Managing Jobsite Conditions
The Project Manager Approach
By Mike Newberry
Flooring Contractor Fall 2018
When a project has progressed along the timeline to the point that you are ready to begin the installation, it’s time to assess the actual conditions at the jobsite. All the planning, from estimating to procurement, will now be tested in the ﬁeld. Jobs will always develop their own ebb and ﬂow over time and by the time we show up to install ﬂooring the project may be several months old, and we will have to adapt to whatever rhythm it has developed.
A good friend of mine in this industry likes to remind us to “Be the professional. Be the expert.” As a project manager, this attitude will establish your credibility and trustworthiness. This will go a long way in helping you manage whatever conditions you encounter onsite.
You can count on the conditions you encounter on the jobsite to present challenges. At the time the project was bid, the jobsite could have been anything from an undeveloped piece of land to an occupied building with limited access. You as the project manager cannot know the conditions you will encounter but you must be able to anticipate and plan for some of the more common conditions. You should routinely visit each job before it’s time to being installation, note the possible conditions you may encounter and mentally prepare for one or more of them to become a reality. This will allow you to be better prepared to take quick corrective measures that will save you time and money.
The number of potential site conditions you may encounter is almost endless. I want to touch on 3 conditions that are likely to occur on most of your projects: dealing with other trades, slab conditions and ambient conditions.
Before I begin, I want to discuss a phrase you hear often when talking about the challenges we encounter once we are on site. That phrase is unforeseen conditions. As mentioned earlier, at the time of your bid there may not have been a job on the site. It’s impossible to foresee any conditions that may exist when you arrive to begin installation. However, it is reasonable as the professional and expert for you to anticipate possible conditions. Unfortunately, this phrase is used too frequently to cover up a lack of anticipation and planning on our part. Understanding the diﬀerence between what is truly unforeseeable on site and what should have been reasonably anticipated and addressed in your bid could mean the diﬀerence between a negotiation for a change and an unresolved conﬂict.
For example, if your scope of work includes removing direct glue broadloom carpet and installing
VCT in its place, it is reasonable to anticipate that additional work will be needed to treat residual carpet adhesive before installing the VCT. You should have included the cost or addressed this in your bid. This should not be considered an unforeseen condition. The extent of the prep work needed may not be known ahead of time but the fact that additional work will be needed shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
If, however, a lift being used by another trade has a leak in a hydraulic line and overnight hydraulic ﬂuid covers a large part of your next work area, that would be unforeseeable. There are many circumstances you will encounter onsite that are in every sense unforeseeable, but you should always anticipate and plan for every reasonable condition you may encounter.
Most of our projects will have other trades working at the same time we are. They are often trying to work in the same area we are attempting to work in. This is one area where anticipating this eventuality and planning for it can save a lot of time and money and, in some cases, unwanted confrontation.
Keep in mind that every trade on the jobsite is under the same pressures. They have a deﬁnite ﬁnish date and they have been slowed down by the trades in front of them. You are in their way and they are in your way. By anticipating the challenge of overlapping trade work, you can have options ready when the time comes to strike a compromise with another trade.
Before you have a discussion, you must know the cost impact of any option that is being discussed. Be familiar with the jobsite and know if you have other areas where you can work and still be productive. Sometimes oﬀering this up can open the door for additional negotiations with the same trade when you ﬁnd yourself vying for the same working area again.
Explore if it is possible for your crew to work a diﬀerent shift. Sometimes it’s possible to make up the additional cost with increased production. Be certain of all the associated costs before you consider this option. Is it possible to move your crew to another job for a day or two to let the other trade get ahead? Again, be sure you know the full cost impact of this option before you oﬀer it. You will have several options to explore depending on the exact condition you are dealing with. The idea here is not to take on the burden of rearranging your work to accommodate another trade. The idea is to treat this as a negotiation and to know exactly what you are willing and able to bring to the table. Hopefully the project manager for the other trade is thinking along the same lines as you and will be prepared to oﬀer similar options.
If you are working on a project, particularly new construction, having a conversation about condition of the concrete slab is inevitable. The onsite condition could be high moisture readings, curling, excessive cracking or any number of issues. As the project manager, you will need to visit the site as early as possible to assess potential slab issues. If you wait to bring up issues with the slab on the day you start installation, you run the risk of turning a potential change order into a conﬂict.
When you encounter an issue with the slab be, prepared to address it quickly. The best way to do this is to have a standard approach to an anticipated issue. If you anticipate a moisture issue, know your company’s preferred mitigation process based on the conditions and products being installed. If you must investigate options after the issue is discovered, you lose time, money and credibility.
If curling, high spots, etc. are what you encounter, know the capabilities of your installers and your cost for grinding, leveling, etc. ahead of time. Anticipating and being prepared for as many possible conditions you will encounter with the slab onsite will make the adjustments required easier to negotiate and manage.
Another issue that can only be addressed once you are onsite is the ambient conditions. Adhesive and ﬂoor covering manufactures are very speciﬁc about the correct temperature and humidity requirements for a warranted installation. We have all been a part of projects where the HVAC is not functioning yet, the windows are not in or both. It’s a good bet that installing ﬂoor covering where it is exposed to temperature and humidity extremes will lead to a failed installation. Maybe not today, but very soon after the building is enclosed and settles into its every day environmental equilibrium, the ﬂooring will fail.
Anticipating and planning for this situation will help you manage the condition. You must know the limits and requirements of every product you are installing. Every manufacturer of ﬂoor coverings, adhesives, patching compounds, and other installation sundries have requirements for ambient conditions to stand behind their product warranty. As the project manager you should know these requirements before you proceed with the installation.
If the ambient conditions are clearly outside the manufacturers’ tolerances, reach out to the technical representative for that product and honestly provide the details of the conditions. They will be happy to help you address the issue and provide options for a solution.
Managing any onsite condition may result in adjusting your manpower allocation.
Every project is unique and conditions will change daily. A good project manager will anticipate and plan for changing conditions and will be able to adjust the work force as needed while maintaining production and controlling cost. This is tough because every hour your installers are unproductive it costs both money and production. The only way to minimize the impact of having the wrong number of installers on a jobsite is constant and consistent monitoring of the job. If you expect the schedule that was set during Monday’s production meeting to still be true by the time Friday morning rolls around, you will land in trouble often.
Having the right number of installers on a project at the right time will also require you to have a good grasp on the overall project schedule and the amount of production required to meet all deadlines. You may even have to withstand a request from a superintendent to over-man a project to make up for a slip in the schedule. There will always be adjustments needed based on the jobsite conditions. If project management were as simple as handing out work tickets to installers and stopping in to check on them periodically, then a great many more people would be qualiﬁed to be project managers. The primary diﬀerence between an average project manager and an exceptional one is the ability to anticipate all the possible conditions that may be encountered on a project and have a plan ready if the conditions become a reality.