Ask Before you BIM

Have you been in this situation before? You’re invited to a party by new acquaintance and decide to show the host your gratitude by bringing a thoughtful gift. After giving it some thought, you decide on a bottle of wine and then make the effort to visit that nice wine shop across town to find the perfect bottle. You arrive at the party with the prized bottle smartly wrapped and proudly presently it to your host who barely looks at it winegiftbefore dropping it off in the kitchen where it sits, untouched, for the rest of the evening.  You turn red after realizing you wasted your afternoon (and 50 bucks) for nothing and maybe you should have asked your host if he was a wine drinker before splurging on the bottle in the first place.


Here’s a similar scenario, your team is committed to delivering a complete set of O&M’s as part of the final deliverables on your most recent project.  You’re eager to show off your team’s tech prowess. So, you direct your project engineer to imbed the PDFs of the equipment manuals into the MEP model for the building along with links to the website for each equipment manufacturer and then export the finished model to a dedicated server so that the owner’s facilities team can access it over the web. A month after delivery, you discover that the website has had virtually no traffic. Why? As it turns out, the facilities team has been printing individual sheets and placing them in binders instead of using your “fancy” website. Ouch.


Lesson learned; be sure you’re on the same page when it comes to O&M deliverables. Make sure that those on the receiving end have the equipment, training and desire to access a sophisticated O&M solution before you go through the trouble to build one. If not, save yourself the trouble and deliver a zip drive full of PDFs (and a $7 bottle of wine from the supermarket.)


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Haystack or Yard Sales? What’s Your Photo Organization Style?

I talk to a lot of people about construction photos. When it comes to construction photo management, nine out of ten of those people fall into one of two camps; camp “Haystack” camp “Yard Sale.” Each camp has its problems, but only one is honest enough to admit to them.


Here’s how I would describe each (I’ll let you decide, which camp knows they have a problem):

Camp Haystack

  • Utilizes a document software solution for archiving photos. 
  • Has a system in place for naming and organizing photos in file folder treeHay Bails
  • Photo data is incorporated into the filename of the photo using descriptive text or a number code that may include some combination of drawing number, location (by zone or grid), employeeID, RFI or some other unique ID like blood type, astrological sign or favorite college football mascot.
  • Responsibility for filing photos can be assigned to each individual on the team or assigned to a designated admin.
  • Photos are shot using a variety of devices including smart phones, flip phones, Blackberries, iPads, point-and-shoot cameras, full-body SLRs and maybe even a Polaroid, Etch-a-Sketch or watercolor on canvas.
  • The system may be imposed by the GC on all partners in the project including subcontractors, designers and consultants.


Camp Yard Sale

  • Photos are shot using a variety of devices including smart phones, flip phones, Blackberries, iPads, point-and-shoot cameras, full-body SLRs and maybe even a Polaroid, Etch-a-Sketch or watercolor on canvas. 
  • All photos reside on the device they were originally shot with.

Who admits to having a problem? Camp Yard Sale, of course.  They know their photos are all over the place. That their photos will follow people to their next projects, that they are at risk of deletion at any time and that any post construction research that needs to be conducted will most likely resemble a Nicholas Cage movie.

Camp Haystack, on the other hand, has deluded themselves into thinking that they have everything under control. However, thanks to a reliance on manually generated metadata (typed file names, folder names, etc.) and all of the variances, inaccuracies and typos that go along with it, what they actually have is a aesthetically pleasing pile of rubbish. For all of the person-hours dedicated to its organization, Camp Haystack’s archive is about as reliable as a clothes dryer full of unmatched socks. Good luck finding what you need in there.

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Redefining the Construction Jobsite Community

We just returned from a family visit to Long Island where my wife and I spent the first 25 years of our lives. We have made numerous trips like this one over the years, but this one was a little different.  Even though we hadn’t seen many of our NY-based family and friends for almost two years, we didn’t need to dedicate a large chunk of time “catching up”.   Instead, we picked up on many conversations as though our last visit was weeks ago, not years. After giving it some thought, there was only one way to explain this; Facebook.

