March 27, 2008

How to take over a construction project

  • The new contractor should rebuild the owner’s confidence with clear communication, continuously updated schedules and good job performance.
    Express Construction


    You’ve just been asked to take over a construction project that ran headlong into trouble with site organization, subcontractor performance, owner partnership disagreements and anything else that created a disastrous perfect storm.

    What do you do first? There is a calculated sequence of events essential to fixing this mess and getting the building successfully built.

    Assess the situation

    As the contractor taking over a job, the first task is to assess the situation and develop clear lines of responsibility to protect everyone involved. Then begin work as quickly as possible to ensure that the schedule will not be overly impacted. In some cases, contractors generate a short-term agreement to keep crucial work going while developing a new contract to complete the project. However, having a complete scope of work and contract is essential.

    Putting together a contract to finish the project requires a thorough assessment of the site conditions, materials to be used or on order, and review of all plans and documentation of problem areas. The new contractor must interview all previous subcontractors on both their qualifications and attitudes toward the job. It’s important to know if any were part of the original problem.

    After the assessment, the project must be completely re-bid, usually resulting in increased costs. The bid needs to include sufficient contingency funds to cover unknowns that may not be apparent until work commences and to protect the company should existing subcontractors be rehired and not perform.

    The financial institution and partners must also sign off on contracts, as well as ensure that there is sufficient funding to cover draws that will inevitably be more than were originally projected.

    Educate the client

    Building trust where it has been broken requires project staff and company principals to educate the client, and save them time and money whenever possible through value engineering and adjusting the design. Project architects and engineers are key participants in both educating clients and helping the contractor understand the full scope of problems to date.

    For an owner who has had a bad experience and may be wary, bringing in a consultant to review the contracts and assessment of work can help rebuild trust.


    When a project loses its flow, it is hard to adopt an expedited schedule. However, by gearing up quickly, saving time wherever possible and communicating clearly with the client on a regular basis, the new contractor can increase the project’s momentum. Keeping an eye out to see where several projects can be completed on-site simultaneously and where there are efficiencies in having on-site staff who are cross-trained and can work in different areas of a project throughout its duration can save time and costs.

    As part of scheduling, a site-specific safety plan and ongoing safety meetings are a must. It is far less time-consuming to prevent mishaps than it is to interrupt work to deal with them.

    Focus on the goal

    Because there were likely hard feelings, ongoing financial disputes and potential liability, the new contractor’s goal is to dispel the negative energy and build the client’s confidence in the process and outcome. With time, clear communication, continuously updated schedules and good job performance, it can be done. The focus must always be the best possible outcome for the client, financial backers, the contractor and the skilled workforce — all of whom are united in the desire for success.

    Jerry Surdyk is a senior project manager for Express Construction Co. With more than 25 years of experience in the construction industry, he directs new commercial projects and provides preconstruction and value-engineering services for Express’ clients.

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