The REAL Role of the Superintendent

There have been a few webinars and articles around on the Role of the Superintendent which applied examples around building sites as opposed to Civil Construction Sites. The articles presented the Role of the Superintendent in its traditional form, which entails the assessment of Variations, Extension of Time, and other contractual requirements to be administered under a traditional AS4000. The role is also to act fair and reasonable to both parties (without bias being given to the client given that they are generally the party to whom the Superintendent is engaged), as per Clause 20 of an unamended AS4000 Contract.

We at Orion Consulting thought it would be good to write an article on the REAL Role of the Superintendent and how the choices you make in selecting the right Superintendent can make a significant impact on a project. The article is not intended to cover the role itself in its traditional form but rather to show the Value Add an experienced Superintendent can have to a project both financially and to the whole dynamic of a collaborative approach to a Contract.

Most people understand the Superintendent to be basically a Contract Administrator who is a third party to a Contract, that executes and administers the contract between two parties i.e., the Developer, who is the Principal under the contract, and the Head Contractor. Whilst this is the main function of the role, in our experience we know an experienced Superintendent who has a strong background in construction and development can have a significant impact on a project. These benefits are realised by both the Developer and the Contractor.

When a project is awarded, it is beneficial to schedule a meeting with the Developer to understand the intended project outcomes. Whilst everyone is always looking to finish a project as fast as possible and as cheap as possible there are those few out there that are willing to sacrifice cost or time for Quality. As the old saying goes you can only ever have 2 of the following: Time, Cost and Quality, never all 3.

You might now be asking what can a Superintendent do that the Contractor can’t do, since they are in control of the timeframes and the costs? Whilst the Superintendent cannot direct a Contractor on how to deliver the project under the original Works Under the Contract (WUC) except for a variation to the WUC (Clause 36.1), they can collaborate with the Contractor as to how best to complete the works based on prior projects and lessons learnt.

As you all may know there is always a varied skill set amongst people in general, everyone is where they are currently at in their career by coming up though a different pathway as the person next to them. This means that everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, which is also a direct function of their personality. I don’t want to go into too much detail on different personality traits but let’s just say that these things can make a difference in any project.

As an example, you may have a project that has a Project Manager with 5 years’ experience paired up with a Superintendent who has 10 years’ experience. There is a Request for Information (RFI) issued to the Superintendent who has previously experienced the same issue whether as a Superintendent or in their previous career. Generally, a Superintendent who has previously had a career as a Contractor, coming from the field will know the practical limit of a problem encountered as they would have managed the same risks previously. How many times have you heard that a response to an RFI is going to delay a project? I am not having a dig at the designers as they are always busy but a Superintendent who has a strong background in construction and understands the risk, time and costs associated with the project is more readily able to assess and respond in a timelier manner to requests where design calculations are not required.

An example to illustrate the above, whereby we have been able to reduce designer response times, is provided below:

Issue Encountered:

Existing Water main alignment clashes with the rear of a proposed stormwater pit.

How the REAL Superintendent addressed the issue:

The Superintendent may propose to construct the pit with an offset chamber without the need to check with the designer to accommodate as the designed flow will be unaffected. This would naturally need approval by the local authority, but a solution at least has been presented to the designer for a quicker internal assessment and early discussion with Council Verifier to expedite approval.

Benefits to the project:

Review and approval timeframes reduced resulting in minimal project delays.

So, what does this example show? It shows that a difference to project response times during construction can be reduced by a Superintendent who understands construction methodologies, production time frames and costs. Whilst there may be additional costs for the pit configuration for the above example, the reduction in delay to deliver the project on time will potentially save the developer future (time-based) costs. Further, an experienced Superintendent who has both construction and contractual experience is better able to assess the validity of Variations, Extensions of time, and Requests for information. We have always been a firm believer in collaboration, and once all parties understand that the success of a project is dependent on all parties working together to achieve the same project outcome, time, costs, and quality will naturally follow.

To further illustrate this point, I think it is best to provide some more examples. As part of our pre-commencement process, which forms part of our Internal Quality System, we undertake a review of the construction drawings to determine its constructability. This process is used to flag any early construction issues and mitigate potential RFI’s. As we all know once Construction starts it is very difficult to stop and change the sequence of activities whilst design or Construction issues are being resolved. The smaller a development site the more critical all tasks become which is evident when you review a Project program and observe the sequence of activities which make up the Critical path.

An example of where cost savings can be gained is from understanding different methodologies or materials used for a project. For example, Orion Consulting worked on a project that had a large basin with steep batters to minimise the overall footprint and increase storage. A sandstone log wall was designed; however we reviewed and investigated an anchored reinforced geogrid type mat alternative, which offered a cost saving to the client.

As you can see from the above examples whilst it would be beneficial for the Contractor to identify the construction issues, this is not always the case due to time constraints in pricing a conforming bid and various other factors such as practical experience.

A third example of good practice and value add is to have the Superintendent manage the Tender process. Typically, this is done by the Project Manager prior to handing over to the Superintendent team. This early access to the process does 2 things: it gives the Superintendent early access to understanding the project and a chance to review the project to ensure it is constructable. Having this detail project knowledge at an early stage of a development process helps reduce the risk to the developer in variations through the construction process. And further it gives the Superintendent the opportunity to add in additional pay items to ensure there are no grey areas in the scope.

What can be done at the tender analysis stage that can assist in reducing costs during the development? As you will see when you receive any tender, all submissions are slightly different and will need detailed analysis to be able to equalise the various pay items. Each submission will exclude different items, make different assumptions, slightly different durations for various activities. This can be quite a mammoth task to review and equalise, to ensure that to lowest submission may not be inclusive of all items as say the average price submission. Experience has shown that even when tenders are reviewed internally that errors in rates can still slip through accidentally and it takes a keen eye to pick what is outside of the industry average.

Why is this important considering most contracts are Lump sum and the schedule is provided mainly as an assessment tool for claims and variations? Well, generally once a contractor realises there is an error in the pricing or certain pay items were not clear, there is generally a need to try and recuperate these losses and project relationships can suffer.

Rates and quantities are not the only things that need to be analysed when reviewing tenders. There are also other items that need to be considered such as whether the traffic budget allows enough for staging of works? Or even to undertake connections of services? Typically, these items are priced as a lump sum and a detailed understanding of the methodology price will be acceptable to Council. An experienced Superintendent with a construction background will have a greater understanding of risks and limitations in staging.

There are of course many more value-add options Orion Consulting can provide to benefit a project. For a more detailed understanding of how we can make a difference to your project, and what our REAL Superintendents role is, please feel to reach out to our Head of Construction and Infrastructure, Edmund Tsang or our Construction Manager, Chris Suarez.

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