Missing critical dates in the contract!
Most sub-contracts I have seen seem to have selected their dates one of the following ways:
- “Back to Back” contract milestones – just copying the dates put into the main contract and feeding that down into the subcontracts just as would be done for the core clauses. This might be back to back with the contract but it isn’t back to back with true work sequence. This is usually what happens when the quantity surveyor does the contract on their own
- Arbitrary dates – dates that seem right intuitively but are mostly arbitrary in nature. This is usually when the package managers are a little more involved and suggest some milestones they think are important without looking at the bigger picture
This misses a crucial opportunity to align the contracts with the intended work sequence which usually leads to a lot of unnecessary conflict and confusion for the remainder of the project.
A typical example of it all going wrong
There is a civils subcontract to put in two sets of footings; one for building X and one for building Y. The footings for building X are on the critical path and need to be done ASAP to prevent delay. The footings for building Y are twice the size of building X but are not critical to the overall project and have 6 months of float.
The civil subcontractor doesn’t have all the materials and fails to get started as planned. They aren’t able to start building X on time but plan to man up later on and get X and Y done before the completion date by working concurrently. As a main contractor your critical path is out the window and there is not much you can do contractually because you only put one date in the contract!
The point here is that firstly the subcontractor might not be aware of your larger plan of works. Secondly they have priced the work to do it to one date and if you start telling them differently that is going to cost you. This puts the main contractor at the mercy of the subcontractor’s good graces if they decide to enforce the contract to the letter.
The right way to do it
Use your planner and your programme to develop a set of Key Dates, Sectional Completion Dates and Access Dates for each of the important pieces of work where there are important interfaces or critical dates. The planner should have a very clear idea of what these sections of work should be and what the dates are. There is no limit on how many dates you can put in the contract and I would suggest it is better to have too many than too few.
Every major interface between trades should be a Key Date for the preceding sub-contractor and an Access Date for the succeeding sub-contractor.
This achieves a few important things:
- Clarity for all the parties about what the important parts of work are and the required sequence
- Control for main contractor because they have contractually binding dates for the works and can put delay damages against them
- Easy change management when the main works are delayed or have to be resequenced. All you need to do is instruct new dates!
I think this is the most important thing to ensure from a programme point of view when going out to procure sub-contractors. It saves everyone a lot of pointless arguments and significantly de-risks the delivery.