4.4 Running, monitoring and closing contracts
Work in progress!
Once the contract is awarded, everyone will be keen to get work started on site. If the project has been successfully planned, you will now reap the benefits of having all the arrangements in place and can concentrate on joint working between the contractor’s team and the client to deliver the best path possible. It is essential to monitor the contract carefully so that the work proceeds according to plan and delivers what is needed. You must ensure product quality, keep within the agreed budget, keep to the timetable and meet requirements such as health and safety, public safety and environmental good practice.
You will need to make swift decisions when monitoring progress and reviewing and updating plans, which will need to be relayed to all involved. The project supervisor’s main role is as a communicator, keeping all parts of the project moving together. Communication starts off site. Although you may have been planning and waiting for work to get under way for more than a year, other people will only be aware that something is going to happen when the team arrives on site. A press release, a site sign, a letter to the Community Council and a sign on local information boards will warn people to expect some short-term disruption in their area. Arriving on site on the first day of work with machinery and discovering it coincides with the local sponsored walk is not a good start!
As project manager you are the communication point between site workers, owners, users, funders and others. Agree a timetable for people to discuss progress and get feedback, usually weekly or fortnightly site meetings and monthly or 3-monthly reports to project partners, depending on the scale of the work. If people know your contact details and are encouraged to get in touch with any queries, you will be aware of the issues before they develop into bigger problems.
Keep brief notes of all decisions, changes to plan and any communication with others. A simple report sheet and a couple of lines on each contact will suffice. Take regular photographs as work progresses – before, during and after each major section is built. Photographs with people in them are best. Photographs will only use up a tiny fraction of the budget but will provide the best record.
What to expect
The majority of path contracts in Scotland are undertaken on a fixed-price basis. This method allows reasonably easy management of budgets while construction is in progress. As long as the specification and contract conditions have been carefully prepared by somebody with appropriate qualifications and experience, the cost of the completed path works should not vary greatly to that offered in the contractor’s tender. Budgetary problems should have been sorted out at the tendering stage. Visit the site weekly or fortnightly, and speak to the team leader every 3 or 4 days by phone to ensure planned progress is being made and quality standards adhered to.
Negotiated contracts can be slightly more difficult to manage, especially if they are used to implement experimentaltype work. Outputs are more difficult to forecast and good team morale is essential to maintain productivity as the incentive to meet agreed targets is less than with fixed-price contracts. Expect to be on site 1 or 2 days each week, especially if you are developing a new technique or trainee team. Try to keep in daily contact with the team leader. For larger negotiated contracts it is worth putting one of your organisation’s own staff on site full time, to lead the design of the work (but not the teams).
The client should carefully monitor expenditure against the agreed budget and project ‘milestones’. Staged payments should only be made for work satisfactorily completed by the contractor at predetermined points or intervals. It is not good practice to make advance payments to contractors for materials or other inputs.
Depending on the type of work that is involved, it is useful to maintain contingency funds. Fairly straightforward work such as repairs to stalkers’ paths may require an additional 5%, whereas more technically demanding work may require an additional 10%. If additional work exceeds the contingency figure it is usually difficult to access new funds, and work being undertaken on other parts of the project will have to be reduced.
Path contracts should be subject to time limits, but there should be a fairly generous ‘window’ for work to take place to allow for delays. Many clients insist that the contractor completes the work at one go, once started, and does not leave the site part-completed. This minimises disturbance and supervision time and improves safety. If this is important to you, include this condition in the contract.
Regular site visits
Be a part of the project. It is important for the manager to be seen on site, and the surest way to ensure you get what you want is to enthuse the construction team and discuss with them what is needed for each section of the route. Weekly or fortnightly site visits will form the core of contact between client and contractor while the contract is running. Each site meeting should cover three issues:
- Look at the work completed to date, check that it meets contract and quality requirements and identify any work needed to bring it up to standard. Once the work is satisfactory, it can be ‘signed off ’ and payment approved.
- Look at next 2 or 3 weeks’ work and mark the locations of each construction feature. Identify sensitive areas of the site and agree the design of the next section to be built.
- Look at the whole job and ascertain whether the contract is running to time. If there are problems, identify their cause and, if possible, make changes to avoid more difficulties.
