A very merry Christmas - And a happy New Year. Let's hope it's a good one - Without any fear (John Lennon, 1971)
My 2015 ends with many stories of concern and with some of hope as we enter 2016.
As creator and host of Construction CPM Conference I have become perhaps not a spokesperson but rather a sounding board for many with troubles and worries in our industry. If one star speaker must bow out because his client demands one type of service on dates conflicting with our event, and another star speaker calls to bow out because demand for his type of service has dropped creating issues of budget, I take notice. When I see the ranks of attendees clicking they provide service #1 grow while those providing service #2 decline, I begin to validate this otherwise anecdotal evidence.
I also see how agencies or owners demanding one product do internal review and shift to demanding another product or service. Worse is the increase in requests for my (very limited) ability to assist those laid off, where my first question is “what was the scope of your past employment?” All of these inputs help me see trends for near term marketability and product or service sales. But perhaps more important are the reasons one service is in demand this season and another in less demand.
Risk is up. Earned value management (EVM) is down. Enterprise systems are down. Single project systems are slowly seeing an upward tick. Analytics are up. Systems promoting productivity at the expense of timeliness proliferate but are struggling. But these systems – and the practitioners who devote the time to learn them – are carving out quite a nice niche. Fewer claims of delay are rising to the point that requires expert analysis, much less invoking the arbitration or litigation process. More claims are being raised based upon disruption and lost productivity.
I have my opinions but I do not know why. Perhaps when a contractor or agency has five projects of which three are doing rather well but two slightly lag, the desire to pull information for enterprise synergies may be a strong selling point. When we now have only three projects, none doing well, the focus may revert to project-centric protocols. Budget never had a line item for field personnel to collect the additional data desired (foisting such to the already overworked field clerk) and now cannot support home office personnel to process and analyze such information.
Compliance for the sake of compliance demands are also down. In this past year the threshold for requiring EVM tracking and reporting was raised from $50M to $100M. Does no one care if a $70M project is plagued with endemic waste? But if the government agency does not have budget to review the reports, then what?
One would hope that the contractor would still desire a robust EVM program, even if billing on a cost-plus contract. One would hope a DOT would desire to track and compare both timeliness and productivity for the myriad of design service contracts issued – including especially those small contracts.
My 8th edition of CPM in Construction Management (released last month by McGraw-Hill) touches on several of these perceived trends. Throughout the text we push the importance of consideration of risk. Our new model specification suggests the owner demand a CPM which after risk analysis shows an 80% likelihood of timely completion. (Also see ENR posts Why the Scheduling Specification is in a State of Disrepair and ”You Can’t Always Get What You Want ...” PROBABILITY OF COMPLETION ON TIME on this topic and publication and presentation for the ABA Forum for Construction at http://www.fplotnick.com/EDUC/ABAFC/ABAFC415.html). It also has a refreshed chapter on how to analyze claims of delay incorporating comments by the authors of AACE 29RP-03, and an enhanced chapter on claims of disruption.
My Construction CPM Conference, January 31 to February 3 in New Orleans, has numerous speakers on these and other topics of industry interest, as well as basic navigation tutorials in most of the commercial software products used by our practitioners. We have an enhanced Deltek (and Acumen) track, Microsoft (Project and Visio) track, and Oracle (Primavera P6 and cloud solutions) track.
We have tracks featuring a number of the desktop and laptop solutions such as Phoenix Project Manager, Elecosoft Asta Powerproject, Safran, PMA Netpoint, and others. We have tracks featuring risk features of these and other add-on products such as Risky Project and Baracana Full Monte. We have tracks on analytics such as Steelray, Acumen and Schedule Analyzer. We have a document control track featuring Oracle, Trimble and Infinitrac products.
We also have a lot of entertainment starting with Mardi Gras parades going past our hotel on the preceding Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and following our conference on Wednesday all the way to the following Fat Tuesday. Our footprint (Sunday – Monday – Tuesday – Wednesday) entertainment includes:
· -- Welcome reception by Oracle on Sunday following the Mardi Gras parades,
· -- Mardi Gras happy hour reception, our own parade through the French Quarter with police escort, and a Balcony Bash reception on Bourbon Street on Monday, and
· -- Super Football happy hour reception by Phoenix, and private Jazz Club featuring Charmaine Neville sponsored by Microsoft on Tuesday.
The trends indicate that a lot of the business for our practitioners comes from mandates from agencies and other owners or perhaps large contractor corporate management that may not quite understand the benefits thereof and certainly do not understand the full costs of diverting line producers to file compliance reports. And these are largely subject to a herd mentality of “we also need that report.” But then when one entity drops a mandate, so may there be a rush by others to also drop, never having understood the good that the mandate was to bring.
So what if the federal mandate for EVM is raised to $100M?
The managers for those $90M cost-plus contracts should still be held to prevent waste. The managers for those $20M or $2M lump-sum projects should still be concerned about systemic productivity. The managers for a large engineering firm with many DOT projects should still be looking to enterprise level insights. Perhaps with the removal of mandate managers for both owners and contractors may look to revise the “one size meets all” protocols for less costly and more productive analyses. And that is what the professionals of our field (as compared to the screen jockeys) are best suited to provide.
The key question for our industry is still what I raised in the early 1980s when I started my practice:
Will our services be considered an expense or an investment?