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An informative yet amusing look at the daily trials and tribulations at UPC

By Mick Underhill, Mar 6 2015 03:54PM

Its not about what you've done, its what you are going to do next

Its been a great start to the year for Underhill Project Controls. We have been producing a plethora of quality documentation for some very busy clients from pre-qualification submissions....to full tender bids....to producing construction programmes for imminent starts. All of what we have produced this year is sending the same message to the reader;

'This is exactly what we are going to do for you'

Submission documents have been detailing how long it will take to deliver the project, how safe the site will be run, the quality that will be achieved.....and what it is going to cost client. One thing is for sure, there needs to be a positive plan to show how you, the contractor, will deliver to your clients expectation and beyond. Following this we need to regularly report back to him to prove that our project plan is correct. One great tool for this is the Dashboard Report

What to include in the report? The list is endless but time, cost, resource & material usage are all important. The client may well have his own ideas on Key Performance Indicators (KPI) to include. Include what is useful to the reader, ignore the superfluous where possible.

Once you have decided what aspects of the project to monitor and report on, the fundamental thing to concentrate on is the accuracy of the raw data. If the programme information is poor then the dashboard will offer poor guidance to the Project Manager. He will live life in blissful ignorance of impending doom or conversely be rushing around like a headless chicken wasting valuable project resource accelerating something that doesn't require such priority.

It is imperative that you produce quality programmes with input from your team, where durations are based on constant rates with agreed time risk allowances. The logic links must sound by constructive investigation at time of building up the programme, (maybe even as a result of a collaborative planning exercise with your supply chain).

Dashboards aren't new, and Project Managers will have different experiences of using them, as such we can all get carried away with negative and positives of Dashboard reporting but essentially your base project tool "The Programme" needs to be right.

As I have suggested a client's view of the project is not about what we have done so we also don't just report historical data, forecasting is the most important skill in Project Management and Control. So we record the progress and data and if forward or behind the plan, we transpose it forward and compare to the plan. The Project Manager can then know - potentially - what awaits him.

If the status quo isn't acceptable for timely completion then, working with the team, the Project Manager can then revise the plan by a variety of methods including increasing plant and/or labour, introducing overtime or exploiting concurrent activity.

The bottom line is projects run more smoothly with unambiguous communication and accurate data with which to make informed decisions.

By Mick Underhill, Oct 29 2014 06:50PM

Well this past fortnight has certainly been one of ups and downs…..on the down side, worse than hearing ‘man down’ in battle the gentle mutterings and ever panicky blaspheming of “internet down” up and down the halls of UPC Towers.

“It can’t be…just turn it off and on again”….

“I’ve done that, it’s still the same”.

“Really? Are you sure? Check the phone line….oh! That’s dead too! Shit! This is serious!”

“Can you just phone the BT helpline, there’s a poppet?”

What could be simpler than that…..well life is never simple is it? Well here in deepest, darkest Somerset there is scant mobile signal and both our networks require the internet for signal boosts! So after many calls and cut offs to the scripted call centre somewhere distant we finally got our equipment malaise reported….the engineer will be with you ‘toute suite’. Toute suite came and went. Twitter trolling @BTCare ensued, frenzied calls to the increasingly unhelpful and ironically named helpline increased in frequency. Mutterings were now shoutings and herrrumphings.

Blaspheming was now reaching levels to be at home in the NAAFI queue. At one point I was sat for 6 hours in the porch waiting for the engineer to call ‘within 6 hours’ (yes, you read that right) to rearrange their failure to make the original appointment. BT Customer Care was failing in gargantuan chunks. Its not our fault said they….our line checks show its your equipment failure…it’ll cost you £129.99. I don’t care just come and fix it we collectively sobbed in unison

It seems Toute Suite is BT speak for 12 days.

Credit where credit was due, on their eventual arrival, the Openreach chappies were brilliant…they were polite, apologetic and most importantly of all got on an fixed the technical malaise, they even go the Trumpton-like hoist elevating to add to the village fete spectacle of the repair…..which as it turned out was ivy growing in the box on the post in the street. So whatever the checks were that pointed the finger of blame at our door they were amiss.

So here we are. Phoneline fixed, broadband pumping out a not massive 3.5Mb download speed….yes 3.5Mb. Somerset problems.

So to the Ups….(nerd alert)

Up 1 – delivery of the new iPhone 6 – I now get phone coverage, where once I didn’t! I can now do business like emails, website updating, accounting, social media buffering etc from my phone, the bigger, sharper screen goes someway to offsetting my ever failing eyesight, the camera is amazing, some great quality photographs taken on a recent site visit! But listen to this folks….I even have an app which allows me to update my Asta Powerproject programmes! Which Segway’s me nicely into Up 2….

(massive construction planner type nerd alert)

Up 2 – I have downloaded the latest upgrade for Asta Powerproject – release 12.5.01 (build 27) no less. Switching on is like the first time you had Sky TV in the early 1990’s. The concept is familiar….certain bits feel like the old friends they have become but they are dressed in amazing new trendy clothes! It’s very visual now, and you can even get it look even more like Primavera P6 than ever before….im not sure if that a good thing yet.

I have started my first programme today and I must say it feels very slick….easy to use – the ribbons of buttons very much like Microsoft office suite of programmes and what is on the screen looks very neat colourful and above all easy to follow…..I particularly like the hierarchy appearance, I like the tabs for easy access between programmes when you have a few open at once…..no more Excel spreadsheets for line of balance programmes…..better cross functionality with Primavera P6….find and replace….I am really enjoying the v12.5 experience so far and things should be even better soon once I have finished playing, interfunctionality with my iPad on site visits to report progress means I won't be finished playing for some time! Lets hope my clients see an improvement in what I can produce for them.

