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Trend Away from Direction in Writing?

Trend Away from Direction in Writing?

Trend Away from Direction in Writing?

I am in Ontario, Canada. I worked for a structural consulting firm for about 4 years and switched into project management with an ICI subcontractor two years ago. I worked in this field for about 18 months directly after university as well. I have noticed lately that some of the larger construction manangers or contract administrators (e.g. those have offices across the country and/or internationally) seem to want to put as little in writing as possible. Just my own intuition but I think it goes beyond just being busy and not having time to put something in writing. Almost all direction I receive is by phone call. If I follow up with an email to confirm what was discussed, I do not get a response in writing back. Direct questions from me, my general contractor, and my subcontractors, all go unanswered. This contrasts with the smaller local development companies or generals, and even some of the larger CMs, who will still respond in writing, and generally work more closely with us to sort out problems or questions.

Recently I had a dispute with some vague specifications that did not clearly define something that was required from the owner for our work to proceed. I explained our interpretation of the specification clearly in writing, and followed up repeatedly over the next three months with no response verbally or in writing from them. I was finally told verbally they could have the required file ready in four days if we did actually want it, and days later I was told, over the phone, that they would hold us responsible for delays on this portion of the work if we don't meet our deadline. Despite ignoring our requests for three months! On this particular project we have deadlines and they seem to use that to their advantage. On many items where we need direction, they may give a response in person but they will not issue anything in writing. We feel forced to move forward to try to maintain schedule, and they sort of reserve the right to go back on what they said earlier because nothing was ever officially issued.

On the same project, the same vague specification did not clearly define an expensive requirement that was later brought up on a shop drawing review by the consultant. When we noted that it seemed like there was an ambiguity in the specification and we did not bid the project to include this requirement, we were just told to proceed, full stop. No explanation, no defense, no backup to show how we should have known that this requirement was to be included, not even saying if additional costs would be considered. We sent a report outlining our interpretation of the tender documents and outlining several different options to meet what we thought were the owner's expectations, and we were again told to follow the specs (presumably their interpretation of the specs), with no further backup or context. We have done so to move forward and have put a claim in, and also have not heard anything back on that.

I was working for another construction manager last year who would never send me an email on anything of substance. We eventually got into a dispute about something, and I stopped taking his calls while continuing to send him emails to try to force him to send something in writing. Rather than send an email, he called my owner to complain that I wouldn't answer the phone!

Has anyone else noticed this? It's not that we are perfect at all, everyone makes mistakes. I am just used to all parties striving for more collaboration, where as this seems to be the opposite. I haven't been in this field that long so perhaps it has always been like this. I understand that they take on risk by providing direction or answers, but this is also part of their job. I also understand the CM has a lot of power in that they owe the contractor money, is this just their way of exerting that power to their advantage? It is not good for the project I feel, but it is probably good for the owner's pocketbook. Does anyone have strategies they use to protect themselves in these situations? Internally we have accepted that we cannot delay the project as a tactic to force them to resolve a dispute or give us responses in writing so we seem to just always take on risk while the CM or consultants take on none.

RE: Trend Away from Direction in Writing?

I have seen three extremes in this realm. 1. Contracts vaguely written with everything billed on a time and materials basis. 2. Exacting contracts based on excessively long, written statements of work in legal-eze. 3. Exacting contracts referencing a simple albeit large requirements chart such as a RASIC or product definition sheet. IME the second one sucks as all parties tend to overanalyze the verbiage and make lousy assumptions. The first is susceptible to cancellation at any moment, but is fairly straightforward otherwise and easy to handle so long as all parties communicate honestly and frequently. The third is the one I prefer the most for clarity's sake.

RE: Trend Away from Direction in Writing?

I've had success with either emails summarizing the content of the conversation with a statement of the outcome course of action unless otherwise advised (cc:project file) -or- submit deviation or change request to get the detail into the contract.

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