Get Back to Where You Once Belonged

Vince Bailey

April 2008

If I were asked to number the instances in which I was "fervently requested” by a potential customer to include an item in my proposal that was outside my normal scope of work, I think they would be too numerous to recall. And judging from the comments I’ve heard from many of my colleagues, I’d say that baiting a sub to move away from his comfort zone is the sport of preference among many general contractors these days.

Oh, there are many legitimate reasons why a GC may want to offer you "extended opportunities” on a project, aside from the chronic "gaping hole” in his own estimate. He may lack the skilled personnel to perform the work in-house. The site may be geographically remote and difficult to attract bidders for smaller amounts of specialty work. Then, too, he may infer that an item is integral to your work in terms of sequence. In such instances as these, a GC can be very insistent—even downright pushy—about adding work to your contract that is foreign to your usual performance. He may even go so far as to hold the award in abeyance until you relent.

My advice in most of these cases is to dig your heels in and don’t yield to the pressure. Accepting work outside of your element without adequate time to research the endeavor can turn an attractive project that suits your dance card just fine into a nightmare pit full of vipers with the mere stroke of a pen.

The potential problems range from the obvious to the latent. You may lack the familiarity with the work to assign accurate or appropriate labor productions, or you may fail to price correctly (or even include) all of the required materials for a complete assembly. Your own personnel may lack the skills or even the requisite certification for performing the work—such as welding structural (dimensioned) steel components. You may be seduced into performing what seems to be a complementary or similar installation—such as gypsum board roofing underlayment—only to find that your current insurance does not cover that activity. You may be asked to provide backing for other trades, but don’t have (and won’t have) the layout information until shop drawings are submitted and approved—another development that is out of your control. You may agree to install the plywood sheathing alongside the gypsum sheathing, only to discover that codes require fire-treated wood in that application. I could go on, but the point is obvious. Lacking familiarity can lead to costly mistakes.

Not that expanding scope is necessarily a bad thing when all the available information can be considered in a deliberate manner. Taking on the insulation, for instance, is a sequential complement that can give a drywall contractor more scheduling control in some cases.

Overlap of equipment is another factor to weigh when considering added scope, as in the case of a contractor who is doing the exterior sheathing and stucco/exterior insulation and finish system with stationary scaffold. Why not do the caulk as well, while the scaffold is still up? You may be currently dealing with a trustworthy supplier who offers a complementary product, such as a fastener supplier who also carries a line of fire-spray. If the unfamiliarity is still daunting, you might do well to consider taking on a second-tier sub to figure and perform the work under your contractual umbrella.

So you see, adding scope can be beneficial when it is done in a thoughtful way. But to enter the cloudy realm of unfamiliarity under pressure from an over aggressive GC with a gap to fill is a formula for professional disaster. Tread cautiously, or, better still, get back to your comfort zone.

Vince Bailey is an estimator/operations manager for San Juan Insulation and Drywall, Durango, Colo.