Communication Breakdown

Vince Bailey / October 2020

Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiving. “Stairway to Heaven"—(Page and Plant)

At the risk of coming off as somewhat conceited, I wish to start this piece by stating that I take great pride in my ability to use the language effectively. The emphasis here is on effectively. I underscore neither the foundation of a strong vocabulary, nor the knack of turning a witty phrase. No, my focus here is on the importance of clarity. I strive to identify or cite the crucial elements in an issue or piece of information and to express my understanding of them in clearly comprehensible terms. That is how I am assured, for instance, that when I write an RFI to a general contractor, the matter at issue is clear to the recipient. I feel less likely to get a response that does not address the question (though I am often disappointed in this regard, nevertheless). I think this explains my frustration when confronted with a field foreman’s unique interpretation of my work. How a clearly expressed set of guidelines can be misconstrued past recognition is beyond me. Still, in spite of all good intentions, the field performance of a project all too often goes off the path into the tall grass, leaving me to mutter references to certain unmentionable body parts.
Over the years, I have participated in or organized handoff meetings for various production departments that were clear, accurate and complete. These meetings offered the opportunity to review plans, specs, addenda and notes. Structure is key here, and a written agenda is critical to keeping the conversation from devolving into a bull session. Some bullet points for a good thorough handoff meeting are itemized here:
Jobsite contact information. I like to put the jobsite vitals right up top in the masthead of the agenda where they belong. Location, general contractor, project manager and superintendent names and numbers, and projected start date are all included here.
Scope review. Not just the particular trades involved, but the specifics of the performance such as inclusions, exclusions and clarifications are outlined here. Sources include the bid proposal, addenda and instructions to bidders (ITB). The ITBs often contain trade-specific sections that are quite detailed in terms of requirements of the GC that may not appear in the plans and specs—details involving sequencing, spatial clashing, priority walls and interaction with other trades, for instance.
Drawings and specifications review. This entails turning the pages and reviewing the takeoff while discussing wall types, keynotes and highlighted oddball items in the specs (such as G-90 coating on heavy gauge framing). Any deviations between the bid plans and the construction set should surface here.
Contract review. This is where the rubber meets the road. In addition to general terms and conditions, the contract will convey the final scope requirements in the performance of the work, and will outline the documents that comprise the agreement. Terms are agreed to be consistent with the value at the time of signing. Any post-execution changes should have a cost impact, one way or another.
RFIs, ASIs, PCOs. Pre- and post-contract changes in the form of requests for information, architect’s supplemental information forms and potential change orders should be charted, introduced and transferred at the handoff meeting.
Material purchasing. Selected vendor, pricing used in the bid, specialty products, long lead items and site access for deliveries are to be discussed here.
Project schedule. This is a critical item for discussion, both regarding the overall temporal window as it conforms to manpower levels or needs, and the time allotted for each phase of the work. The base schedule is usually part of the contract, and ideally should be negotiated into feasible terms before contract execution.
Labor budget. This is a statement of the estimated man-hours each phase of the work was projected to take. Input from the production department should always be sought before submitting the bid, in which case the discussion of this item can be limited.
Special skill requirements. Most drywall carpenters are multiskilled, at least regarding competence in both framing and hanging. But certain projects may require above-average aptitude in such specialties as welding, rigging, trims or the installation of specialty ceilings. Meeting these requirements may entail special training or recruiting.
Equipment needs. Availability of such items as scaffold, man-lifts, welders, rigging, texture sprayers and plaster pumps must all be planned for ahead of time.
In spite of all this effort to steer a project on a guided course, the departures are as predictable as they are outrageous. The goofs I’ve witnessed are too numerous to approach in one telling. Still, I keep striving for clarity in what information I offer. It’s the best I can do.

Vince Bailey is an estimator/project manager working in the Phoenix area.