The medium is the message.
// Marshall McLuhan
So… what is Contract Management exactly?
There will be quite few definitions around, all of them good and very descriptive, but I do not want to bring them here – I will use the analogy instead.
Contract Management is like… a marriage.
Contract is the situation where Constructor meets Client; and they look after their relationships; simple. But in every relationship there will be good days, bad days and some legendary good and bad days…
The real trick here is trust, mutual understanding and pragmatism knowing that each have imperfections. When the ever-present challenges and conflicts rear their heads – solve them. Cooperation, dialogue and conclusion with agreement. Disputes, lawyers and court sessions are the last game on Earth that either party wants to be involved in. The industry norms say ‘fights are a part of relationships’. A good relationship is defined by having the ability to avoid the fight, or at least to resolve the conflict, without enriching the legal systems that creates nothing of value. Construction creates value; real tangible value.
Being influenced by the VDC vision and its practices, I see every contract as a relationship between the client and the contractor that is built on common foundation – a clear definition of the project goal. A project is nothing but ‘the journey together’ to achieve that goal.
There will be slightly different angles or points of view. Clients would want their products to perform efficiently, to be operable, usable and sustainable. Contractors would want their projects to be safe, productive, delivered with quality, be achievable, finish and cost within budget.
The typical project pattern is that cost, scope and time struggle to find a balance between the single interests of the constructor and the client. The industry exists where cost, time and scope are part of a three way trade off; where scope increases then one of the remaining two dimensions; time or cost consequently increase. In practice, the problem most projects confront has proven too difficult to break this pattern; so it defines and controls the status quo.
Then… what’s new?
Generally speaking some companies are stuck ‘accepting the status-quo’; their attempt to reach out for new ideas, new solutions and new technologies is somewhat perceived as futile - a risk not worth the time it takes to think it through, where their experience has shown that the effort is unnecessary. Let me repeat that the acceptance of the status quo is our first signal and the basic fundamental characteristic that forms the makings of an unhappy, dysfunctional relationship.
But wait a minute…!!!
We know and we work with companies that absolutely challenged the status-quo, they are clearly ‘unstuck’ (as it is known in the UK), those who reached out for new ideas, who search for solutions and technologies seeking new scale to take their work from the new technology beyond the norm.
Can we say ‘above the fray’?
The results are clear; the process improves design and everyone understands the project target and the construction process. They have created the kind of culture and working environment, where the client-contractor relationship is stronger and more important to their success than ever. They form mutual ‘live long and prosper’ type of relationships (no apologies, Star Trek Philosophy really matters).
Many people have turned to me and asked; “what does 4D have to do with Contract Management?” They ask “why I would ever try to reduce the all-important, most critical VDC environment or even the BIM practice to just software” - as if software mattered.
It must be clear and my personal intentions here cannot be misconstrued, our 4D software is the technology that creates a new medium. It is not my opinion - Synchro is a new standard that drives change and enables VDC and BIM practices that have never been tenable before. Marshall McLuhan (1911 – 1980) has said that “We become what we behold.” Meaning we shape our tools and then our tools shape us. The status quo in construction exists in this woeful state of stagnation simply due to the significant limitations of the legacy planning and project management tools that have dominated the market since the early 1980s, when the PC first took hold in business. Sadly, the dominant systems have not changed since. So while it was exciting to me when I first started my career in construction to learn CPM using the world’s leading software, sadly the fundamental fact is that software hasn’t improved since and nether have the industry’s performance. Could all be placed on their door? Who knows for sure, but it never once helped me in my role to improve our project results. In my construction career, great projects were created by great people working in a positive fulfilling relationship defined by cooperation and clear insight and understanding of the project goals, our plan and our collective progress. My project planning, scheduling and controls tool was never at the center of this effort like 4D is today. The contrast is striking.
4D is the new technology that is beginning to reshape the industry and the impacts are exciting, positive and vivid when compared to the past in my construction career.
4D planning is part of BIM; it forms and lies at the heart of VDC and is the first technology that combines creative canvas, mathematical calculation, data analysis and visualisation in one integrated platform. That alone is a major factor for improved project and contract management and - shall I dare write in bold letter - better relationships.
The 4D model changes the way contractors interact with all stakeholders. Visualisation, but more importantly the controls to change what we see, enables better understanding and better planning to deliver the project scope. 4D decreases the time and increases the available information joined up to improve the quality of decisions. Spatial 3D/4D/5D models are the common language that helps to drive less field mistakes and misunderstandings of contracted requirements.
Contracts are the structure of our commercial relationships; they require clear mutual understanding. The ‘insight’ that these relationships create offers unbounded success.
The message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs. The railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure. This happened whether the railway functioned in a tropical or northern environment, and is quite independent of the freight or content of the railway medium. (Understanding Media, NY, 1964, p. 8)
What McLuhan writes about the railroad applies with equal validity to the media of print, television, computers and now the internet. “The medium is the message” because it is the “medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action.” (Understanding Media, NY, 1964, p. 9)
Next week: Week 6: Summary and analysis of lessons learned
Thanks for reading,