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Topics of importance for people about to build or renovate

New residence in Oakland, California

Construction Problem Resolution

When a building is built or renovated, problems are inevitable. There are hundreds of opportunities for technical and management error, oversight, overreach, and failure to communicate effectively. Each of these problems can interrupt the smooth flow of the work and have a negative impact on the project design, budget, and schedule. The ultimate success of the endeavor largely depends upon how well we address these problems.

Construction problem resolution normally requires the following steps:

  • Clearly describe or define the problem.

    Is it technical in nature? If so, is it a design problem, a construction problem, or both?

    Is it management in nature? Who is directly involved and who is indirectly affected?

  • Determine how and why the problem occurred.

    If there was a design error, did it occur because of haste, inadequate design skill, insufficient construction knowledge, or a lack of work focus?

    If there was a construction error, was it due to a failure to reference the construction drawings and specifications, limited design understanding, poor building skills, or a loss of concentration while doing a particular task?

    If there was a product mistake, was it because of a discrepancy between the information in the product’s literature and the item itself, an ordering error, or a manufacturing error?

    Was the problem due to an oversight (something missed) by the architect, the general contractor, a supplier, or you?

    Did the architect or the general contractor overreach in the estimate of his ability to achieve a difficult design or construction goal? Did you overreach in your expectations for the standard of care that would be given to the work, the time required to complete it, or its cost?

    Was there a failure to communicate correctly? Completely? Clearly? On time?

  • Decide if the problem can be corrected at a reasonable cost.

    If yes, how? Does it require a technical solution based on a design or a construction change? Is a management solution needed that involves a modification in project procedures, personnel, or organizational structure?

    If no, can project work be done around the problem? Will the building’s future use or appearance be affected?

  • Determine when the problem must be corrected to minimize its effect on the completion of the rest of the project work.

  • Decide who is in the best position (usually determined by knowledge) to take the lead in fixing the problem.

  • Develop a cost estimate for the correction work and determine how the cost is to be intelligently and fairly assigned to the responsible parties.

    If the architect and the general contractor bear some responsibility for the problem, should profit be included in their cost estimates?

  • Make the necessary changes and improvements in project procedures to eliminate similar problems in the future.

The Right Attitude

In my experience, most construction problems are handled well when everyone approaches them with an open mind and a “will do” spirit. This outlook can be difficult to maintain when there is tension in working relationships because of project difficulties, but it is an asset in problem resolution that can be invaluable.

It is wise to remember that:

  • The overriding purpose of having everyone meet is to identify, discuss, and mutually agree on solutions to problems that are impeding project progress and / or lowering project quality. If this goal is achieved, all parties benefit.

  • Each person has a point of view that is useful to fully grasp a problem and its impact on the project. As you listen to others, place yourself in their position to get their perspective. Your point of view will become more inclusive and your understanding of the value of intelligent compromise will grow.

  • It is helpful to “park strong emotions at the front door.” Anger and anxiety contribute nothing to problem resolution and frequently delay progress.

  • Everyone should be prepared to learn that they may bear some responsibility for causing a problem. For example, although an owner may not have made a design or construction mistake, he may have contributed to creating a project environment in which others would make more mistakes, perhaps by working too fast. In this case, the owner has some indirect responsibility for the problem.

  • Smart decisions about the allocation of cost responsibility for problems should take into account (1) the responsible parties’ previous project work, (2) their ability to pay for the cost of correction without incurring major financial difficulties, (3) acceptable methods of compensation other than a cash payment (such as additional services without cost), and (4) the impact of the cost responsibility decision on the project working environment for the rest of the endeavor.

John McLean, Architect
San Francisco
(415) 777-9767