NewPlatformSocial media has enabled us to remain connected with our geographically-challenged friends in a way that is much more intimate that was possible before. So we can retain the “community-feel” of our relationships with out the benefit of physical proximity.

So, what does this have to do with construction? I think the center of the jobsite community has shifted from the trailer of the General Contractor out into “The Cloud” of the Internet. If you doubt that this is true, I suggest you take a look at the 10-person CC line from your typical project team email discussion. You’d be hard pressed to visit each person in that distribution list by car in a single day.

The problem is that our industry does not yet have the benefit of a social platform like Facebook to provide a secure forum for project discussions to take place.  In such a place, you as a user could grant permission to specific individuals or organizations in order to exchange project-related information with you based on your preferences and your responsibility to the project.  And no, this is not something that Sharepoint does right now. I’m talking about the ability to have ongoing dialogue about project-related issues and having all supporting information tied-together in a single place to provide for a more powerful discussion than can be had on email alone.

I just wish such a platform existed…

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Revisiting the Role of the Construction Quality Manager

Note: In 2008, a humorous conversation with a colleague who had been working on a condo project that had just hired its third QC manager in less than a year inspired me to write the post below. It’s been five years and I’m wondering if attitudes in the industry have improved. I can only hope that they have.

New Job Offer for Construction QC Manager? Run Away!!!


The modern day Construction QC Manager is a fraud. Not the person, but the position. The position is a creation of the general contractor’s principles in a effort to portray themselves as a quality driven organization. Meanwhile, it’s not uncommon for a big project to burn through two or more QC Managers during  a project. Why? Because it’s impossible to do the job well.

QAHardhatIf you’re competent and conscientious, then you’re the bad cop. You are the one that every operative on a job site avoids like the plague, because if you have something to say it’s going to cost time. You’re either going to slow them down with your petty “compliance” issues or make “extra” work to correct something you don’t like?

Finicky QC managers are death to a tight schedule.

If you’re compliant and a “good guy”, then you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Compliant QC managers let defects pile up. Before you know it, a rain storm blows in and leaves an inch of standing water in every room on the north side of the building because the penetrations weren’t properly caulked. Now the project is looking at a week’s worth of water remediation.

Compliant QC managers are death to a tight schedule.

Here’s a thought. What if Quality Control was given higher profile in the general contractor’s organization? * At that level, executives can plan and implement effective Quality Systems that can not only catch defects and assure compliance, but save time and money during construction by bringing structure and efficiency to preconstruction planning. An empowered VP of Quality can also champion process improvement and hold subcontractors to standards for training and process correction during construction.

While my recommendations may seem drastic and completely impractical, they have already been implemented with great success in the manufacturing sector.  By moving quality up the management chain to the “corner office” starting in the late 70′s, American manufacturers learned the lessons of their Japanese counterparts; improved quality pays off in lower defect rates, lower rework and better schedule performance.


*Updated for 2013: A recent Google search for “Construction Vice President Quality” produced returned four people at the VP level with some mention of “Quality” in their title (in the first five pages of results.) This is a four-fold improvement from the first time I conducted this search in 2008.

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The Impenetrable Construction Documents Set

Is your construction doc set constructed in a way that is accessible to your clients/end-users? I’ve touched on this issue in a recent post over at Construction Law Musings. While project managers spend plenty of time and effort planning their projects for execution, I think more attention needs to be paid to making deliverable documents more accessible for owners use.


With an eye towards providing value for the usable life of the building, special attention should be paid to these areas:

                  • Continuous LEED compliance
                  • Equipment maintenance
                  • Photo layout of MEC systems
                  • Maintenance for non-mechanical installations (e.g. roofs, paint, wood products)
                  • Landscaping care
                  • Appliances 

What are some of the other ways in which you can deliver information that enhances the long-term value of your end-of-project deliverables?

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What is needed to ensure success in construction projects?

Recently Mohamed Elmahroug, asked this simple, yet compelling question of the community over at the Construction Management group over at LinkedIn. After conferring with Mohamed, I took up the task of tabulating the answers, which resulted in the chart below. As you can imagine, converting long-form answers into categories was a completely subjective exercise, but I did my best to be consistent. I also kept track of the more colorful responses and how I categorized them (below.)













