The literature about project management and the cases we discuss during the course address often issues related to uncertainty and risk. Winch conceives the building process as a progressive reduction of uncertainty through time. We could divide the issues around uncertainty into two main categories. The more technical things, and the human-related issues.
When talking about the technical stuff I think for instance about the unknown soil composition, the quality of a building if that building needs a refit, the uncertainty around the schedule you made and that will change over time, or the written contract that turns out to be incomplete after you signed it.
I think the case of the Bazel shows that the written contract and the building specifications did not cover reality, and we discovered this once construction had started.
When talking about human issues that cause uncertainties or risks you can think about distrust, information asymmetry, moral hazard, strategic misrepresentation, optimism bias, the planning fallacy, groupthink, or dysfunctional conflicts. We can solve human issues through teamwork, team building, leadership, and management style. You could also be strict about the contract and the formal requirements. And there is something that is called professionalism. A diverse range of elements can and will influence your project and the process you go through.
We discussed the case of The Bazel during the course and how things went wrong. Besides the flaws in the contract and the building specifications, many of the problems are related to human relations, distrust, moral Hazard, conflict, and performance.
After the tender at the start of the project, both, the contractor and the client wanted to make the project a success. The intentions were positive. The contractor was eager to start and work. A prestigious building that would be good for their portfolio.
Soon, after a couple of months, things started to go wrong. Gradually the relationship between the team of the contractor and the team of the client went sour and distrust, misunderstandings, miscommunication, and conflicts seeped into the project. Despite multiple efforts to improve the atmosphere between the client and the contractor, the conflict took more than two years and ended up in court.
You can imagine that both teams, the team of the contractor and the team of the client were relieved that the project was finished at last, after a long time of stress and trouble.
Some years later, I worked on a new project: the Vondelpark Pavilion. Out of a pre-tender procedure, five contractors were selected to deliver a price.
Surprise! One of the contractors was the contractor of the Bazel.
Next surprise! They delivered the best plan and the lowest price.
The director of the contractor and the client met after we awarded the contractor the project. We discussed how to proceed and to forget the past. What we needed to do was to organize a good work atmosphere for the construction time that was ahead of us. The solutions that came up turned out to be simple and workable. We agreed to meet every week to discuss progress. We agreed to call if we heard “strange things” from the building site or from our team members and we agreed to organize a strict and quick procedure for additional work and change orders. We also organized a couple of informal meetings with both teams and the workers while offering them good coffee and cake.
The contractor organized the building process in a lean way and involved his subcontractors in the process. They started every Monday for planning sessions on-site to discuss the week’s challenges and possible constraints.
The project went very well despite some setbacks and problems you normally have. Both teams acted in a professional way while solving constraints. As a result, week over week trust and mutual understanding grew between the project teams. The same between the director of the contractor and the client.
I need to say: “I have never had a better contractor!”