Have Time, Cost and Quality Become a Bermuda Triangle? 3

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015
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There’s a basic rule in construction management that states a change in scope will have the potential to impact time, cost and quality.

While it sounds straightforward enough, no one wants to hear it. A recurring theme with fast track projects over the last few years shows there is a constant push to maintain the customer’s original expectations, which is: same time frame, same budget and same quality. This has become a sort of construction Bermuda Triangle.

In building, the people who walk through a space often don’t know the journey that got it there. They do, however, know the dollars spent, the deadline and what the end result is. Jobs depend on it, as do operations, budgets, financial contracts and leasing agreements.

time vs cost

It can be a near impossible task to manage expectations whilst being flexible with clients. Knowing where to draw a line in the sand, reaffirming your point of view and being tactful all are essential when communicating with a client. Crucial to the process is educating a client to allow them to make an informed decision and guiding them along the journey. It’s a journey we travel every day as construction managers, but is one they may be taking for the very first time.

Inadvertently, it is our responsibility to showcase our value engineering talents to work with the project team to make sure the design intent can still be achieved with financial and time constraints. Value engineering traces back to the 1940s and World War II, where due to shortages in skilled labour, raw materials and component parts, General Electric looked for alternatives. These substitutes often reduced costs and or improved the product.

So, how do we help clients manage change and get more bang for their buck? Let’s break down the triangle:

  • Time – When it’s known a change will impact the duration or schedule of a programme, alternatives are sourced that will either meet deadline expectations or alter prices accordingly to ensure time frames are met. It is then up to the client to decide which is most important to them, time or cost? The quicker the decision is made, the higher the probability of meeting a programme.
  • Cost – If a change will impact the budget to an undesired state, alternatives will be put forward to suit the design intent or the brief. By providing alternatives, the client is able to make an informed decision about which matters more, cost or design? While we attempt to neutralise the gap between actual and desired states in the decision process, there are times when it is a fine line whether to massage or amputate when it comes to scope and budget.
  • Quality – No one ever wants to sacrifice quality and as a business this forms our legacy and reputation. This therefore requires a heavy reliance on the supply chain and partnerships with contractors and suppliers to ensure they have their own thorough quality management systems in place which are fully exercised. While builders, designers, engineering consultants and project managers all undertake their own checks, the most obvious quality control issues are eliminated. The challenge then is, ensuring that those we do business with have these capabilities and not just a certification.

While the triangle can unfortunately never entirely be eliminated, there is certainly opportunity to minimise its impact. By educating a client, they have the necessary information to allow them to make better informed decisions.

By offering alternatives and value engineering, they are also armed with flexibility. And, by using our own education and experience to guide a client during this journey, it is possible that the process of identifying the needs and values that matter most to their organisation becomes an easier one.

In my next article, I’ll look at what can be done to combat the time, cost and quality triangle before it even hits the radar.

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  1. Malay Dave

    Thanks, Christopher. Very interesting. Looking forward to your next one. Would be interesting to understand how all three variables along with 'scope' as the forth one influence / affect each other. Any research or case studies that you can share that may have explored the nature and sensitivity of these relationships would be greatly appreciated.

    • Christopher

      Hi Dave,
      I think that it is important to note how we manage change. People can plan as much as they like, but like anything, ideas develop and new exposure is inevitable and therefore that influences change. It is unavoidable, as the saying goes there are three things that are guaranteed in life; death, taxes and change. It is about understanding what that impact might be, and also minimising it through various other mechanisms. Watch out on my next article as how this can be minimised in the construction industry.

  2. Matt Thomson

    Thanks Christopher for educating on the realities of our industry.