My comments on some of the category labels:

  • Programming – covers any aspects of project management and planning.
  • Communication – sometimes this was explicitly stated, sometimes it was implied.
  • Partnering – this covers any of the many references to outside entities, including subcontractors.
  • Personnel – there were many references to personal qualities and team qualities

Select unique answers from replies (listed by category):


Understanding of Job
Absences of assumptions
avoid blaming others
weekly progress meetings
First, one has to define success

Attention to Detail

Zeal to excel
over deliver
vision of an eagle


Righter person, right job experience
great team
God-given talent
knowledge, skill, expertise
a pro-active project management team
More use of experienced construction professionals 


Adequate Funds to prime flagging ends


Thick skin
community support
government relations
market demand
good parking(!)
ownership by end user


Fair & open minded cooperation
2-way accountability
a willingness to compromise


take pride in their work
professional, experienced, punctual
experienced and innovative subcontractors meeting expected deliverables on time
Good subcontractors


well-maintained, cost- loaded schedule
realistic and sequenced programme
plan & prioritize
a good crystal ball
construction delivery processes
Being able to forsee likely bottlenecks/hurdles
a pro-active project management team,


ownership of responsibility
committed to common goal
customer satisfaction for a fee paid & time promised
commitment to achieve results
achieiving deadlines
tenacity of a pit bull
be focused systematically till the end
a compliant contractor/supplier
no complains from customers

Fully Coordinated Design

inject construction team into design process
realistic requirements
realistic expectations of time and quality 
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Making City Inspectors More Efficient in the age of Austerity

Mark this one in the “Ask a Stupid Question” column, but why do we spend so much time waiting around for muni inspectors to sign off on corrections?  This is an obvious case where photos can be put to good use for remote acceptance of non-critical corrections.  Doing so will save cities the cost of sending their inspectors camera-phoneback for repeat visits and save the contractors numerous days of needless waiting. What’s needed for such a system to work?

                  • Photos of the “before” state of the rejected work.
                  • A validation mechanism to ensure the authenticity of photos (tamper-proof QR code labels combined with GPS capture would work here.)
                  • An established re-check procedure along with a list of rejections that are qualified for remote verification. The list could be divided into two sections; 1 – Repair, Record & Proceed and 2 – Repair, Record & Wait for Approval.
  • A secure system for handling and storing photos. No, million dollar RFPs for software development are not necessary here. Off-the-shelf Cloud-solutions can handle this requirement just fine.

What would it be worth to you to have the ability to keep moving without waiting for an inspector to return?

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10 tips to ensure construction photos don’t slip through your fingers

Your construction site is crawling with photographers. Each and every one of these folks is grabbing hundreds of important photos each week for all sorts of reasons. However, rarely do you make the accommodations necessary to capture those photos that are within your grasp.  More likely, you have concerned yourself with a finite set of photos from a dedicated task like recording progress or MEP placement prior to wall closure.  Yet, when it comes time to investigate a delay claim or a safety issue you’re likely to find a void in coverage from the photos you have.

When planning your next project take the time to add these requirements to your project specs:


  1. Require everyone (subs, consultants, designers, etc.) to organize, label and store their project photos on a common platform.
  2. Subs should shoot opening and closing photos of their work areas every day.
  3. Specify that consultants provide photo files to supplement each of the images that they imbed in their reports.
  4. Organize photos with location references, like grid lines, room numbers, sectors or GPS (or all of them!)
  5. Ask your safety manager to photograph routine checks.
  6. Capture early photos from estimators and surveyors to include in the project data set.
  7. Make accommodations for less tech savvy team members to ensure that their photos do not languish on their phones or cameras.
  8. Incorporate your site cam photos into the mix.
  9. Train your team to shoot a wide-angle photo for each set of closeup shots they take to improve the context later on.
  10. Establish a protocol to shoot any sequence of photos in a uniform manner (e.g. always sweep from left to right and move clockwise around the subject) to make photos more predictable later on.
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