What should a Developer be doing when acting as Main Contractor?


Mollie Kate Cohen

October 23rd, 2020
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It is becoming more and more common for Developers to take the reins on (almost) all aspects of a project and assume the role of Main Contractor. However, as Developers aren’t by name nor nature actually Main Contractors, they sometimes lack the experience and resources required to be consistently successful and efficient. This is not to say that it’s all bad, but as with everything in life, there are definitely some areas for improvement. Namely, the quality of information and how this information is managed throughout the life of the project is really important.

The construction industry has a reputation for being quite traditional and perhaps slightly behind the times, but in reality, it is fast moving and increasingly more process driven. For example, when tendering for a project, price used to be the most important factor, yet now the quality section (which can include questions on sustainability, health and safety, and HR practices) is in some cases as important, if not more important than the price. This highlights a shift in the wider industry and reinforces the responsibility of a Main Contractor or any organisation that assumes the role to have a positive impact on everything that they do.

Developers are essentially an entity that constructs, redevelops or refurbishes buildings to make a profit. Often because of their economic motivation, efficiencies fall to the wayside. Yet, it must be remembered that efficiencies can actually drive profits higher and result in happier investors – essentially, although on the surface it might look like a big investment to set up a project like a Main Contractor, it can actually result in better profit margins, satisfied clients and a happier project team who are more likely to want to work with you again.

Here are six places where a Developer (or any other entity) acting as a Main Contractor can make some easy changes:

  1. Appointing consultants
  2. Setting a procurement schedule
  3. Having a robust construction programme
  4. Creating an information release schedule
  5. Creating a construction phase plan
  6. Creating a risk register

Appointing consultants

A Main Contractor (MC) will usually look at the project and select appropriate consultants based on any skills or experience gaps that they may have. For example, if the project does not require any design then there would be no point employing a design lead. Likewise, if the project does require design but the MC has in-house capability then they would not need to hire externally either.

Typically, a Developer does not have huge in-house capabilities, and so appointing consultants is a really crucial stage in the critical path of a project. Commercial experience is generally overlooked by Developers, but it is essential to have this right from the outset of any project. As such, a quantity surveyor and/or a project management company is highly recommended as they will provide a central resource for all other trades to report to, which will in turn increase accountability and understanding across the project.

Consultants should be appointed through a rigorous process that assesses quality, capability and experience – similar to the procurement process for subcontractors. But further than just the appointment process, Developers need to look at the agreements that are set in place with those who are appointed. To drive efficiency right from the outset they should establish agreements and protocols for response times and the quality of information that will be sent over. This will prevent delays and any potential problems with the standard of information that is expected.

Procurement schedule

A procurement schedule identifies and documents all procurement requirements at each stage of the project. The schedule should be coordinated with the construction programme (which is covered in the next section) as really, procurement is the first step of any project.

It is important to prepare each element that will be put out to tender for the project and understand who is going to tender. To ensure that you have a fair competition you need to have at least three bidders – but ideally five. A fair competition results in a competitive price.

Furthermore, if the procurement schedule is set up robustly from the outset then there is potential to introduce an ECI (Early Contractor Involvement) stage. This brings contractors in at an even earlier stage to allow their expertise to reflect in the planning and sometimes the design. Value engineering is highly possible at this stage as contractors and tradespeople know their niche inside out and may have had similar, useful experience which could result in further cost or time savings.

C-Link’s software is built on the understanding of all the problems that arise when procuring. It will simplify this entire procurement process through allowing you to upload project information including specifications and drawings and then creating all the subcontract packages that will be needed for the project. You can then post the project to C-Link’s network of subcontractors and move into the tender stages easily, with an option for the software to produce a tender for you too.

Construction programme

An MC will always have a construction programme in place. The programme will outline the scope of works, define the sequencing for each activity across the project, define all resources that will be required, outline the timelines for the project, and state the cash flow and budget. This document is then used as a tool throughout the project to help plan activities, monitor and track progress, in addition to identifying if any further resources are needed.

The lack of a procurement schedule and a construction programme will result in major problems with financing as it will be unclear at what point different trades are required. Scheduling therefore becomes extremely difficult which is likely to cause delays. Both these documents are produced collaboratively and need buy-in from the full team to be successful, plus this reiterates the importance of appointing a project manager or quantity surveyor from the outset as they will be well versed in compiling these types of documents.

