Changes that can cause problems later on!

It’s called the law of unintended consequences; a phrase coined by the moral philosopher Adam Smith (No Relative) and is used in Social Sciences to explain what cannot be explained.

When we obsessive compulsive types work through a programme of construction works, every eventuality is either foreseen or time is allocated if we are unsure of complexity or labour awareness. During this phase a lot of thought is put into the ‘how and at what time’ when we are putting together what is after all a giant jigsaw puzzle, when applied to construction project management.

Now don’t get me wrong, one of the upsides of building using a construction manager is that the client can alter things as they go along, to suit what they desire as the end product. It is always a surprise to me however how many of these changes have unintended consequences.

Recently I was working on a job that we had rescued from a contractor, who frankly shouldn’t be in business, and therefore we had an Architects previously specified job to take on. Part of this work was landscaping the site to a scheme approved by the planners and was included within the planning framework document.

The client had already overspent his budget on the previous ‘builders’ and was looking for ways to save money. I had done my best with what we were left with and managed to get to the point where we would begin the landscaping without spending too much out of the contingency fund. The client had other ideas and pressed for a cheaper solution.

The architect who had designed the landscaping as part of his brief was adamant that the scheme should be as drawn and that any changes would be a breach of planning regulations. A tricky little situation, where as project manager I had to tread lightly on the architects ego and yet manage to find a way of cutting costs as requested by the client.

Having discussed things with the client it was decided to take out all of the planting beds from around the house, which could be reinstated later on when money was not so tight. One of these beds alongside the path from car park to house was determined as a disabled access ramp under Section M Building Regulations, and had to conform to those regulations. The regulation states that the ramp had to be set at 1:15 maximum gradient. This meant that we had to realign the adjacent lawn to match the path gradient which meant an additional 300mm of gradient on a 13metre long lawn.

This is of course what the architect had included the planting beds for, to take out the differential between path and lawn so making the lawn flatter i.e. less of a gradient. This little fact was missed by everyone until the client started to complain that the lawn gradient was too steep… 1:15 or 6% gradient, which is by no means a hillside. This complaint took place just as the turf for the lawn was being delivered and of course it needed to be laid within 48 hours or it would begin to spoil.

To lessen the gradient would have taken a great deal more work and therefore more cost, so the client begrudgingly accepted the situation. To be honest the landscapers thought it was a storm in a teacup and that I was overreacting to the fact that the client was unhappy, but then that is what I am paid to do. I looked at other things we could do to make the lawn flat and put these to the client, but each was rejected based on cost.

Of course, as soon as the client saw the finished article they were as happy as Larry and loved it all…. The fact remains however, that this was one of those occasions when the law of unintended consequences was apparent and a timely reminder to look deeper into client requests for change, as sometimes these changes are not as simple to resolve as this one was. Basically, I am saying that ideally all items of concern should be dealt with in the design phase and the building should be constructed as designed.

Architects bear a huge responsibility to rein back their egos when designing and to be very certain that they are not railroading their clients into something they cannot afford… just because they think they know better. Clients of architects should always take on a construction manager, working on their behalf, to oversee the design phase and to make sure that nothing is on the drawing that they don’t want or cannot afford!


Project Management

What is this and why should we use it for our building project?
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What should we look for?
Can we afford to do this?
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Finding out what it should all cost.
Keeping those costs under control.
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How it can really help a project.
How to do it properly.
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Tender Process

Making sure the build team is properly chosen and prepared.
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Finding the best value materials.
Making sure they stay that way.
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Site Management

Working with the whole team,
helping everyone to get it right.
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CDM 2015 Regulations

Carrying out the Principle Contractor Role For CDM 2015 Regulations
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