The Joy of Not Traveling

I spent a large part of my working life as a road warrior, attending to business all over the world.  I can relate to virtually every situation in the movie “Up in the Air”.  I made the decision a few years ago to stop.  While I would not trade the experience that I had and the opportunities that it provided me for anything, I don’t miss it.  There are perks that keep on giving, like permanent gold status on a few airlines and a few unused accumulated points that have not been used up for hotels, flights and cars.  I am also able to immediately fall asleep on an airplane, often before it leaves the ground.  I am a proficient user of Skype and WeChat.

I recently had the opportunity to visit with another ex-road warrior.  We shared stories of waking up at odd hours in hotel rooms wondering what city you where in; of planes missed or nearly missed; of hard to get used to foreign customs; and having to explain to folks that it is less exotic than it sounds when your trip consists of airport to taxi to hotel to meeting back to taxi to airport and then out – it doesn’t really matter what city or country that you are in.  My personal favorite observation is the number and variety of complicated alarm clocks in hotel rooms and their ability to be off by 12 hours or some other random number of minutes, even though there was no apparent way to re-set them – thank goodness for smart phones in recent years.

There is a lot to be said for coming home to the same place every night, being able to plan on attending a local event, and being available for family when needed.  I no longer must fly out on a holiday to attend a meeting in a country that does not recognize that holiday or try and create a special occasion while the family is living in a hotel room.  I no longer wake up or get sleepy at random times while consistently in the same time zone.

I occasionally speak to groups about working globally and often get the chance to mentor others about overseas or heavy travel opportunities.  The ability to live in other cultures is the best way to see the world and to become a part of the global community.  Working remotely greatly increases your chances for greater responsibility and to hone your skills.  However, it is far more stressful on both you and your family than you might imagine.  I almost always say – take the chance but know the risks.

Using Artificial Intelligence in Risk Management

One of the challenges that the construction industry has is a lack of coordinated data sharing.  Some agencies have started to collect large amounts of data, but it tends to be project specific, not particularly accessible and not organized in a way that it can be easily analyzed to develop usable information. 

Data mining could be particularly valuable for risk management and improving the quality of design and planning contracts.  If an agency had multiple years of change order data from its construction contracts it may be possible through data mining to extract information as to the types and severity of changes.  This information could be studied to identify reoccurring problem areas.  For example, if it was determined that large and consistent geotechnical related change orders occurred, it might point toward changing the design and planning process to require more geotechnical investigation. 

This same data mining could help categorize changes so that the severity and probability of various types of changes could be better understood, allow for better contingency forecasting, and promote better planning for how to handle individual changes.  For example, knowing that weather related changes occur on a certain percentage of a certain type of project and have a certain average impact would provide a better foundation for predicting the impact of these changes on individual projects and encourage more effective contract language and decision making for dealing with these impacts.

If such data is available, and before analysis starts, it needs to be reviewed to see if individual change descriptions accurately explain the reason for the change (for example, is there a bias against stating that there was a “design error” or the owner “changed criteria”) and whether the data is sufficiently detailed to extract usable keywords and phrases.  This exercise would also help contract administrators better coordinate with management to identify key data that should be tracked in the future and promote consistent change order language.

Better RFPs, Better Proposals

Owners often misunderstand how much effort goes into preparing a focused and informative proposal and, regrettably, professional service providers often don’t bother to go to the effort to prepare one because it is not always apparent that it makes a difference in the selection.  It is certainly no fun to slog your way through voluminous boilerplate that begins to look the same between each proposal.  It is also no fun to spend the time and incur the expense of preparing a comprehensive and detailed proposal if it seems that it will not be read.  

As the number of project opportunities starts to pick up with the renewed emphasis on rebuilding and expanding our infrastructure, proposers can become selective on what they seriously pursue, and owners will want to do everything possible to get the best teams working on their projects.

So, what can an owner do to improve this process? 

1) Decide what is important and tell the proposers what you want to know

This means spending the time to honestly evaluate how you will make your decision and to clearly describe the keys to making that decision.  Is it valuable to have each proposer discuss in depth their approach to every aspect of the project delivery process?  Do you value innovation?  How do you value company experience versus individual staff experience?  If what is important to you can be addressed in 20 pages instead of 120 pages, why not encourage brevity?

If an owner takes the time to explain what they want, it is incumbent upon proposers to respond accordingly. 

2) Provide all available information

Proposers spend a lot of time trying to locate and obtain all available information related to a project.  While it may be impressive that a company has the resources to dig up difficult to locate background information, it does not mean that they are the best team to do the work.

Providing all available studies and plans and conducting a thorough and informational pre-bid meeting shows that you as a client are serious and helps all proposers work from an even playing field. 

3) Shortlisting

The shortlisting process allows an owner the opportunity to tell individual proposers that they have a limited chance of being selected due to not addressing what is important, a lack of experience, or a lack of capability. 

While shortlisting might increase the amount of time and effort needed to make a selection, it will certainly increase the number of highly qualified bidders who might pursue your project and it allows you to focus on more detailed discussions ensuring better alignment between you and the successful proposer.

4) Pricing

Providing a price for professional services at proposal submission, at interview time, or in advance of a discussion of the exact scope and expectations is rarely a valuable exercise for either owner or proposer and detracts from the time that can be spent preparing a responsive proposal.  Also, for most public works projects, using price as a part of the selection for professional services is inconsistent with regulations.

While an owner may want to have some idea of the cost of what they are buying, depending on the assumptions made by each proposer, the pricing might vary significantly for what is seemingly the same work.  Wait until there is alignment on the scope of work before asking for pricing.