Factory Expansion – 5 Big Mistakes Commonly Made

After the ceremonial groundbreaking and the handshakes are done, we get on to the real business of building. Most business owners place the project on his or her back burner, figuring someone else is checking on it. Here’s what to watch for.

1) Lack of face-to-face meetings with contractors. 

I know, it’s convenient to send emails, do a quick conference call and ask for a faxed project update. Don’t Do It! Build the relationship and level of trust between you and your contractor so that there is goodwill to work with if issues arise. This mistake is very common when mistake #2 also exists, for the simple reason that you are busy running a business.

2) Lack of visual proof / examples. 

On more than one occasion I’ve been called a “shutterbug” or “construction-site tourist” for taking so many pictures of the construction site’s status. There are a number of reasons to do so. The obvious is to document adherence to specs, safety regulations and site erosion control laws. It is your site after all, and the only way to protect yourself in a legal case is to have proof that you documented the issue, and attempted to have the contractor correct it. The not-so-obvious reason is to have a historical record of where things were / are. Original wiring, plumbing, telephone, IT and other mechanicals get moved around during demolition and rebuild. After the sheet rock is up, your guess is as good as the next person’s as to how it runs through the walls.

3) Failing to document initial site conditions, and then as-built conditions. 

This is similar to #2, but too often building owners will not take the time to document any pre-existing damage, or lack thereof. For example, when the project is over and the contractor is gone, they may notice that the light poles in the parking lot are bent, or the wall adjacent to the addition is all scratched up. It could be small things like this that become an issue, or maybe something large like damage to on-site step-down transformers. Make your Owner’s Rep / Construction Manager document the site conditions before beginning construction.

4) Not getting a full set of as-builts in one of these formats: .pdf / auto-cad / refit

Don’t forget copies of the operating manuals and warranties for all equipment and materials installed. “As-built” prints are how the actual end result looks in blueprint view. Last minute changes, use of substitute materials, rearrangement of existing services, or lighting or mechanical layouts too often fail to be documented. Then two years later, something needs to be added and there’s no record of how much electrical service is running through that section of the plant. Or 10 years later, Joe the Facilities Manager retires and he had all that knowledge in his head. You get the idea. Plus, having copies of all equipment and material warranties is worth its weight in gold if anything breaks within warranty period.

5) Ignore phone calls or emails from contractors

Time is money as they say, right? In this case, time is time. The longer it takes you to get back to them, the longer the project drags on. Here’s an example.An issue arises with the availability of one of the building materials. Your contractor calls you on Friday afternoon to get approval to source an alternate. His distributor puts orders in on Monday morning. You don’t call the contractor back until Monday after your 10:00 am meeting. Congratulations. You have just delayed your project by another 7 days! That puts your move-in date off, and all the advance notice that the riggers need as well.

Parting advice:

There are professionals whose career is the management of construction projects as a representative of the owner. My last bit of advice is to hire someone, even if just part-time, to keep track of all the details. Ideally this person would meet with a team of your company department heads at least weekly. Purchasing, Operations, Facilities, and HR should all be at the table to keep communication flowing, to work out details not thought of in the design phase, and most importantly to minimize project timeline delays.

What have you learned about factory expansion?

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