There’s a wave of accumulating unfinished work slowly accruing, quietly threatening to overwhelm and push out important target dates at a project’s conclusion. I call it the program tsunami.
More frequent in recent times, we see it evolving from faulty or missing logic or the undervaluing of the effort required in the fit-out phase of luxury style building assets. Due to their increasing complexity and being disguised by the early start float or false confidence via redundant ‘rule of thumb’ expectations, the new wave of high-end product is often challenging to a project team.
There’s a need for a simple process to manage works and accurately predict the underlying criticality of this enormous volume of work that leads to completion. As we grow into this business, we come to understand that the planning of building works is an underrated planning challenge. The devil is in the detail, along with the coordination of dozens of competing artisans.
However, when assembling a new occupiable product, there’s a general sequence for how things fit together. Put simplistically, you need to dig a hole, erect a structure, get the glass on the outside, pop a roof on to topside, then fill up the empty space on the inside with lots of carefully selected shiny surfaces. It’s these shiny surfaces, the internal fit-out, where we are faced with many a moving target. There’s the services installation, substrates, waterproofing, linings, kitchens and bathrooms, and the handcrafting of every fixture and finish. For every apartment or tenancy, every corridor, every back of house facility, on every level, for the entire building. There are thousands of things to do in the right order. A planning challenge indeed.
The accumulation of unfinished work at any stage in this process can easily cause delays in project delivery. Our job as construction planning professionals is to predict and minimise the impact of the potential program tsunami. Despite evidence from recent industry experiences, the ongoing competitive nature of our business forces the participants to accept the increased time-related risk. To survive, we need to keep the delivery program short.
However, time and again, there is still a reluctance to commit additional effort and upfront expenditure to investigate and attempt to safeguard against the risk until there is hard evidence of an absolute need for action. The result? By the time the potential impact is acknowledged, it is already present, and the enormous wave of work, the accumulation of many small tasks, has gathered too much momentum to be curtailed. Thus, the tsunami hits.
We are going to be late. A practical solution to establish the level of fit-out program risk is to regularly focus an exercise on one essential trade, the particular installation that larger balance of works is relying on. If we can accurately map out the quality and quantity of work for that trade and confidently assess the number of crew and hours of work involved, we can see if it still fits into the original plan and use this basis to reasonably predict our likely forecasts.
My so-called program tsunami effect is real and from many dealings across a wide range of the industry, is a worsening trend. While local building quality standards increase to meet a heightened global expectation, as an industry and as planning and programming professionals, we need to expose and offset the potential for this trend early in delivery. By applying our expertise to improve visibility and in the development of agile and efficient work vs time measurement strategies, we can safeguard the goals of our project team.