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Residential Project Mangaement, Independent Construction Management, Cost Management, Planning & Design
Residential Project Mangaement, Independent Construction Management, Cost Management, Planning & Design


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Deconstructing the Team
Lessons Learnt in Prestige Construction Seminar 2013
By Louisa Richter von Morgenstern

The subject of team:
Let’s take a look at the subject of team. How do we achieve the Holy Grail of ‘on budget’ and ‘on time’? The obvious point is avoiding design changes. But there are numerous much more subtle trip hazards that arise during a construction project and that’s where you really do need to know your contract and where you need to have a lot of experience, particularly in dealing with people, who are ultimately human beings.

Team equals outcomes:
Whenever people talk about construction they tend to envisage ‘the contractor’. But what about the design team, who the contractor, and client, has a great deal of reliance upon? And also what about the atmosphere and working culture of a project?

This can be determined by either, and often the strongest party, or indeed person. The working culture of a project is what sets the tone on a project and it is driven by the people involved; the team, which includes everybody involved in the project, and sometimes the client. Ultimately the drive and attitude of the team will determine how the project is dealt with and subsequently the outcomes.

Project management:
I am a great believer in paring things back to their very simplest component and I think that the greatest lesson that I have learnt as a project manager is ‘team’ and, if you invest the best quality MAN into PROJECT, the result is effective PROJECT-MAN-AGEMENT.

Building projects are challenging and the quality of people involved is absolutely paramount. I have learnt from experience that if somebody has a poor attitude to begin with, there is a likelihood that it will manifest in that person’s installation or service, and vice versa. If life is a mirror of your intentions and you do truly get out of life what you put in, then it makes total sense that this will translate professionally.

Attitude matters:
In the context of a construction project, attitude reflects in two key areas: Firstly, what somebody is supposed to be doing in the first place and secondly, how that person handles a challenge when it does arise. It makes the difference between a challenge that is handled well and something becoming a problem. Attitude matters a lot.

Best results:
A team that enjoys working together and is really driven and excited about the results that they are going to achieve is fantastic and that is where you are going to get the best result. I also believe that teams are about equality: I need each of them and they equally need me and each other.

Having deconstructed the team and in paring it back to discuss the essential elements of good teamwork, when building a team it is about the quality of people involved, but not only that. It is also about the art of motivating someone to do something because they really want to, not because they have to, and because they will have the opportunity of ownership and will be able to share in the excitement and reward of the end result.
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A Practical Approach to Completion
Lessons Learnt in Prestige Construction Seminar 2013
By Louisa Richter von Morgenstern

Emotive subject:
Practical completion and liquidated damages combine to be probably the single most emotive subject that may arise on a building project. It is a highly sensitive issue because this is where the parties have something other than face to lose.

As a Contract Administrator I have first-hand experience of dealing with these issues in the context of the standard JCT suite of construction contracts, and particularly in relation to private residential construction, where ‘one size contracts’ definitely do not fit all.

Think with care

If a client moves in, under the standard form of JCT contract, to any degree, it is automatically deemed that the entire works are complete and it triggers something known as Practical Completion.

Practical Completion triggers the release of 2.5% of a total 5% retention but, most importantly, it removes the client’s right to apply liquidated damages, if the contractor is late.

Standard clauses:
A potential resulting scenario is that there may be a rare occasion where the client’s own circumstances have dictated that they must move in, in the face of a legitimately extended programme. Envisage that there are also works that are incomplete to a point where it would prevent the full enjoyment and use of any relevant areas, or there may otherwise be apparent defects. In this scenario and under the standard clauses, the works would be deemed practically complete and the client would be deemed in acceptance of whatever state the building is in. Standard clauses are ‘standard’ and do not account for exceptions.

Clearly there are degrees of ownership involved in such a scenario and these should be recognised and accounted for fairly.

An impossible proposition:
The first issue is that the works are clearly not complete and as a Contract Administrator, that puts you in an incredibly difficult position. Professionally, and quite sensibly, you must never certify works to be complete, if there are anything other than de minimis, or insignificant, items outstanding. Broadly that means that that no remaining items should be at risk of causing any real inconvenience.

On the other hand, under the standard clauses, the contract dictates that you must issue Practical Completion. What do you do? Dilute professional standards at the risk of negligence, or ignore the provisions of the contract, which are totally at odds with professional standards?

Occupation or persuasion?:
I once came across a contractor who tried very hard to convince me that Practical Completion had been triggered because the client moved some boxes in. I of course argued that a box is incapable of opening a fridge door, has no ability to turn on a tap and has no requirement for heating or hot water. How can this possibly amount to occupation?

Fair play:
To resolve these conflicts fairly and, engaging some common sense, we have specifically drafted amendments to the Practical Completion clauses of the JCT suite of contracts. The contract now gives the Contract Administrator discretion to issue Practical Completion, should a client move in before the works are truly complete.

This provision is intended specifically for private residential works, where you would otherwise have the benefit of Sectional Practical Completion occurring on a commercial project, where some areas can reasonably be fully occupied. This does not work on private residential projects because a client moves into a home, usually with one kitchen and with the associated needs of a family.

A common sense approach

The common sense approach is to list the items incomplete or defective and then value those. You can then take the value of that against a percentage of the whole contract value and still levy liquidated damages against that percentage.

The reduced liquidates damages will then not penalise the contractor unfairly but the client will still be protected in the event of an apparent substantial defect. This in turn provides fairness and a level of comfort to both parties.