It’s like 12 days without broadband never happened…..kinda!

By Mick Underhill, Oct 16 2014 04:15PM

This year, as every year, in the run up to the anniversary of the Armistice I will be wearing my poppy with pride. The reasons for this are three fold:

As a symbol of remembrance for those before me from all nations who have died in the line of the duty that was asked of them, not only during the First World War but also during the many wars and conflicts that have been endured since. At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month I shall stand to attention and think of the final thoughts of those brave men and women.

As a symbol of solidarity not only for those serving now in operational theatres around the world but also for the families at home who wear a brave face as they go about their lives knowing that today maybe the day for bad news.....I pray for those that it never comes and they can rejoice in the embrace of their loved ones again.

To help raise money for the good works that the Royal British Legion do in support of all ex-service men and women, not only the injured and the bereaved but also the homeless and infirm.

The poppy is not a triumphal symbol, nor is it the badge of an elite club, it shows no prejudice of race, religion or class……It just says thank you to those that have given all that they have to give so I may live safely with those that I love. I may not agree with the politics of war and the reasons why we feel the need to enter conflict before words are exhausted…but I support the bravery of the servicemen and women without question.

I will always live in hope that the most recent loss of life through military action is the last but one cannot count on the collective behaviours of mankind.

By Mick Underhill, Oct 13 2014 10:56AM

Recent experience has seen me face a new person…the small builder! Not stature, but small in terms of his vision of successful delivery of the project. I was asked to look into a substantial house renovation – complete strip, reroof, 2 storey extension and landscaping the garden which could stand in as a stunt double as the north face of the Eiger!!

I was amazed that an 11 month project was being completed without as much as a schedule or programme of work in place!

The client was told “We’ll be finished in September”. Obviously September arrived and the finish was nowhere in sight - it was a classic ‘Grand Designs Scenario’. I could hear Kevin McLeod’s scathing monologue in my ear ”they have decided to dispense with the employment of a professional project manager and chosen the self-management route….” It’s usually at this point where I scream at the TV. But here I was seeing it in the flesh!

To add to this melting pot was the client was paying the builder on weekly rate so was ‘somewhat stressed’ to see the project budget increasing exponentially into a rather frugal Christmas holiday period!

Avoiding the obvious ‘how the hell was the client so naïve’ questions….I will instead stay with the ‘how the hell does a builder run a successful business without programmes and schedules, question. My only answer to this is by pure luck and gift of the gab, and by ensuring his client base is utterly naïve to the building industry. In this example there was also a degree of bullying by the builder when trying to justify his management incompetence.

There has to be surety of outcome in any project and in the first instance contracts are there to help us…the JCT suite of contracts includes Home Owner contracts including one where they have chosen to self-manage. Secondly a competent builder has to have open communication with the client and speak to them about progress regularly a programme would allow the client to gauge this progress over time and give the builder something to plan his deliveries or specialist works around….or is that just too easy?

Private building projects can be a source of continual conflict and great stress, a simple contract and programme or schedule of work will go a long way to ensuring that prolongation of time and increasing budgets do not spiral out of control.

I’m not sure what the answer is but architect practices should have a responsibility when producing design schemes to inform the client of ‘the way of things’ and where they know the home owner is going down the self-management route advise them on the need for contracts, agreeing fixed prices over rates and ensuring they have an agreed completion date which has facility to be monitored.

Your local GP successfully managing a £300k construction project to the required quality standard as well as completing on time and budget is a ludicrous an idea as me opening a pop-in surgery to deal with the common ailments of the community ….I’ll bet I get a couple of diagnoses right but the majority I will get woefully wrong with disastrous results.

If you want a job doing, do it yourself….or if you want a job doing well, hire someone who knows what they are doing. There is nothing more dangerous than an over enthusiastic amateur, especially when their entire life saving and credit limit are at stake!

By Mick Underhill, Sep 2 2014 01:34PM

Project Legacy is a project I am keen to get up and running that primarily gives help to soldiers leaving the Army after their service.

While much good is done by various charities and organisations, I would like to do my bit in my field of experience

Construction Planning is a specialism that is finds itself forever searching for enough planners of the right calibre. Recruitment specialists tell me all the time they cannot find Planners, Planning Engineers, Project Controllers with the right quailifications or experience.

The Project will involve a transfer of my knowledge to service leavers showing an interest and aptitude for Construction Planning - meticulous planning is a trait that runs through many military engineers and I am keen to harness that for the benefit of the individuals and the construction industry. I will also act a conduit between myself and forward thinking companies who can see the benefits in employing a construction professional with some rather different experience to the table!

Watch this space!!!!

By guest, Aug 23 2014 10:23AM

Underhill Project Controls….or Underhill Project Control Freaks as it is endearingly known in office, has been moving through the gears recently from ‘initial idea’….to ‘on the back burner’….to ‘let’s have a think about this’…to ‘you know what? I think this is a goer’.

Having registered the company, visited Paul my accountant, chatted with Sally my business development guru, sought advice from the industry sages Tim and Rich. It is now on the launch pad! I tell you what I have learned; business start-up is as adrenaline fuelled as bungee jumping and as liberating as naturism….apparently! I am full of excitement for this now, and hope to bring that to the fore in the forthcoming contracts I deliver for my clients.

If you are reading this on the weird world that is the interweb, you may be a Russian bride, Nigerian prince…maybe a recruitment agent, maybe my dad (Hi Dad!), maybe a construction specialist….a project manager, planning team leader…..another planner god forbid!!! Whoever you are get in touch and enquire how I can make your business or project run more smoothly…help you win that bid you need to kick you into a new level…maybe even inspire you to launch a business start-up.

As my life coaches Jake & Elwood once said “There are 106 miles to Chicago. We have a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark, and we're wearing sunglasses……Hit it”

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