When it comes to overhauling or replacing critical equipment, the level of customer involvement can have significant impacts. I have been involved with major equipment overhauls from the customer, designer, and contractor side of projects. This blog series will cover how customer engagement affects the customer, the designer, and the contractor during the four stages of a typical project: development, design, procurement and execution. As we have previously covered the development, design, and procurement stages, this blog will focus on the execution stage.
This is the stage of the project where the rubber meets the road. The contractor is putting together required submittals, fabricating, refurbishing, installing, testing, etc. all of the deliverables of the contract. The designer, customer, and possibly other stakeholders are reviewing and approving submittals, inspecting, testing, and verifying compliance with the contract, processing payments, documenting non-compliance, negotiating change orders, etc. The customer may also be performing other work in conjunction with the contractor’s scope.
At this stage, the customer usually performs the project management duties to keep the project within scope, cost, and schedule. They also need to monitor the progression of the project so that they get what they want by:
- Participating in status meetings with the designer and contractor;
- Reviewing and commenting on all inspection reports and notices of potential change and responding in a timely manner;
- Checking that the designer, or designated inspector, is performing regular site and source inspection activities;
- Keeping other stakeholders informed on the progress and changes in scope, cost, and schedule.
Benefits of customer involvement: When the customer is involved at this stage, they will have higher visibility into the progression of the project. This includes changes encountered, quality control issues, schedule delays, and cost overruns. The result is that the customer receives an end-product that is more in line with their needs and objectives, which were the basis for the project in the first place.
Impacts of a lack of customer involvement: The customer may not be fully satisfied with the end-product because it does not meet their expectations. This could result in the customer having to either modify the equipment after the expiration of any warranties at additional expense or adapt their operations to accommodate the equipment. The project may be unsuccessful, and the customer may believe that the contractor was too expensive and took too long to provide a low-quality piece of equipment. This can result in the customer falsely believing that the project would have been better if they had done it 100% in-house.
The designer performs Engineer-of-Record duties so that the contractor meets the technical requirements of the specifications. These duties include:
- Witnessing any model testing, shop assembly, balancing, etc. that is required by the specifications;
- Conducting in-process quality assurance inspections;
- Reporting findings and determinations of all inspections and testing performed and/or witnessed to the customer in a timely manner;
- Providing technical opinions regarding any changes or requests for substitution.
Benefits of customer involvement: If the customer is involved at this stage, they will be more responsive for review, approval, and rejection of submitted reports and recommendations from the designer. This leads to a more proactive risk mitigation for changes and unforeseen impacts to the scope, schedule, and costs of the project. The designer will have a better picture of the customer’s satisfaction with the quality and requirement fulfillment of the contractor’s work because of regular feedback.
Impacts of a lack of customer involvement: The designer may end up accepting nonconforming deliverables because customer did not comment on recommendations made in inspection and test reports. They may assume that the design, information, procedures, and quality control plans submitted by the contractor are acceptable to the customer if no comments or requests for clarification are provided.
The contractor provides supplies and services in accordance with contract requirements, and provides project schedules and Inspection and Test Plans (ITPs) for the entire scope of the contract. They show compliance with the contract requirements and bid proposal by:
- Maintaining and updating project schedule;
- Conducting quality control in accordance with ITPs;
- Coordinating witnessed inspections and hold-point verification with the customer and designer;
- Submitting complete inspection, testing and status reports in a timely manner;
- Notifying the customer immediately upon encountering a potential impact to the scope or schedule and providing options (with schedule and price estimates) for potential changes.
Benefits of customer involvement: The customer’s support will be provided when needed and as outlined in the contract documents. Decisions and responses on submitted RFIs, substitutions, and changes to the contract will be quicker and result in fewer delays to the contractor’s performance of the work.
Impacts of a lack of customer involvement: Customer delays the performance of the work because they did not provide what they were supposed to under the contract when it was needed, or at all. Project schedule is impacted because awaiting decision on how to proceed with a multi-option contract change proposal or a hold-point has not been released to allow the Contractor’s work to proceed.
I have witnessed great projects and (let’s say) less than great projects throughout my career. I have found that the projects that are more successful in meeting the needs and objectives of the customer tend to be those where the customer remains engaged throughout the project. I know there is a tendency for the customer to want to curtail their involvement in a project once they engage a designer because “they’re the expert and that’s why we’re paying them.” This mindset usually results in more of a confrontational relationship between all parties instead of acting as a team with a common mission. Higher customer involvement typically garners greater satisfaction with the end-product; less creep in scope, schedule and cost; broader customer development with respect to major overhaul projects; and greater transparency to other project stakeholders on high-visibility projects. No matter what your role in a project, if you want to increase the potential for a mutually beneficial outcome, you must foster an attitude of engagement among everyone involved.