Site Management

Everything is in place The budget is ready, the men and materials are all set up and ready to go. Good old Kevin McCloud says “building a house is akin to building a rocket ship in fourteenth century Albania”. It can seem like that at times. But if all the planning has been carried out properly, there should be few surprises at this point. It should be known by now whether the site and design are feasible and any changes that were required will have been made and all fully incorporated within the budget and programme. It should also be known how long the project should take and when each segment should occur. All the work package contractors should have been notified of the start date and all the suppliers should be aware that the construction phase is about to begin.

Whoever is going to run the site on a daily basis should be set up in the site office with the phone and laptop all fired up and prepared for action. The storage containers and the welfare facilities should be plumbed in and wired up and the first set of contractors should be on site ready to begin. They will have been briefed on the Health & Safety regime and they will have been instructed with what they are doing and in what order for that day.

Who is going to do this? Who is directing the day to day operations and how? If the owner is doing it themselves, do they have the necessary technical experience? Do they have the required managerial skills and programming know-how? Do they have the ability to act quickly and calmly when problems occur and panic abounds? That’s a lot of questions and they all need answering if the project is to be a success. It’s good being prepared in advance, but to maintain a healthy project is going to require the use of all of the above skills in the continuous reassessment of progress.

The management of a construction project needs a set of skills not given to us at birth. The project manager will need to carry out their duties properly and with enthusiasm. They must be able to motivate and yet maintain discipline. They are going to need a variety of technical skills to be able to solve any problems when they occur and to keep the whole thing rolling forward.

Programme management is essential to the smooth running of any project during the construction period. It can be carried out remotely, as long as there is someone on site who can provide all the required information. It is only with keeping a wary eye on everything though, that the build will continue to run smoothly.

Liaising with all parties calls for the ability to converse at all levels and without losing the thread or causing offence. There is no place for a huge ego in building management. The job requires a good set of negotiating skills in order to keep to the prime objective, which is to complete on time and on budget. The project manager will need to work with anyone involved in the build. This will include building control officers, conservation officers and any other environmental representatives. They will also need to interact constantly with the design team to deal with any design issues or alterations which may occur.

Controlling the site.  Through the supervisor, the project manager should knit the contractors labour with the flow of materials. This keeps the whole thing moving forward. The manager should also be able to motivate the labour force and develop a team spirit to make best use of everyone’s talents and expertise. The manager must also be able to mediate between the various personalities in the team to ensure that friction is kept to a minimum. Managing a site is not about ordering people about and shouting, no matter how stressful the job may become. A cool calm head needs to be maintained at all times. This however does not mean ignoring problems in the hope that they will go away.

Providing technical aid to the contractors is required to assist the smooth operation of their work. It also makes certain that work dovetails in with any subsequent contractors. The initial period of the project is crucial and involves the setting out of works so surveying skills are essential as any mistakes made at this point could prove very costly indeed. The manager should also provide advice to the client on materials and processes as well as updates on operational progress. This may require translation of technical language into layman’s terms… and all without appearing conceited.

A common problem in construction is the architects drawings not containing enough information for the contractors to perform a given task. This could be due to a complex design, or more likely because the architects brief didn’t include a request for detailed drawings. This will then need discussions and design sketches by the project manager to enable the contractor to finish their task properly. In order to achieve this, a good deal of technical expertise and skill in problem solving is required. A wrong decision at this point could mean poorly completed work and subsequent rebuilding.

A trained and impassive set of eyes is essential to inspect the work for quality and to spot all and any departures from the specifications or design. It is only with expertise gained from experience will some of these deviations be revealed. Sometimes what appears to be a small error at an early stage may be responsible for much larger problems later. The ability to project forward and foresee likely troubles only comes with experience. Mistakes in foundations for example, can have disastrous and expensive outcomes. Unfortunately less skilled labour is generally used for groundwork and this is a sorry state of affairs within the construction industry, which urgently needs addressing. Until that time, the only remedy is for closer scrutiny of the process.

At agreed periods, work carried out by contractors will need to be valued and certified, to allow payment and to confirm that the work has been carried out correctly. This is a skilled process and only someone properly trained can really perform the task accurately. Mistakes made in valuations can lead to disputes, loss of motivation and delays. Sometimes the process requires diplomacy and negotiation and again this calls for a particular set of skills. The certification and acceptance of works completed can have a bearing on any later claims for poor workmanship, if something should go wrong.

Variations to the specifications or design will always be a feature of the construction process. Dealing with them can be a nightmare. Contractors have a living to make and most of them would quite happily live the rest of their lives without being involved in variation battles. It is a fact of life that people change their minds. Self-build clients can be the guiltiest of this, as they are in essence building a dream. What first appears to be a cracking design on paper can suddenly appear too small or even the wrong shape when viewed on site. Ground floor slabs are notorious for looking too small when clients first see them and at that stage the alterations normally begin.

