In my March 2021 column, “7 Steps to Communicate Toward Successful Project Schedules,” I provided a back-to-basics view on the fundamentals of developing a thoughtful, coordinated and accurate schedule for every project. I outlined the seven steps contractors should consider when developing or influencing project schedules.
Readers might have expected the seventh step — looking back at the plan from the tail end while still in the early stages — to mark the satisfying conclusion of a steady ascent. Admittedly, I left it as more of a cliffhanger. Why? Because it warrants a column all its own, which is why I saved it for this month’s topic of discussion.
As a quick level set and in the spirit of taking a proactive look back before moving forward, step seven in my previous column was not only a preview of this one but also a reminder. Once you have rough-in and trim portions of the plan and schedule for a project dialed in, it is imperative to quickly do the same for the last quarter of the project.
I emphasized how, all too often, we wait too long to begin preemptively wrestling with the articulated build-out of the tail end of the project. This includes heavy influencers such as pressure testing, flush and fill, life safety testing, startup, balance and commissioning portions of the critical path. In short, it is just as important to look at the project in a back-pass manner as it is with a forward-pass perspective.
With this in mind, let’s jump back into step seven and examine it more closely as the final leg of the project preplanning journey.
A paradigm shift to address the problem
Mechanical, plumbing and piping teams often wait too long to plan for the post-rough-in startup/test/inspect/commissioning phase of projects — and it’s a problem. The fallacy lies in the fact that this phase of delivery is much more often associated with the closeout of a project than it is with the preplanning phase. Addressing this issue starts with changing that mindset.
I encourage teams to think of post-rough-in as the final leg of the project preplanning journey. It starts with a simple paradigm shift. When teams adopt that mentality and follow through accordingly, it leads to real opportunities to replace variability with certainty, deliver more value and exhibit ownership and partnership.
The four arenas and pre-work
What I have my teams do first is get organized around the following four arenas of the project at hand. These are all part of a quality control plan that needs to be executed post-rough-in.
1. Proof of visual inspections by the craft leader and system pressure testing: documented.
2. General construction conditions that need to be in place for life safety system testing and inspections: communicated and coordinated.
3. The five elements of commissioning: scheduled and coordinated.
3. Functional testing and signoff against the specified performance requirements.
4. Closeout documentation: completed per specifications.
We must organize, collaborate and schedule around all four arenas individually, which is the main reason it’s imperative that they not be left as an eleventh-hour afterthought. It takes time to do it right, and it needs to be done right to be worth the time. Investing those hours now will save time and resources later.
To truly appreciate how all four of these arenas are simply continuations of the project preplanning process, let’s unpack each of them briefly — starting with the pre-work
Ultimately, the pre-work needs to happen before a signature goes onto the contract. As such, you and your team must read the contract documents with this phase in mind. This includes the drawings, the specifications and the contract itself. Use a matrix to assign and track who is responsible for which scopes. Create a scope clarification matrix as well. Both should cross all major trades involved with the project — owner, general contractor, civil, mechanical, electrical, controls, low voltage, and so on.
You and your team must read the contract schedule with the pre-work in mind, too. Often, this phase starts as a handful of generic activities, but it will need to be broken down into more granular work packages. That’s where you come in:
It is critical that we take ownership of this detailed schedule and deliver value to the entire team. If there is a schedule bust or slack, then the team needs to understand that early and make the proper adjustments if, when, and as soon as it becomes clear they are needed.
Of note, our GC partners and other trade partners have expertise in many other arenas. But when it comes to the mechanical and electrical systems, the master schedule author (the GC) often relies on us to bring our expertise to the table and help to further define the granular level of schedule detail to make it all work.
Again, we’re only focusing on the quality control plan to be executed for each of the four arenas during the post-rough-in phase of a construction project. Following is an outline of what that should look like in more detail:
1. Tease out the key milestones from the GC or owner’s schedule. Gather them up and set them aside as your skeleton or framework. You will need to tie your tasks to these milestones. If they change or move, then the team needs to know what happened to the rest of the arenas: temporary power available, permanent power available by zone, water available, gas available, roofing complete, curtainwall complete, doors and hardware complete, floor cleaned, etc.
Don’t do any of this in a vacuum. You should be coordinating with the GC schedule author and the other major trades along the way.
2. List out your mechanical systems, assuming that is how you will think about your installations (e.g., storm, waste, domestic, chilled water, condenser water, natural gas, makeup, fuel-oil, etc.). Depending on how simple or complex the project, you might elect to further break down each system by geography (where applicable, if necessary).
3. Assign all major equipment (e.g., pumps, cooling towers, heat exchangers, boilers and control valves, etc.) to one of the mechanical systems on your list. Don’t leave anything behind — every major component that will have a home on a warranty log or operations and maintenance manual needs to be linked to its corresponding mechanical system in this schedule architecture.
4. Under each major component or piece of equipment, have this template of steps:
5. Under each mechanical system, your template of steps should include:
6. Now, tie these back to the predecessor milestones you identified and extracted from the master GC schedule in the first step. To reiterate the point I made earlier, you shouldn’t be doing any of this in a vacuum. You and your team should be coordinating with the GC schedule author as well as the other major trades at every step along the way.
If we wait until the rough-in phase of a project is already underway, or even substantially complete, to start thinking about post-rough-in and how to begin influencing positive outcomes in that phase, we forfeit our best chance to remove variability and replace it with more certainty.
What’s more, we miss a real opportunity to deliver greater value to the project and its stakeholders by exhibiting ownership and partnership from the outset.
So, don’t miss that opportunity. Remember, it starts with the pre-work. It starts with having a plan for each of the four arenas. Proper project closeout is a continuation of the project preplanning phase. If you adopt this mentality, commit to it and practice it with your teams on every project, you’ll find that the sky’s the limit in terms of value you and your teams will be able to deliver.