Having a quality, robust construction programme also means that the team will have spent a significant amount of time looking at the drawings, specifications, resources and sequencing for the project. If there are any glaring errors or potential ways to improve then they can be looked at early on and therefore save time and money later on also.

A construction programme is crucial to managing the finances of a project as it allows for effective cash flows and forecasting for each stage. Every subcontractor on the project should be involved in updating and contributing to the programme, therefore accountability is further increased. Each trade is aware of the sequence, timelines and activities required of them and as a result this also provides Developers greater legal protection if damages need to be claimed for. It is not unusual for a claim to be made because of delays on a project that prevent other trades from starting work when they should have – this can be easily avoided with the implementation of a construction programme.

Information release schedule

Tenders are cumbersome and consist of many moving parts which can be hard to organise properly without proper experience. As a result, there is regularly important information missing at tender stage and so it is a good idea to draw up an information release schedule. This will give dates for the release of specific information by the team of consultants, plus it can also specify dates for the contractors to pass information back to the consultants. The schedule can also be used to highlight procurement stages and design phases to ensure that information gets released after major events where new details are set in place.

A thorough information release schedule will also have a hugely positive impact on the site teams as they will no longer be stopped on site because of missing information. For example, a team of roofers could arrive on site but come to find an elevation that was missing from the plans that they were given. Now the roofers are unable to start work when scheduled to as the design has to go back to the architects. If the information release schedule was looked at in conjunction with the construction programme by the consultants, then the delay could have been avoided as they would have had all the available information. Furthermore, if the roofers were involved at an earlier stage then they would have also spotted the error and would have avoided the problem altogether.

Ultimately, an information release schedule will keep all subcontractors, consultants and other entities on the same page throughout the duration of the project. It will clearly dictate who needs to know what and at what stage of the project they should know. The schedule will also have a positive impact on the resourcing throughout the project lifecycle, and therefore the profit.

Construction phase plan

A construction phase plan is actually a requirement on every construction project that is working to the CDM 2015 regulations – don’t let that put you off, it doesn’t have to be complicated. However, it is a key part of the preparations for the health and safety and the logistics of a project which can so often be overlooked.

In summary, this plan should describe the key dates: the start and end dates, when services will be connected or disconnected, groundwork phases, fitout stages etc. Plus, it should record information such as where the services are located, any access or restriction issues and if there is asbestos present. The plan should also clearly set out site rules, health and safety information, what will happen if there are any delays or changes and importantly, who will be making the decisions (hopefully your team of experienced consultants).

The logistics on a project can really make or break it – if they are not properly looked at then it can be the cause of delays and therefore big monetary losses. The team of consultants should be looking at how the site works before any subcontractor even arrives, this includes understanding any restrictions for noise, vibrations and deliveries that are imposed by the local council. If the site is close to a school, a church or a community centre then it is worthwhile to liaise with them and understand when their busy times are so that the site traffic does not negatively impact them. All of these findings should then be clearly noted, relayed to the subcontractors, and factored into the sequencing of the project.

Risk register

A risk register is another project management tool that helps to document the potential risks on a project. This is yet another document that an experienced project management company or a quantity surveyor would assist with and it should be created at the very start of a project – before any works begin. It is a live document that is then regularly reviewed and updated throughout the project.

Managing risks is a major part of delivering a project on time and within budget. The document should include: the nature of the risk, severity/impact of the risk, probability of it happening, the owner and any mitigation measures.

Did you make notes?

Above all, a requirement for all of the documents and strategies described above is communication and collaboration. Collaboration is the new buzz word in the construction industry, working in silos just isn’t as effective as you will inevitably miss out on someone’s expertise or experience that could prove invaluable on your project. For example, ECI phases will allow contractors and trades to have an input into the design, they will share their experience of their niche with you which can only improve the project.

In conclusion, this probably sounds like a lot of paperwork and a lot of (potentially) new things to consider. But the slightly cringy quote that we have probably all been told at one point in our lives springs to mind here: “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.

Construction is becoming increasingly regulated, but it is important to understand why these regulations and processes are being put in place – because they actually work. Whilst many of these documents and suggestions may appear on the surface to be expensive and unworthwhile investments, they are actually likely to actually save a lot of money in the long run. Efficiencies allow for time savings and therefore increase profit.

About Mollie Kate Cohen

Mollie is a freelance writer, having started her career as a specialist bid writer. She has a degree in English Literature and History which only solidified her passion for books and writing. She enjoys being challenged and learning new things – hence ending up working in the construction industry!

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