Industry POV: Construction Coordination

Construction coordination

Construction coordination is the central factor in ensuring success at the jobsite.

Does coordination on construction projects actually occur? Is it just an ideological practice, or does it affect the build? How much effort and time do you put into coordinating? Coordination (or the lack thereof) can be very frustrating, time consuming and exhausting—an activity that is hard to quantify, foresee and estimate, but that has a direct effect on both profitability and reputation.

How did we learn about coordination, anyway? Apprenticeship? Professional-development course? Certification preparation? On-the-job training and experience? Maybe none, some or all of the above?

Typically, construction projects have several trades, including carpenters, ironworkers, electricians, mechanical contractors and us—AV integrators. Some might be subcontractors or even subs of subs; meanwhile, one entity is the prime contract holder, working directly for the owner. Each party has a subset of the larger project to build, and each is focused on its own part. Issues can quickly be discovered, or arise anew, when all parties are working on the same project. How many times have you heard (or said), “That light fixture is exactly where my speaker is supposed to go”? How many times have you heard (or said), “The ducts are in the way of the projection screen”? We’ve all uttered those phrases.

When conditions are not as expected, a lack of coordination is at fault. Is each contractor aware of the other trades’ work? Maybe or maybe not. Here’s another question: Do they care? Maybe one party was first in and “claimed their space.”

Coordination should start during the design phase, which is well before contractors are even privy to the project. Just as there are several contractors, each focused on one subset, there are several designers (e.g., architects, engineers, consultants) focused on their particular work. Good designers speak to one another, review each other’s drawings, search for clashes and resolve conflicts prior to 100-percent construction documents. Design coordination is a team effort, and it must involve all architects, engineers, consultants and specifiers.

Furthermore, the design schedule must allow sufficient time for this review to occur. A quality design is one that has been fully and properly coordinated. Racing to publish documents on a set date, with no flexibility, can add unnecessary pressure to the project. And that pressure is often relieved by delivering a less-than-desirable documentation package. A project in which the design team failed to coordinate will have an abundance of change orders; moreover, it’ll be likely to sail past the completion date, and it’s doubtful that it’ll meet the design team’s aspirations.

After the design, bidding and award phases are completed, pre-construction commences. Contractors prepare submittals that consist of technical data sheets (aka cut or spec sheets), shop drawings, color and finish options, or samples for the materials, equipment and systems that they’re providing. This is the construction team’s first opportunity for coordination. Not coincidentally, this happens to be the ideal time to coordinate—before anything has been built, purchased or installed (assuming the AV is provided through the construction team). Shop drawings are so valuable because they contain the contractor’s approach to, and understanding of, the project; they also add more information on constructability with specific details, sizes, weights, means and methods.

A common problem is that trades rarely familiarize themselves with other trades’ drawings or scope. This holds true for the bid drawings, but it’s even truer with respect to shop drawings. Submittals have significantly less distribution, reading and comprehension. Shop drawings too often stay between the specifier (engineer/consultant), prime contractor, and subcontractor or integrator (creator of said shop drawings). Although this is beneficial, it is problematic.

For those trades that are building from shop drawings (not bid drawings), they understand how different the drawings are from design drawings. The other trades, however, do not. It’s possible they might not know the shop drawings exist. When issues arise and there is an attempt to coordinate, that’s the time to catch other parties with outdated drawings and educate them about the existence and usefulness of shop drawings. Coordinating while working from outdated drawings is troublesome.

It’s crucial to circulate the shop drawings so that others have them. And the recipients must read and comprehend them. Low-bid projects hinder contractors’ ability to include this time in their fee. The offices must then distribute them to their project-management team and field team. Even some popular file-management software tends to focus on contract drawings that originated from the design team. Although they can store and distribute shop drawings, they’re located deep down in the software, in places that contractors seldom visit.

Coordination is an ongoing endeavor. It must continue for the duration of construction, and all contractors and their team members must do it. The crews on the ground are translating the various documents into a built reality, and they, too, play a crucial role in coordinating. They must be familiar with the processes of proposing and documenting changes so that resolving one conflict doesn’t produce additional conflicts down the road.

Construction in which the first contractor to mobilize wins—and the last one to mobilize loses—is selfish. It’s also unhelpful in delivering a successful project. Construction must be the ultimate showcase of collaboration, with all trades working together to complete their tasks in a productive, positive way that contributes to the overall success of the project. So, if you want to improve your firm’s reputation, win more work and increase your profit margins, then coordinate, coordinate, coordinate!

To read more from Sound & Communications, click here.

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