By Ron Pestone
As a contractor you have to make a decision on every project you embark upon whether to be a team player or an adversary. This is especially true in commercial and industrial work. To me a team player is just that, a contractor who sees himself and his company as a productive member of the team that is erecting the building. They are willing to cooperate in coordination, help fix scheduling glitches and look for positive solutions to everyday problems that plague every construction project. They are willing to stretch for the team and yes, spend additional dollars when they must even though they are not contractually required to do so. They do it solely because it advances the building. They can put aside their egos and most importantly strive to deliver a quality installation that is in compliance with the contract documents. In general they never nickel and dime an owner and many times they help a weaker sub on the job make it to the finish line.
On the other hand, an adversary is just that, and adversary. On a plan and spec project they live by the documents. Whether it is the material and equipment supplied, the schedule of the project or the actual managing of the project the documents rule. If the documents allow equal or better substitutions in the material and equipment specified expect to see a small avalanche of substitutions. If the specifications call for a base line schedule and monthly updates they expect to see them and if not prepare yourself for war. They expect the payment terms of the contract to be abided by and God help you if you don’t live by them. Anything that is not in the plans and specification is an extra. They are there to build not find solutions so if a problem arises don’t look to them to resolve it. In fact, be real careful, every time you look at them it’s going to cost extra money. They are there to fulfill their contract obligations not for friendship. In coordination if it’s going to cost them money to move it isn’t going to happen. In extreme cases their idea of coordination is, “I’m in first the rest of you can go to hell”. They turn out letters like a printing press, know construction law and are quick to exploit any chinks in the armor. They are smart, tough and draw lines in the sand without hesitation. If you cross any of these lines you had better want to go the whole 15 rounds. These seasoned pros are not noted for taking prisoners and they have broken the health of more than one man and sent many a company running down the road with their tail between their legs.
So, which one should you be? Team player or adversary? Many people who are not in the business ask why can’t you be something in the middle? You know a team player, but one who will draw a line in the sand if pressed. The obvious answer is you can’t be half pregnant. And the reason is nobody is going to let you. As a team player the first time you draw a line in the sand you have entered the other camp and once in it’s hard as hell to get out. This is a dilemma that every contractor faces on every job he does and a series of bad decisions made here can put anyone out of business.
After spending many years in the business I have come to the conclusion that if it’s at all possible try and be a team player. Even if it costs you a few dollars, do it, if you can. Unfortunately the truth of the matter is the decision is made for you by others. It depends upon who the owner is, their ethics and who they employ to manage their projects. These are the institutions and people who make the decision for you. Let’s look at some specific examples to illustrate.
When I worked for the New York City School Construction Authority they were enlightened owners. At that time the organization was project manager driven not administrative driven. Project Managers wore the title of Project Officer and from the very top of the organization all the way down to the field guys the credo was: The SCA has embarked upon a major building program and what we need most is good quality contractors to bid and produce our buildings. As a result they are to be treated fairly, with respect and be thought of as team members.
Our mission was to build and to do that we needed contractors to make our program a reality. Every effort was made to answer their questions quickly, process their requisitions and change orders with dispatch and keep the paperwork to a minimum. Monthly meeting were held with The General Contractors Association and the Subcontractor Association to air grievances and find common solutions. The SCA even had a mediation process, not arbitration but mediation where for a few hundred dollars a contractor could make his case before an impartial mediator, who did not work for the SCA, to resolve issues. The process was informal, quick, inexpensive and fair.
As a result the SCA never had a lack of quality contractors who wanted to bid and produce the work. And more times than not the building came in on time and the contractors made a decent profit and went on to their next projects.
Then there are other agencies in New York City whom I will not name whose method of operation drives everyone into the adversarial camp. These are agencies where old experienced bureaucracy dripping in green paint and grey metal desks require mountains of paperwork to move one nail; where specification are old and out of date whose only purpose is to drive the contractor into the ground; where it takes years to get an approved change order; where payments are as slow as molasses and have been returned for a mathematical mistake of less than a dollar; where the actual managers of the project are not actual agency employees but Project Managers who work for independent Construction Management firms who have no desire to see the project finish on time. As a result these projects finish years late and when the contractor seeks relief for the additional cost he has incurred as a result of this lateness, the agency points to the “No Damage For Delay” clause in the contract documents and tells the contractor to move on.
These agencies employ firms who generally supply Project Managers who are steeped in text books but sadly lacking any true field experience. They specialize in looking at installations for what they can find wrong so that they can slash the contractors requisition. They blindly look past what is right and they take forever to make the simplest decision. What could be resolved in 10 minutes in the field looking and discussing the problem takes months in the bureaucratic maze. The system is one of delay and the owner’s rep works very hard to always pin that delay on the contractor so that they can threaten with Liquitaded Damages which if employed cuts off his life supply. You know anybody who wants to be a team player here?
End of Part 1
Don’t Forget: We Build America