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

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!

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