PROJECT MANAGEMENT has always been and will always be more of an art than a science, no matter how many metrics we apply to our actions and reactions. Even when our profession evolves into one that manages processes more than actual projects, we’ll still be responsible for the encompassing shell of the overall project, and we’ll still have to define the project completion milestones that drive all other dependent parts.
At that point, understanding the mysteries of job scope deconstruction will become even more important than it is now. Scope deconstruction is about taking a macro view of the job by looking at it in micro-fashion, from the bottom up instead of the top down. Process management is about macro-management through micro-focus actions, being able to juggle hundreds of balls not just in the air but keeping them in sequential order while doing so.
Scope deconstruction is not simply an examination of the terms and conditions as defined within the job scope, which is usually combined within the general conditions of the bid documents, or the actual contract documents. It is a two-part methodology designed to keep bidding mistakes at a minimum and then to help ensure timely contract compliance once the job is won and the initial paperwork is signed.
You and your estimator need to look for the job scope’s landmines, which will be in the specification manuals and on the plans as well. If you think that what is on the plans reflects the scope as defined as part of the general conditions, then you’ve obviously never been bitten by the catch-all language of AIA boilerplate that architects always use and enforce.
If a job is large enough to have a set of specifications and bidding documents, it always has CYA language that usually reads, “... the contractor shall provide labor and materials to proffer a complete job to the owner,” or some such sentence. That means that it doesn’t matter if the architect or engineer misses something on the plans or specs. You’ll still have to provide whatever it is if it’s needed to provide a complete system installed to the owner. This is a primary, but not the only, example of why you need a detailed pre-bid scope deconstruction.
Some examples of other pre-bid items are shading-of-liability issues such as encountering “rock,” which can be defined as any boulder from basketball- to house-size that you’ll have to eat if encountered, or replacing unsuitable subsoil that their geo-survey missed. It might include labor disputes caused by other contractors, unusually long periods of inclement weather during the contract period, or scope overlap such as who actually cuts and patches all holes needed for your systems during construction.
The reason for pre-bid scope deconstruction is to visualize what is going to be actually required of you contractually, not what is “industry standard” in most other circumstances or on most other jobs of a similar nature. After the bid is won, then you’ll need to do another, completely different scope deconstruction to obtain assembly-level Work Breakdown Structures.
During the estimate you can get away with reasonably good guesses about how much labor and material this or that might take. When the contract is in hand, you’ll need to re-crawl the plans and specs with the proverbial fine tooth comb, working your way up from individual component parts and pieces, creating sub-assembly, assembly and system-wide WBSs. When you have these WBSs in hand, then you can match the work required to the job start and finish dates and then extrapolate that information into your Schedule of Values.
I always like to use a color-coded system for my scope deconstructions, either on colored paper or using colored Post-it tabs. I use green to denominate my ordinary 9-to-5 labor; yellow for anticipated overtime or specialized in-house labor; orange for subcontractors; blue for supply-side (air, water, gas) materials; red for return-side materials; and light purple for all other impact factors such as fixtures and equipment and required outside consultancy services such as hiring someone to seal as-built drawings.
I’ve found that doing this helps prevent silly mistakes on my part, such as accidentally assigning the controls in-house instead of as a subcontractor or putting in-house heliarc welding as ordinary labor instead of higher-dollar specialized labor.
It really doesn’t matter what system you use to deconstruct the scope down to its molecular level and then build it back up to a solid plan. Just make sure that every single item down to the last screw or fitting is both accounted for and then traceable as it flows through the job costing and scheduling path.
Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor and project manager with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] or by calling 919/851-9550.