Work often takes place on sites far remote from both client and contractors office. An open and trusting working relationship is essential between client and contractor. You must spend time discussing solutions, making use of the team’s experience. Involve each team member and ask them to make a contribution. Summarise what has been decided with the team leader and leave it to him or her to delegate and organise the team. Acknowledge good work and praise sections that meet your expectations. If sections are not up to standard, explain why and what is required, and ask for them to be redone in time for your next visit. Among trained and experienced contractors it is rare for a problem to persist, but if this is the case meet the contracting company manager on site and explain what is needed. Write to ask for compliance within a set time. If the situation is not rectified, stop work on the remainder of the job and stop payment until the situation is resolved.
Contract disputes are very uncommon in pathwork. Possible problems are a team building to their ‘normal’ style and not to the one that you have specified or the most skilled workers being moved to a new site part-way through the contract. These can be rectified, but do usually cost time for the client and additional cost for the contractor. The team’s performance and willingness to discuss problems and implement decisions will influence your choice for future contracts.
As time will be limited on the site visit, use a prompt sheet to make sure that you cover all the essential points, and give the team leader a copy. Key questions to ask on a site visit include:
- Are the agreed staff on site and are they suitably qualified/experienced?
- Are staff familiar with the site safety plan and risk assessments, and are they being implemented?
- Are they suitably equipped with adequate personal protective equipment and clothing suitable for the conditions?
- Are the specification and contract drawings available and are they being adhered to in terms of quantity and quality ?
- What are ground conditions like? Is the work being undertaken with due care and regard to the surrounding environment?
- Are the team motivated and working together?
- Are the public being kept informed, and can users detour safely around the work?
Dealing with variations
During construction it is inevitable that some changes will need to be made to the specification. The contractor who is on site for an extended period of time may identify solutions that the client did not see when producing the specification. Unlike larger civil engineering projects, it is highly unlikely that the client will have a representative on site at all times during construction. It is essential therefore that potential problems or improvements are identified by the contractor and communicated to the client, along with suggestions for rectifying the problem as quickly as possible.
Contract conditions should identify in advance how variations to the specification should be dealt with. They usually require a verbal agreement following a discussion on site, backed up by written confirmation. It is good practice to give written confirmation of any variation, to make sure that the right work is done and to minimise the possibility of disputes later. This can be by letter, or a ‘variation order’ written and issued on site.
Time sheets and activity records should be kept throughout the contract period. Records about team and individual outputs can be very useful for providing accurate cost and output forecasts.
The financial implications of changes to the specification, or failure to meet targets as expected, should be discussed with the client at regular intervals. The client may be able to reschedule payments to help the contractor cope with unforeseen problems. Clients may also be constrained by cashflow from grant aid partners, and early detection of changes to timing is needed, particularly if the project is going to finish earlier than anticipated.
Monitoring safety performance
It is important that health and safety controls identified in the risk assessment and site safety plan are implemented and that they are monitored throughout the project. Any improvements that are identified should be discussed with the planning supervisor and incorporated into the plan. The contractor’s identified site safety officer is responsible for ensuring that the safety plan is implemented by the team, reviewing safe working with the client manager, and reporting this back to the team. It is often useful for the team (work) leader to be involved in the safety discussions on site to ensure that there is no confusion over what needs to be done.
The regular site visits should include a period of discussion and checking of safety procedures, performance and emergency readiness. The aim is not to ‘catch out’ the contractor but to identify and reinforce good practice, and to spot weaknesses and eradicate them.
- If safe working practice is not being followed or is proving to be ineffective, three options are available, depending on the severity of the problem.
- If the breach is minor, such as using the wrong lifting techniques, speak to the safety officer and check during the next visit.
- If the risk is major but easily rectified, such as using the wrong tools for the job because of lack of equipment, then move the team and do other work until the tools are available. Back this up with a written instruction to the company.
- If the problem is major and continuous, halt the work and prevent repetition by disabling the machinery or ceasing work and extending the cordon for public access.
- Do not allow work to restart until an alternative and safer method is found and a risk assessment prepared. Write and warn the company against repetition.
Project nearing completion
The closing phase of a project is usually a period of intense activity. When path construction is nearing completion, there are a large number of tasks to complete. It is useful for the client to produce a written ‘snag’ list towards the end of the construction works. This clarifies work outstanding and the quality issues that still need to be addressed. The team should not leave site until this is completed and checked by the client, including all site restoration work.
It is good practice to provide a formal completion certificate or letter indicating that works are complete, because it allows both parties to ‘know where they stand’. The contractor should issue a ‘final’ invoice at this stage. The final invoice should be itemised and include the total value of the contract, including any additions relating to variation orders and minus any staged payments and any retention that is held by the client until the end of the guarantee period.
