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In my last two columns, I wrote about six behaviors to build the foundation for quality labor plans (https://bit.ly/3oFiOXD) and the four steps to adopting an iterative approach to the build plan process (https://bit.ly/3J85L8S). Building on these two concepts, this column will focus on recommendations for instilling consistent and effective behaviors around construction project review meetings.
The goal here is to help your project managers prepare for and your operations managers to execute impactful project reviews. This topic is a priority for McKinstry’s operations in 2022; I hope it will be of value to others in the plumbing, heating, cooling and piping community.
At McKinstry, our monthly project reviews are to deliver on two functions: First, they are to serve as a quality assurance check. Second, they are to create opportunities to coach and support our project management teams.
When planning and managing a construction project, there are so many topics, variables and interesting dynamics to potentially discuss and focus on. Because of this, there is a risk that the monthly project reviews turn into a lot of talk and very little value-added coaching and action. To combat this, we created a three-phase script that we ask our people to use as a guide.
When project managers and operations managers prepare properly, your project review meetings should be time well spent. Unfortunately, all too often, project teams approach the effort haphazardly. It’s not uncommon to sit in on a project review meeting and hear vague questions such as, “Are your subs happy?” or “How’s your labor performing?”
In my view, that approach is a waste of everyone’s time. A thorough, well-scripted project review meeting should result in a two-way street where both coaching and learning end up happening among teams.
The reason for doing so is simple: it’s so the operations managers and project managers know what to hit on and when to hit on it during project reviews. More importantly, it’s so these individuals and their teams also understand how to prepare. And there are several key reasons you should consider this approach:
1. It provides an opportunity to reveal risks in your project that may not rise to the surface in a more informal project review meeting.
2. It helps you better understand exactly what coaching your teams require. Unless you dig deeper, you won’t know where they need help.
3. As a result, you should enjoy greater financial results on your projects.
In all my years of experience, however, I’ve found that this doesn’t happen on its own. People need to be taught the ins and outs of conducting more-effective project reviews. To help your team succeed, project reviews should be prepared for and executed using a three-phase approach.
Phase 1: Plan the work
At McKinstry, we define Phase 1 as less than 5 percent spend of the total contract value. During this phase, the project teams should work with the estimate, review schedules, generate a build plan, a fabrication plan, a detailing plan, understand the risks and opportunities, and set up the project controls necessary for accurate forecasting.
For starters, you’ll want to review the contract and estimate to understand the terms and conditions of the contract, break down the project estimate and validate the estimate based on true scope and schedule. You’ll also want to create a scope clarification matrix to understand what’s in your scope for reference throughout the duration of the project.
Make sure to review your build plan to understand the buyout and logistics plans. These setup efforts are done, as a team, in collaborating with the craft labor leadership.
When it comes to schedule topics, for example, you’ll want to create design and detailing milestones and define who will manage the schedule and budget. You’ll also want to dedicate time for schedule review and feedback. Use a schedule analysis tool, sit down with trade forepersons to review the schedule, strategize on efficient work sequencing and provide feedback notification per contract terms.
In addition, be sure to review the submittal and expediting log to understand lead times and schedule, then provide timely information to the building information modeling detailing team. As part of this phase of the project review, you also should generate the labor plan, schedule of values and cash flow.
The labor plan should be generated with the trade foreperson for weekly review and updating. Earned value productivity tracking should be developed in conjunction with the phase code architecture. To that end, you’ll want to understand how completed work will be counted in the field. Lastly, make certain to schedule weekly short interval plan meetings with detailing and field labor.
Phase 2: Work the plan
We define Phase 2 as 6 percent to 95 percent spend of total contract value. During this phase, the project teams should shift focus from project setup to managing the scope, schedule and budget. The costs and productivity tracking will begin to tell us valuable information about how things are going. We leverage the feedback found in the monthly financials forecasting work.
During this phase, you’ll want to focus on reviewing revenue projections as well as cost projections for things such as subcontractors, equipment, materials and labor.
With respect to revenue projections, you should review the current contract amount and reference the project change order log for any approved change orders. You should understand what makes up the unbooked amount and how much is at risk. This amount should tie back to the project change order log.
On cost projections, you should review any changes from last month compared to the previous month’s work-in-progress report. In instances where actual costs are higher than projected costs, understand why this occurred.
Did time or materials get charged to the wrong phase code? Did a purchase order go over? Is something happening on the job that you need to start projecting? When reviewing cost projections, make sure subcontractor, equipment, material and labor costs are projected in the month that cost will occur.
Phase 3: Finishing strong
Finally, Phase 3 covers 95 percent to 100 percent spend of total contract value. During this phase, the project teams should review remaining committed costs and start to close out subcontracts and purchase orders. In addition, remaining staff and field labor forecasts should be accurate to complete the project.
Priorities for Phase 3 include reviewing any outstanding contract change orders in the current contract change order log. Confirm the unbooked contract amount in the revenue project is correct, and it is equal to the unexpected change orders remaining in the log. In addition, be sure to understand the timing and reasons for any outstanding change orders.
You’ll also want to finalize subcontractor costs, confirming all subcontract change orders have been issued. You should be able to reference a subcontractor report to confirm that all subs have fully invoiced you and been paid. And review any subcontracts that are still open to understand the timing of when they will be closed or the issues remaining. This must be accurately reflected in your forecast.
Take the same approach and review any open purchase orders. There should be no remaining committed costs at the end of the project. If there are, the project manager should contact the vendor to submit a final invoice, or they should zero out the purchase order once they confirm there are no outstanding costs. And ensure all rentals are marked as returned so any remaining rental purchase orders can be closed.
At this stage, the staff and field labor forecasts should accurately reflect the remaining work. What’s more, you’ll want to dedicate time in the project review to discuss how warranty issues will be handled (and if a new project number should be opened for warranty work). You’ll also want to understand the warranty period and ensure letters are issued with those dates.
Suffice to say, there’s a lot to review on a construction project to determine if you’re on track. Adding structure around the process should result in more effective project reviews, which, in turn, will help project management teams drive wasted time and effort from your projects. They should serve as a monthly inspection of your project’s health.
Once you can script and execute sound project review meetings, your teams should have an earlier — and clearer — understanding of where risks lie on their projects. This will allow your operations managers to help project teams address risks earlier in a project’s lifecycle. All told, your team should enjoy greater financial stability on their projects.