I think one of the toughest jobs in this business is being an estimator. While the superintendents and foremen get all the glory for performing work in the field under ever changing conditions with unforgiving schedules and tight budgets, it is the estimator who must be able to predict the unpredictable. The estimator must predict what conditions may exist when the work actually happens,then calculate production rates that are fast enough to be competitive with your bid but not so fast as to incur financial loss when inevitable delays occur on the jobsite.
This concept of trying to predict the unpredictable hit me last week on a government project in Maryland. The east coast was expecting its fourth Nor’easter in almost as many weeks. Although it is mid-March, which typically means 50-60 degree temperatures and sunshine, this region was expecting, a day of steady rain and wind, followed by a day with upwards of ten inches of wet snow. This project, like most involving site work and excavation, is highly moisture sensitive. Travel space for the equipment is extremely tight and the soils in these tight spaces get terribly muddy and unstable after only a few hours of precipitation. Equipment travel over these soils risks damage to existing features located only inches away from sliding tracks and tires. The direct impact from the storm completely shut down the project for two days and continued to wreak havoc on production for two days following the storm.
But what about the longer term ripple effects after a big storm? While an estimator can check historical weather data and apply a factor for slow or lost production in wet weather, there is another element that’s even harder to estimate and that is: how will the general market recover after a storm and what effect will this have on my job?
When our project was shut down, so was every other project in the region. This instantly created a back-log for the local suppliers and support services that contractors depend on for the daily operation of their jobsite. For our project, the mechanic from the rental service was delayed getting to us to make much needed repairs to the loader. The concrete footing pour planned for just after the storm was pushed back by two days and then again till after that weekend. Because we had wet and unstable soil conditions along our equipment travel paths, we decided to hire a pump truck instead of using our loader and side-dump bucket. No luck here because, as you would expect, the pump trucks were back-logged as well. Trying to match up concrete delivery with pump truck service is hard enough, let alone after a storm when those services are swamped with calls from other contractors. Thankfully, the rain wasn’t too heavy and the snow melted and drained into the soil leaving us mud, but not a flood. But what if we did get flooded? Can you imagine calling the rental shop for a some two-inch trash pumps on the first day back – good luck! Still, the damage was done. For a storm that lasted two days, our project lost a week from these ripple effects. Even the porta-pot service was delayed – which just hurts morale.
How can an estimator predict the ripple effects of bad weather or other major delays to your project or those in your region? My sense is the estimator can’t. Instead, I think we, as superintendents and project managers, need to use these experiences as learning tools to better plan contingencies on our projects.
So let’s get proactive when we know a significant storm is approaching. Instead of simply covering materials so they don’t get wet and waiting for the storm to pass, ask yourself the following questions:
Can I accelerate work before bad weather, working a few hours overtime on the days leading up to the storm?
Can I rent the pumps and have them on stand-by?
Can I stop excavation and pour concrete for a smaller section rather than opening up the entire length of the footing?
Any damage control or preventive measures you can take now, are at worst overkill and may cost you a few dollars. At best, you may still lose a day for the bad weather, but you’ll beat the ripple effect: you’ll be back up and running while your competitors are still on hold with the concrete plant or trying to rent pumps.
Mission Critical Operations (MC-Ops) helps small contractors and owners recover from schedule delays, financial loss and poor quality control on projects throughout the nation. We step-in to get control of and improve both field and administrative operations. We respond quickly to recover projects and then implement systems to prevent problems from recurring. Our customers are self-performing heavy/civil contractors, specialty trade contractors, government contractors and institutional owners.