If after discussion  alterations are still going to be made, then it requires a lot of effort and skill to negotiate them. The design will need to be scrutinised for any resulting problems and the contractors involved will need to be briefed. In addition programming and costing concerns will need to be tackled. If this process is not carried out correctly it can lead to disputes and litigation. It is the single largest problem on any building project and should be undertaken with care. If the initial tender process was carried out properly then it should be bit easier, as the method of dealing with variations would already have been addressed.

Finance management is something most self-builders seem to want to keep control of for themselves and that is understandable. It is however a job that should be carried out by a trained bookkeeper and if skilled in that field, then the self-builder can easily carry out this function. Account control ledgers and a current cashbook need to be kept up to date. Invoices and delivery notes will need to be checked for errors in pricing or quantities against the merchants statements before payment, as unfortunately some merchants make more “mistakes” than others.  Also a good businesslike relationship with a supplier is essential to get the best from them and payments need to be made accurately and on time.

Controlling the flow of cash is extremely important especially if there is any borrowing required for the build cost.  Staged payments from banks can at best be variable. It is essential then for a careful account of cashflow to be kept, so that payments are made in good time and trade accounts utilised to the full. Again this calls for an experienced eye and juggling Peter to pay Paul is an art form in itself. Cashflow should also play a part in formulating the build programme, so it is essential that a full disclosure of all funds available and any mortgage payment schedule be provided to whoever is carrying out this task.

Internet banking is a boon to managing finances in a construction project. It allows both the manager and the client to have constant access to the account and enables the flow of funds to be made easily and efficiently.  It cuts down on paperwork and allows the simple and effective payment of bills and wages. It is however necessary to open an independent account with a separate bank to the client’s, in order to maintain their financial privacy.

SFS Management Contracting can carry out the whole process on your behalf and have the necessary skills to do so if required. There is no real need for full time site based management on most projects, unless the value of the project exceeds £500k. This is the rule of thumb cost level above which requires the use of a full time site manager. Project managers do not normally undertake site management on a full time basis, as this is not the best use of their talents. At lower cost levels, it is normal to employ a tradesman to act as site supervisor in addition to their work package, for extra wages. This works well and with constant guidance by the project manager the method can be extremely productive. If the project value is above £500k, very complex or maybe with an accelerated build time then a full time site manager would be needed to support the project manager.

The cost for operational project management below £500k is about 3%.  Finance management is approximately 1.5% and Programme management a further 1%. In addition site management/supervision is normally about 6% for full time cover so a part time tradesman/ supervisor should therefore be around 3%. All of these percentages relate to the nett build cost. That is, the cost of building without any fees or VAT and are all dependent on the complexity of the design.

If you still really want to do all of this yourself, then SFS Management Contracting would create a bespoke package to work with you as a mentor, helping to keep your focus on the right path… Aiding in utilising the best paperwork and software and advising on all aspects of site management. Operating in the background to make life easier we would always be there at the end of the phone as a lifeline, when it gets difficult, offering sensible constructive advice and assistance.

The cost for a mentoring service would be about 2% of the nett build cost, for operational management on a new build project, with all other costs as shown above so only a minor saving can be made. There is however a great deal to be learned and if the intention is to continue with further projects, this can be the best way of gaining the required know-how. The self builder must remember of course that along with the satisfaction of self-management comes the responsibility. SFS management Contracting cannot accept full liability for problems on sites not fully managed by the firm.

Building disputes can cause prolonged ill feeling. They need careful management so that both parties can finish their business without any further disagreement. This service comes as standard with a full project management package, although if the project is professionally run, it really shouldn’t get to that stage. If a self-builder should hit such problems with their contractors, then utilising this service can be a real help. SFS Management Contracting would act as a go-between to avoid any further hostility. The project could then be completed with the minimum of further disruption. It is the employment of a proactive unbiased attitude with the emphasis on completing the project which makes this service of real benefit to all concerned.

The cost for the dispute resolution service is charged at an hourly rate plus travelling expenses. It offers a cost effective alternative to legal action, which usually makes both parties poorer. Most importantly, litigation normally puts the work on hold until the matter is resolved. Get in touch through the contact page and a fee proposal will be sent within 24hrs starting the process of putting your project back on track.

Project Management

What is this and why should we use it for our building project?
Read more

Feasibility

What should we look for?
Can we afford to do this?
Read more

Budgeting

Finding out what it should all cost.
Keeping those costs under control.
Read more

Programming

How it can really help a project.
How to do it properly.
Read more

Tender Process

Making sure the build team is properly chosen and prepared.
Read more

Procurement

Finding the best value materials.
Making sure they stay that way.
Read more

Site Management

Working with the whole team,
helping everyone to get it right.
Read more

CDM 2015 Regulations

Carrying out the Principle Contractor Role For CDM 2015 Regulations
Read more