Some things will be beyond your control

CETF, College of Engineering the Future building project, ongoing photographs of the project, 11.4.16
College of Engineering, 2016

Contractor and consultant performance are typically managed through contractual conditions. For example, KPIs are agreed as part of the engagement process, possibly with incentive bonuses for exemplary delivery and penalties for failing to meet standards. The indicators are monitored actively throughout the project and action is taken promptly if performance drops below trigger levels. That’s what you would expect under normal operations anyway. For us, the disaster recovery market held some nasty surprises which meant things didn’t play out quite so neatly. 

1. There was a huge turnover in contractor teams 

The demands of city- and region-wide rebuild created a constant churn in contractor personnel. On a number of occasions, the staff that turned up on site were not the team promised during tendering. Some did not have adequate skills, and many were recently arrived in New Zealand and unfamiliar with local methodologies.  

In a normal environment, we would expect consultants to performance manage main- and sub-contractors, and to require a change in personnel or supplier to meet contractual standards. However, in the drastically under supplied recovery market where escalating costs had a significant impact on project budgets, it was too risky to pause work to seek new suppliers, even if they could be found. 

For us, the reality was increased consultant input for contractor briefing and monitoring, and ‘work around’ strategies to get us to the end goal – an open and functioning university achieved in the most expedient manner. 

Works underway on the Rehua building

2. Two major suppliers collapsed 

Among our main contractors were two of New Zealand’s building industry leaders – Fletcher Construction and Hawkins Group. Both firms had track records stretching back decades across major projects around the country. In normal times, they could be seen as a safe bet – go with the big players and have confidence in their ability to deliver.  But, as it turned out, both companies collapsed in the volatile earthquake recovery market, resulting in loss of key personnel, project delays and increased delivery costs for us. 

During disaster recovery, even the safest bets are off. No matter how carefully you plan, your programme will be influenced by external factors that you simply cannot foresee or control. Be prepared and follow best practice wherever possible, but also remain nimble and ready to respond to the unexpected.