What are the benefits of site visits?
When I was a project director and later the general manager of a construction division I tried to get to my projects as often as I could.
Unfortunately some were distant from our Head Office and it took a full day or more to visit. However I always enjoyed these visits as it gave me an opportunity to connect with my team and the customer. I know I regularly added value to the project with these visits.
In particular I tried to attend some of the project meetings with the customer. Often minutes of these meetings are sterile and don’t provide the true vibe between the construction team and customer. Attending these meetings enabled me to better understand the relationship between the customer and our team and detect any underlying tensions.
Of course some managers are renowned for paying flying visits to a construction project, rushing around the project and criticizing the work. In some quarters they are known as seagulls. I guess we all know what can happen when a seagull flies overhead at the wrong time – it can be messy. Often these visits don’t achieve much and sometimes only serve to demoralize the project team. Then there are other managers who visit their projects and spend the duration of the visit on their phones and computers, worrying about other projects. How do these visits help the project team?
The importance of site visit before construction
1. To see firsthand what’s happening on the project
Reading a project progress report never gives a true account of the project’s progress, quality and difficulties as actually seeing it in real life does. I know now with sophisticated technology, webcams and drones it is becoming easier to get live views of the project’s progress, but I wonder if these convey project life accurately, or maybe they lend themselves to being fast forwarded so some details could be missed. Knowing what was happening on the ground enabled me to better understand the project progress and cost reports.
2. To offer the construction team knowledge and experience
Being on a construction project every day and dealing with the daily frustrations can dull people’s senses. Walking onto a project with new eyes and the wisdom of years of experience enables managers to see things that are going wrong which the project team may have missed. Also, our Project and Site Managers don’t always want to bring every problem to their manager’s attention so attempt to deal with problems in their own way.
Sometimes feeling overwhelmed and even trying to resolve problems in the wrong way. Managers who talk to their team may give them a refreshing outlook to the project as well as providing simple solutions to problems. I’ve frequently spotted quality problems, noticed potential safety hazards, pointed the team in the direction of a possible variation claim and suggested ways to improve productivity while visiting my projects.
3. To meet the company’s construction team
Many who work on construction projects never get to visit the company’s Head Office. Visiting the project enables managers to meet their team – the team they depend on. They will be able to put a face to a name. When working in joint venture with other construction companies I’ve often had their employees comment how they seldom saw their managers from Head Office, and the few times they did visit the project they saw them in the distance, never bothering to talk to anyone except the company’s Project Manager. They were impressed that I talked to most of my Supervisors and Engineers every time I visited the project. Of course, complimenting a Supervisor on good quality or safety always brought a wide smile, as did mentioning a previous project they had successfully completed. These greetings and compliments were much appreciated and bolstered morale.
4. Meeting the customer and their team
I was often complimented by customers for being a regular visitor to their project and they appreciated seeing me. They felt I was giving their project the attention it deserved. I also received negative comments about managers from our competitors who seldom bothered to visit. Customers like to feel important. More importantly I could hear firsthand what they thought of our team and the company. I heard their problems and concerns, and could often smooth over the odd ruffled feather and allay any concerns.
5. To find leads for new projects
Talking to the customer, their project manager and design team often presents opportunities to hear about new forthcoming projects. I had the opportunity at one project function to discuss an upcoming project with the Project Manager. I presented a strong case why they should persuade their client to negotiate the project with us. Much to the surprise of our competitors the client ended up negotiating this mega project with us rather than going to open tender as they had always done in the past. Managers should always be on the lookout for new project opportunities. Every site visit should be an occasion to build new contacts and remind existing contacts that the company is looking for the next project.
6. Provide support to the construction team
Some projects are in remote areas or far from Head Office. Often the project team can be beset by problems or face a tough client. These difficulties can weigh heavily on them and they can feel abandoned by their managers. By visiting the project, managers demonstrate their support, reminding their team that they haven’t been abandoned, lending an ear for their complaints and providing them support to see the project through. But sometimes it’s even more than this, and construction managers can sometimes take up the battles with the client or project management team. Even shake up some tardy support from the contractor’s head office. It’s amazing what some seniority can do on a project to smooth out the wrinkles.
7. To understand the construction team better
As construction managers we have to decide salary increases, the value of an employee’s bonus, who gets promoted and who needs training. We literally decide the future of the people working for us. Visiting our projects and interacting with our team enables us to understand their strengths and weaknesses allowing us to better utilize the strengths and support the weaknesses. Knowing each individuals abilities and performance allows managers to better reward those who have put the effort in and promote those who have the required abilities.
Visiting the construction project provides managers a better understanding of the project, they may see problems developing before the construction team sees them, or help the construction team solve problems, it also provides an opportunity to meet the customer and possibly find leads for future construction projects.
Care should be taken that these visits aren’t rushed and distracted as it’s easy to quickly go through a project, missing potential problems and achieving little. It’s also essential that these visits don’t just become negative and critical visits which can demoralize staff without adding value – managers should avoid being seen as that pesky seagull that flies in and rushes home leaving only a nasty reminder of their visit.