Sunday, May 18, 2014

How more wrong could it go?

In my local municipality, the council has been building a re-developed aquatic centre for nigh on two and a half years (give or take) for a project of, about $12m.

It is badly over due for any reasonable completion time (it was advertised as 12 months), having commenced in January 2012 and has attracted attention as a result. Understandable given that multi-hundred million dollar retail centres don't take that long!

The council has explained it thus:
The construction is a complicated project and is taking longer than expected due to a number of factors including:
  • earlier wet weather during demolition and excavation
  • poor ground conditions
  • the unavailability of key construction components including the pool hall roof, forcing a redesign,
  • tweaks to the design along the way brought about by design clashes and improvements being incorporated into the final product
  • and the availability of the key subcontractors that will make this a quality product.
Now, an acquatic centre, while moderately complex, is a well known type of facility and should be able to be reliably delivered.

Just looking at the council's explanations for delay, it looks like a few fundamental and frequently made mistakes may have occurred:

'Tweaks to the design' and 'design clashes: They scream out "we rushed". Not enough time or effort into pre-construction, we did the design on the cheap, we didn't let the consultants use 3D clash detection, we probably didn't budget properly and we didn't have effective project launch workshops (links to three firms I've dealt with).

Wet weather? There's always wet weather, and we should always allow a delivery contingency for it. Not merely a 'stab in the dark' but something that's based on meteorological records. They're available for free from the government!

Poor ground conditions? Basic risk; that's why we do ground tests and retain geotechncial engineers, then use them to guide footing design. Skip this step and you are up the creek before you know it.

Contractor availability? Basic procurement risk mis-management. Or was the head contractor on such a skinny price, that he didn't have a secure hold on his subbies? Either way, the liquidated damages provisions of the contract should ensure that the rate-payers get their damages back.

Component availability? Design management not done well for this to occur. Were the 'hard to get's' specified instead of practical design being the objective? I don't know, but in a mature industry, I'd think that one has to go out of one's way to specify components that would bring delays.

None of which is, as they say, 'rocket science', but good building project practice that has been developed over decades. There are plenty of practitioners who would have easily got it right; but then, that requires an investor that will take advice; and that may be the nub of it. Particularly when the investor is not familiar with the building type.

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