The Supervisor's Environment

By Jerald Rounds | Dec 15, 2008
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Last month, we began a discussion of project delivery systems (PDS) with the objective of learning how the nature of the PDS affects the responsibilities of the electrical supervisor. The article identified five PDS: design/bid/build, design/build, agency construction management, construction management at risk, and job order contracting. It then discussed some of the supervisor responsibilities common to all PDS.

Design/bid/build has been the traditional approach to contracting for many years. In this approach, the project is completely designed, put out for bids and awarded to a bidder who executes the work. Contractors do not participate in the design phase. During construction, the architect’s duty is to represent the owner through observing and reporting on project execution and to act as an adviser to the owner. For construction, a general contractor (GC) may or may not perform some of the work himself, but employs specialty contractors (SC) to execute specific areas of the work.

Under design/bid/build, the GC has a superintendent who is responsible for all field operations. Each SC also has a lead supervisor, a foreman or, on larger projects, a superintendent. The lead supervisor directs the work of the SC. The GC’s responsibility is to coordinate all of the project work but not to micromanage for the SC.

Design/build has become one of the most popular approaches to construction. In recent years, even governmental agencies have seen the advantage of this approach and approved its use in the public sector. Design/build has the advantage for the owner of a single point of responsibility. A single entity is contracted to design and build the facility. This allows construction to start before design is completed, thus shortening the project schedule.

Often, the design is never completed because the same contractor and designer work together on many projects. When working with familiar partners, contractors often know what designers want, and designers recognize full detail may not be required. This gives the supervisor more latitude (and responsibility) to make field decisions that will result in the most efficient construction process. As a result, the supervisor must be able to work more independently and without the detail found in documents available in the design/bid/build environment. The field supervisor also may become involved in the design process and in making design decisions as they relate to construction field operations. One ramification of design/build is that the design/build entity is responsible for system performance, not just installation according to drawings and specifications. This is more risky for all of the construction companies involved.

In agency construction manage-ment,- the owner hires a construction manager (CM) to oversee both the design and construction of the project. The CM has an agency relationship with the owner (as does the architect) so that the primary responsibility is to protect the interests of the owner. Agency construction management projects do not employ GCs and are set up with multiple prime contracts, each SC having a contract directly with the owner.

The CM has a superintendent that operates much like the GC superintendent in other PDS, coordinating all field operations. However, since the CM has no contractual relationship with the SCs, the CM superintendent must rely much more on leadership skills than on command. Agency construction management projects generally are broken into many packages. To the electrical contractor, this means there might be other ECs on-site working on other electrical packages. It also can mean more difficult planning and coordination, since design is phased rather than completed all at once.

Construction management at risk is an interesting hybrid in that a CM is hired to participate in the design process, but when the project work begins, the CM takes on the mantel of the GC. In a construction management at risk project, the EC may be brought in to participate in design as part of the CM team, and a field supervisor may be asked to participate in project design. Once the field operations begin, the project takes on the feel of a traditional design/bid/build project.

Owners who have extensive facilities and want to be able to respond quickly to special construction projects that come up suddenly or that are not well-defined use job order contracting. Contractors go through a procurement process and are awarded a contract for a specific time (say three to five years) for a maximum amount of work to be on call to execute work when the owner needs it. The work is done on a time and material basis up to the maximum amount. The contract in this case typically is a prime contract directly with the owner, which gives the supervisor a higher level of responsibility to plan, schedule and manage the entire project.

This brief overview of various PDS is intended to help the supervisor understand that there are various ways in which a project can be packaged and, depending on how the project is set up, the responsibilities of the supervisor could be different.

ROUNDS is the AGC endowed chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. E-mail him at [email protected]. SEGNER is a professor of construction science at Texas A&M University. Contact him at [email protected].

About The Author

Jerald Rounds is the AGC endowed chair and professor of civil engineering at the University of New Mexico. E-mail him at [email protected].

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