Framing a Wireless Solution

This month’s column is about accepting that not all things run smoothly, and that you must step up and accept responsibility when they don’t. Even the best-laid design/build plans sometimes go awry. Because human beings are imperfect and unpredictable, because sometimes what we think we’ve agreed upon is not in fact what we’ve agreed upon, and because what works on paper may not work in the field, it’s important to have a plan for the unpleasant and unexpected.

Your business is insured as are you and your workers. It makes sense that we create an internal “insurance policy” for the jobsite. That policy has to be flexible enough to handle new and different situations but concrete enough to give workers the power to handle problems that arise on the jobsite. For example, you could establish a framework for work orders that arise out of mistakes made by your company’s personnel or subcontractors. What is the standard operational procedure? Who is authorized to make decisions in the field? Who bears financial responsibility for any additional costs?

Recently my design firm received a 911 call from the project manager of a design/build company with whom we had been working. The job which we had designed was under construction. The PM had five framers standing around looking at a framing issue with which they didn’t know what to do.

The new roof on the project was designed to match the existing roof pitch. When the job was measured, the builder and designer documented an existing roof pitch of 10. In fact, it was 9. Therefore the new roof pitch did not allow for the new structural members. The bottom line was that the designer and builder who measured the building were off by 1 degree. That may not seem like a lot, but that 1 degree was creating all sorts of headaches.

We quickly regrouped. The project manager had a laptop computer with wireless Internet connection, and we were able to have a live web conference with the builder, designer and framers in order to examine the problem, design a solution and keep the project on schedule.

As we all were huddled around the computer, the homeowner walked by. She was updated on the situation and joined the meeting. We ended up altering the structural material from wood to steel to accommodate the structural loads within the original design. The client was pleased with the results and able to approve the alteration in real time with all of the appropriate parties. The job did not grind to a halt.

In this case, the homeowner, builder and designer approved the changes. Through the use of technology there was a forum in which those changes could occur in a timely and informed manner. And the design/build company owner and my company split the cost for the change in structural material.

This could have turned into a nightmare that would sour the client relationship. Instead we were able to turn it into an opportunity to demonstrate to the client our expertise and flexibility, to confirm our high ethical business standards and to maintain the production schedule. In fact, this particular client ended up becoming a bountiful source of future business. No fewer than eight referrals came from this client and we have three of those referrals in our pipeline right now.

The reality of design/build is that problems arise regardless of the best-laid plans. It is in everyone’s best interest to have a plan for those eventualities.