It results in an economic and workable solution to the issues that arise specifically in relation to private residential projects and Practical Completion. It also results in a win-win scenario, which should ultimately be at the core of your aims, and which inevitably improves relations all round.
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High Maintenance
By Louisa Richter von Morgenstern

Bespoke installations:
Envisage that you have just taken possession of your very wonderful new home in London or the countryside, following extensive refurbishment works. You now have between four and eight bathrooms, most with rather lovely large shower heads and, even better, when you have a houseful of guests, nobody will run out of hot water!

If this is the case then you will almost certainly have installed a bespoke mechanical installation, including pressurisation, booster sets, water conditioners and possibly more than one very large boiler.

Gadgets and gizmos:
Your installations may also extend to a Building Management System, gas fires operated via Crestron screens, Lutron lighting, a cinema, a biomass boiler, a swimming pool, a recording studio, a steam room or a wine cellar where humidity and temperature require precise control.

This description only summarises some of the potential components of a high-end installation and there are of course simpler installations. Regardless of the scope of the installation, why is it so often a surprise when the proposal for annual servicing of the boiler is received at completion of the works? Bi-annual servicing of a large boiler will not cost the same as the annual servicing of the boiler that you had in your London pad in your twenties!

Needles to say, these types of installations tend to be costly and they come with warranties and manufacturers' recommendations for maintenance. Failure to maintain may well invalidate a warranty, so maintain correctly you must.

A shift in dynamics:
Assuming that you have several of the above-mentioned installations, you will undoubtedly require several visits during the year by a number of specialists. You no longer have a contractor on site who takes responsibility for the welfare of the site and the works are no longer insured. This is where the dynamics shift.

Unlike a building contract where the works are fully quantified, the term ‘servicing the boiler’ leaves the work being carried out rather poorly defined. Are they also checking the valves to the gas meter and are they checking for any leaks to the joints of the boiler flue? You need to know exactly what work is being carried out and at what cost. Minor items left unchecked can result in costly repairs, or worse, failure.

A bespoke contract:
We are currently jointly completing the drafting of a bespoke maintenance contract and issues that have arisen include how the maintenance team is structured, responsibility for maintaining a tidy site, responsibility for maintaining and updating the Operation and Maintenance Manuals, access procedures and notification of attendance, insurance and, very importantly, security.

Embarking on this exercise delivered some real surprises and I was shocked to find that the high-end residential market is really quite poorly serviced when it comes to maintenance.

Reactive versus planned & preventative:
There is also more than one aspect to maintenance and it falls broadly into the categories of planned and preventative maintenance and reactive maintenance. Planned and preventative maintenance can be well structured in advance but the team needs to be highly committed and very competent to be effective when it comes to reactive maintenance. This in turn raises the issue of how works are instructed, carried out and then signed off.

These are some aspects to consider when you embark on the design phase of your project and when the works are nearing completion. You may not include a host of wonderful gadgets and gizmos but, at the very least, don’t be surprised if the cost of servicing your boiler seems high!
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Residential Construction Project Management - The Fundamentals of Project Delivery Part 2
By Louisa Richter von Morgenstern

What is the goal of the project?  The goal is to deliver to our clients, on time and within budget, a level of performance that reflects what they expect and what they are paying for. It is about delivering a level of professionalism and service that surpasses their expectations and it is about delivering the project with a sense of humanity and respect.

So let’s put some more flesh on the bones. Delivering on time and within budget involves working on each and every cost to make sure that we are providing our clients with the best, most informed option. It means preparing and forwarding the correct information to the appropriate parties at the right time. We have to ensure that items on the critical path happen when they are meant to.

We need to put suitable resources into each phase of the project to guarantee the maximum efficiency. Throwing all available resources at a project on day one is likely to cause nothing but frustration and delay. It is the right resource at the right time that will keep a project on track.

Delivering a level of professionalism and service is all about attitude and not accepting anything other than every member of the team’s best. Never has there been a better example of going the extra mile. It is about creating a seamless evolution between the existing and the proposed.

Humanity and respect are two of the most important inputs into a project and they reflect in every aspect and relationship throughout, and very often beyond the lifespan of the project.  It is not just about respecting individuals and points of view. It is about creating positive energy so that everyone in the team is empowered and knows that without all the cogs in place, time stands still.

By adding these ingredients together, in the right quantities and at the right time, we gain the best possible chance of delivering what we set out to do.
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Residential Construction Project Management - The Fundamentals of Project Delivery Part 1
By Louisa Richter von Morgenstern

It is very easy to get swept away with the details on a project and take your eye off the goal.

No matter what the industry it is essential to constantly remind yourself of the core objectives and aims of a project. Strip it back down to basics, break it apart, piece by piece, look at the bottom line and rebuild from there.

In our industry, residential construction project management, this is a relatively simple task that can take a few minutes and can result in the refocusing of resources, saving both time and money.

Over the life of a typical project, the Contract Administrator will prepare the contract documents, seek instructions from clients and issue Contract Instructions and Certificates for Payment. We will chair site meetings and write the reports. We become involved in agreeing commissioning and testing procedures, we prepare the Schedule of Defects and issue Practical Completion. We become involved in every decision along the road, building relationships as we go.

Whilst this is indeed our role, focusing on what we do on a daily basis can lead to a blur at the end of the tunnel and it is here that we must stop and assess. This is exactly the moment to break it apart....
Part 2 to follow.
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RVM would like to thank Kyan for working closely with us to re-brand and  in producing a very beautiful website.
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