Confirm Details of Verbal Conversations

Problem:

Verbal conversations don’t leave a paper trail for evidence of the topic of discussion or agreement.

I have often found that a verbal conversation (by phone or in person) will get a quicker result than communicating by email. However that conversation does not produce any evidence of what has been agreed (unless it in minuted such as in a formal meeting).

The result is that although you have agreed on something (a deliverable, a price, and due date etc.) you cannot easily hold that person or company to that agreement.

Lesson:

A written record of an agreement is very important, and when that record is shared with both parties it is much easier to hold people accountable.

Solution:

After a call or direct conversation with a client or other stakeholder (such as manager, team member, etc), type any agreements (dates, scheduled meeting times, requests etc) into an email and send it to the client to confirm the details. This is particularly important when chasing payment or discussing variations.

By sending the email, you have a written record of the agreement. It gives the other party the opportunity to respond with agreement or clarification on the agreement. Or if they do not respond you still have that record stating the content of the conversation that is now date stamped and on both your and the recipients email system.

Specify the Due Date

When submitting any document for review (such as a design, invoice for payment, report, etc.), specify the date a response is due (perhaps 10 business days).

For contractual related items (such as invoices or drawing reviews for construction) make sure this is in both the initial contract and also accompanying the transmittal as a reminder.

Failure to do this can leave the due date open, and may mean that the recipient will not respond in the time that you require, which can lead to delays in the project.

By including the due date of any deliverable requested you make expectations clear, which allows team members, clients, suppliers and any other stakeholders to have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.

Clear expectations lead to less confusion, and a higher likelihood that your project will be delivered on time, on budget and to the satisfaction of the client.

Check Geotechnical Information

Check and double check geotechnical information supplied by the client.

If the client supplies the information, it would be ideal for the contract to specify that your design/construction relies on the accuracy of that information and if it is wrong you can claim for losses. However, in reality the contract from the client may state that the contractor must verify the accuracy of the supplied technical data

If the client will not accept that that contractors can rely on the accuracy of the geotechniocal information in the tender stage, you could add in a cost line item to the tendered cost breakdown with the risk costs associated with the geotechnical data. Show a price based on accurate data, and the cost if you assume the worst case (much softer ground compared to what the data says). The client may accept a tender like that because it is not just fat built in the price, but a specific amount based on a stated  risk (which will not be charged if the risk doesn’t arise).

Failure to cover these risks in the contract can lead to substantial extra costs to your company as the contractor, possibly leading to making a loss rather than a profit on the project. The difficulties in negotiations related to the geotechnical information could also lead to reputation loss whereby you will be less likely to win future projects from that client.

Remember also that any bad impression that the client has of you or your company will affect their decision to engage you again in the future and will also affect their rating of you as a reference to other companies and to industry surveys.

Organise Design Carefully

When doing a project that requires design, you should plan the time required for design carefully and allow adequate time for the design to be completed.

You should also write a design brief describing what you expect the designers to deliver and get them to agree on a schedule and cost for this (even for an internal design department).

Make sure you also account for design review (by the senior designer), drafting, engineering review of the drafting, redrafting of changes and corrections, and final review and issue.

It is important to allow for all these things and get the design leader to agree on time allowances for this.

You may find that if a design leader has agreed to a brief (including expected delivery times) and signed it then they will be more likely to work on your designs instead of other departments or projects designs (who don’t have a clear agreement).

It is not enough to send the design lead a list of target dates or descriptions, you need to set it all out in a clear document and get them to agree to (and preferably sign) this.

Note that final design review and signoff can be a big bottle neck if there is only one designer authorised to do this.

Increase Efficiency In the Office

In an office dedicated to your project, seek ways to improve efficiency, and don’t allow “green” or “efficiency” measures to actually decrease efficiency.

For example, I have seen many offices that have removed all the rubbish bins and recycling bins from the office areas. Staff are told to use the bins in the kitchen or “designated areas” this makes it necessary for staff to walk away from their desk to dispose of rubbish or to store it in the desk until they have time. This can create messy desks, safety hazards, and force people to waste time taking rubbish and recycling to bins, it also means people recycle less because it is too much hassle. This is especially difficult for visitors to the office (short-term or contract staff) who don’t know where the bins are.

It is also worth finding all the tasks in the office that waste people’s time and find ways to improve them.

For example:

  • Rubbish bin locations
  • Clearly label sections in stationery cabinets so people can find what they need quickly. Requiring people to sign out stationery is a time waster. It is better to have a sheet for requesting special items and an admin person to check what needs restocking regularly.
  • Easy to find/access user manuals for desk phones (for call forwarding etc).
  • Make lists of shortcuts for common software available
    • Windows, Word, Excel etc
    • It is amazing how many people click-through multiple menus to copy and paste instead of using ctrl c, ctrl v etc