In the case of fixed-price contracts, final invoices should be paid only when the client is satisfied that the work has been completed in accordance with the specification and is of adequate quality. Ensure that all documents and information required for completing the contract have been supplied. These may include ‘as built’ drawings and plans, records of path user numbers and site safety reports. In the case of negotiated contracts, also supply completed time and activity sheets. A contract completion letter can then be issued and final payment made less any retention fees for work under the warranty period.
One year later
The contractor is usually required to guarantee path work for 1 year from completion of site work. The guarantee is for damage caused by poor workmanship and settling-in, but not for maintenance, which should start immediately site work has finished. The client and contractor should arrange to visit the site 9 or 10 months after the main work has ended to look over the whole site and identify any remedial work required. It can be difficult to pinpoint why something has failed, and whether the work is classed as remedial repairs or routine maintenance. The amount to be put right by the contractor is usually based on negotiation, and it is often sensible to pay the contractor to carry out maintenance at the same time as remedial repairs.
On successful completion, the retained 5% or 10% is then paid to the contractor. All obligations under the contract have been fulfilled. In general, work is usually done well first time round, and the level of remedial work needed is typically around 2% or 3% of the total job.
To close the project you have to report back to the project partners on what has taken place. This is also an opportunity to publicise what you have achieved. Different funding organisations will require different levels of reporting: good project records capturing the relevant information make this task much easier. Most funding partner organisations will at least require the following information:
- principal outputs: kilometres built, signs erected, surveys carried out;
- partnership contributions: who gave what, including time and support as well as money;
- changes to the original proposal: any major changes to plan while work was in progress;
- employment created as a result of the project: in full-time-equivalent jobs (FTEs);
- maintenance: arrangements made and who is responsible for ensuring it is carried out;
- publicity generated by the project: attach any press releases, articles or comments from users (good ones!);
- site: photographs of the site before and after work, and some action shots of work in progress;
- visitor use: the number of site users, both before and after the project (using people-counting machines) and during (recorded by the team).
Many major funders provide their own report forms, and require you to follow their format. Even so, attach a copy of information in your own style, including photos and some quotes from people involved in the work or using the site. Positive feedback and a personal touch get your organisation remembered.
Completion of a project also provides a good opportunity for wider publicity, such as in the local press and radio, specialist user-interest magazines, and possibly the funder’s in-house news sheets. Use this to promote the path or path network and promote your own organisation. Also acknowledge organisations who have supported and funded the project.
The levels of coverage will depend on the significance of the project, the scale and the effectiveness of ‘plugging’ the story. The PR section of one of the funder organisations might be prepared to do this for you. Ask to see a draft of the release and make sure the right people get the credit.
How did we do?
At the end of every major project, 1–2 hours should be spent evaluating the project. Some funders may have to provide an evaluation of the project as part of their grant conditions. Project evaluation should focus on how it was delivered rather than what was produced, and look for ways of improving delivery of future projects rather than apportioning blame for things that went wrong!
On smaller projects, the client and contract staff will probably carry out the evaluation. Part of the evaluation should be based on a discussion with the site team who did all the hard work. On a large or multiple project, an independent organisation is often commissioned to undertake a review and provide an external and impartial evaluation. Pathwork projects can be evaluated on the following criteria:
- quality of the finished pathwork;
- compliance with environmental requirements;
- compliance with timing and dates;
- compliance with the specification;
- compliance with contract conditions;
- compliance with information contained in contractors bid;
- attention to remedials;
- team skills;
- organisation and supervision;
- level of client supervision required;
- communications and working relationship;
- health and safety.
Safety reporting is a statutory requirement under CDM regulations. When the site work is completed a site safety file should be compiled and kept on file for 10 years after project completion. Detailed advice about the information to include in this file is given in Maintaining site safety. Much of the information will already be held elsewhere, but additions will include detail about frequency of safety audits required, and types of maintenance work required.
Motivation may be waning once site work is complete, but it is essential that the project is fully ‘closed’, reporting the tasks completed and the relevant organisations and individuals informed. Promoting the positive outcomes of a complete project will encourage funding organisations to offer support for similar projects in the future.
- Evaluate the success of the contract openly and honestly and learn through your success and failures.
- Ensure that you have met all the requirements set out in conditions of grant for the funding organisations.
- Make sure that the public is aware of increased path provision and encourage them to use the route.