doing their job? Do you think this is acceptable? What do you do? I assume you send it back and ask for it to be corrected. How would you feel if instead he ran out of food and left you hungry for 3 hours and late going home? How would you feel if your bill was $112 for a $60 meal? Would you think he is doing his job? Construction projects are more often than not late and cost a lot more than the agreed price. Why is this tolerated?
Program delays, blown budgets, nonconformance reports, and HSE accidents mean that significant errors were made at some point between the infancy and completion of the project. Either the contract documents were completed incorrectly, (i.e., we aren’t doing our job) or delivery did not adhere to the contract documents (i.e., we aren’t doing our job). Why is this acceptable? Contractors, designers, suppliers, and clients will blame each other. But the fact remains people are not doing their job, and none of them can say their hands are spotless.
I would be stunned to hear of a construction project that reports anything close to 99% quality output. I wager no honest project is. Heathrow airport facilitates the safe arrival and departure of aircraft. To give my wager perspective; in 2013, if Heathrow airport allowed the quality of their work to reach 99%, seven planes would have crashed every day all year round.
The consequences of a 1% drop in quality in construction might not be as certainly severe nor immediate as at Heathrow; but, the gap between the two performances should not be as broad as it is.
A Recipe for Excellence In Construction
“Go above and beyond,” is standard advice given to those asking how to excel. Expectations in construction have slipped, and it has become the norm to carry out one’s duties to a lesser standard than is acceptable or than the contract documents command. So, therefore, I say you can go above and beyond by merely doing your job. Whatever your motivation is to excel, rather than seek ways to impress outside of your job description, start within. If you are responsible for any NCRs, recognize you are not fulfilling at least one of your duties. Correct this.
Before you try to impress others with some extracurricular commitments, ensure the curricular is in hand. Fulfill your roles and responsibilities competently and raise the bar of the industry back to where it belongs. Whatever document lists your contractual duties is your recipe for going above and beyond, and all you need to do is follow it. Few are.
- According to KPMG as quoted in this article https://blog.plangrid.com/2018/08/construction-industry-statistics-to-improve-productivity/
- According to a paper published by the International Journal of Innovation, Management and Technology in 2017 ( Abdulelah Aljohani, 2017 )