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From the organisers of

The Merry Month – Robert Merry

16 September 2018
Robert Merry

Robert Merry decides he no longer needs the frustrations of project management.

Robert Merry is an independent stone consultant and, until now, a project manager. He also acts as an expert witness. He ran his own company for 17 years. 

Project Management... the end is nigh.

The job crawls on. The builder is now short-staffed and one of the two construction managers still there announced he was leaving at the end of August.

The client has taken to promising payment to the sub-contractors directly and phones up to ask when we will be on site? The builder employs teams of QSs to butcher accounts.

The site was quiet last time I visited. Sub-contractors stay away because they either already haven’t been paid or they don’t think they will be.

The builder is like a wounded animal that the client doesn’t have the stomach to shoot.

Under pressure to return to site, I’ve asked for a programme of when areas will be available for us to complete the works. A reasonable request although there is some mischievous joy in the asking because I know the contractor can’t give me any dates.

Strictly speaking they don’t have to under the terms of the contract. Except they have already shared eight versions of their programme.

I ask because we need to record the request. Like everything else in construction, you need a record. Every time I visit the site I photograph progress. The photos go into the cloud. I later file them under the date in the contract file. They are of enormous value at the final account meeting when the contractor tries to blame you for delays and wants to levy contra charges. There are apps available now that allow you to complete the report as you walk the site. All marvellous. Sending a site condition survey with a few choice pictures is good contracting. Most joinery companies do it as a matter of course.

The trouble is, when you have been off-site for weeks waiting for other trades to progress, small irritating odds and sods build-up. “Someone grouted in the removable cistern, can you attend site to release it?” “Bathroom One vanity base has been installed and needs templating.”

But to send a man to site for half a day to mess around with small tasks is a nightmare to arrange, not to mention the cost. A polite email sighting uneconomical and out of sequence working is usually met with irate emails claiming we are holding up other trades and there will be a cost. But what about our costs?

I would advise you do the work, however frustrating it is, record the hours and add it to the variation account. Ask the contracts manager (if there is one still there) to sign it. For record purposes. Scan and file under variations – dayworks. You might get paid for NPO (non-productive overtime). The chances are slim, but as someone once said, you can’t win the lottery unless you buy a ticket. In this case you are buying some ammunition. When it comes to the final account your arguments will carry more weight if you have good records.

But what are our chances of reaching the end of this contract? I don’t know anymore.

One of the tricks of getting from one end of a contact to the other is to remain positive. We want the end product to be as near perfect as we can make it and I want the process to be profitable for whoever I work for.

For the first time, I think, I am not sure I care about this job any more. It has been profitable and there is still some profit to be had, but I don’t have anyone left I want to make the job as perfect as I can for.

The work has been prolonged, out of sequence and without any joy. It’s a slog. In some ways it’s a shameful episode for builder and building team (PQS, architect, designer). Collectively they have failed to give the client good advice and service. Yes, the client has interfered but it is probably from desperation. Why is this property in this half-finished state? Are we all so bad at contracting? I don’t think so.

When I heard the rumour last week that the MD of the building company refuses to get out of his car when he visits site because he’s scared he might meet the client prowling the grounds, I laughed. But really I was saddened and slightly ashamed of this project.

Maybe it’s time to move on.

Robert Merry, MCIOB, is an independent Stone Consultant and Project Manager who previously ran his own stone company for 17 years. He is also an expert witness in disputes regarding stone and stone contracts. Tel: 0207 502 6353 / 07771 997621. [email protected] 



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