Some contractors price projects, yet they’ve never seen the project site before submitting their proposal. This can be dangerous unless the RFP (Request for Proposal) document is very clear as to the specific site conditions, including the neighboring properties. I know it’s possible to view much data on the internet, including aerial views and even the underlying geology. However, to really get the full appreciation of potential problems nothing beats actually visiting and walking the project site before pricing the project – kicking the dirt and literally feeling the project conditions.
You don’t want to be awarded a project and the first day you arrive to find there’s a low level suspended power cable across the entrance road, or that the local authorities are digging up the road and access to the property is blocked, or the project site is steeply sloping, jammed in between neighbouring high-rise buildings and the site was an old landfill.
The project site conditions often dictate the construction methods and the types of equipment that can be used and it will determine the construction schedule.
Of course visiting the project site often also provides an opportunity to meet the client or their team. Meeting those involved with the project enables relationships to form and provides a sense of who they are and what’s important to them.
We once sent a young engineer to attend a site inspection. When we came to review our price we called the engineer in to explain to us what the site looked like. It was frustrating as they couldn’t provide any useful information about the site. I was quite annoyed, but in hindsight, we should have given them a better briefing and explained what to look for and note during the site visit.
When someone, other than the estimator, attends a site inspection, it’s important that they remember that they are acting as the eyes and ears of the person formulating the price and they need to note as much useful information about the project site and its immediate area as possible. The quality of the information provided could substantially influence the way the RFP is completed and may end up helping to win the project, or contribute to losing it. Potential problems which are missed during the site inspection could later be costly to the company because they weren’t taken into account when formulating the price or in preparing the construction schedule.
When inspecting a site it is important to remember that first impressions count. Clients won’t be impressed with contractors that are sloppily dressed, or that arrive late for the meeting. Of course, it doesn’t mean you have to be dressed in a suit either, in fact, suits can put some people off. Come prepared with a notebook, camera, and tape measure. Always ask permission before taking pictures. Some projects require personal protective equipment to be worn, so confirm what’s required before setting out for the meeting. Before visiting the project read through the pricing documents and information so there is an understanding of the project scope of work. Note questions to raise with the client and points to be specifically looked at on the visit.
During the visit note the following for us in your proposal:
- The distance the project is from the office.
- The nearest towns and infrastructure.
- The names of the client’s representatives and their roles.
- The conditions on the site such as:
- Is it open or restricted?
- Are there other contractors on the site?
- Is the site flat or steeply sloping?
- Is the ground soft or hard? Is rock visible?
- Is there vegetation which needs to be removed, or which has to be protected?
- Is there surface water present? Can ground water be seen in excavations?
- Are there existing structures that will impact construction?
- If the project involves working on and renovating an existing structure, then check what building materials and finishes were used. Is there access to the exterior of the building? What is the condition of the structure? If there are drawings supplied of the structure, then check that the drawings are an accurate representation of what’s actually built.
- Is the site secure? Is there a fence? What security measures are in place?
- Are there restrictions to get vehicles and people onto the site?
- Where can construction materials be stored, where can temporary toilets and offices be located?
- Is water and electricity available? Where, and in what quantities? Do these facilities have to be shared with other contractors?
- What is the condition of the access road to the site? Is it steep, are there low bridges, is it narrow, is there safe access onto the public roads?
- What are the traffic conditions in the area?
- If the project involves excavating soil, then is there a place to stockpile the material for later use and where will the material which isn’t required be tipped?
- Is it easy to move around the project?
- What are the neighboring buildings and structures? Are they likely to be damaged by construction work, how will construction impact their occupants, how high are the buildings and how far are the buildings from the project boundary?
- Are there overhead power cables that could impact construction? Are there signs of buried power cables, gas mains, data cables or water pipes that may interfere with construction.
- How will the owner’s operations impact the construction work?
- If it is a compulsory inspection, note which other contractors attended. Otherwise, ask the client how many other contractors are pricing the work.
- Note additional information supplied by the client, as well as the answers to questions. Often clients emphasize specific points which are important to them, and by incorporating these items in the pricing submission it could turn the submission into a winning document.
It’s useful if the company has a standard document or checklist that can be used, and filled in during site visits.
After visiting the project site explore the surrounding area and check for:
- Possible suppliers and contractors, noting their size, equipment, facilities and contact details.
- The general safety of the area – projects in high crime areas can mean that extra project security is required and employees may be reluctant to work on the project.
- The general neighborhood. Is it quiet, is it busy? Are the roads congested?
Prepare a brief report on the visit, including all relevant information and photographs, and submit this to the estimating team.
Visiting a project site before formulating your price can provide much valuable information, information which will help to avoid expensive mistakes, information that can provide insights into the project that will give the company a winning edge. Visiting the project site also provides the opportunity to start building a relationship with the client. If the contractor appears knowledgeable and well informed it will give the client comfort that the company can do the job.
Some contractors get a good feeling or pick up a bad vibe when they visit a project site. Call it intuition or a sixth sense! But it’s often more than this, walking the project, kicking the dirt, talking to the client, provides a sense of project conditions and future working relationships. Sometimes savvy contractors can almost smell trouble in the air!
Have you submitted a price without visiting the project site, only to uncover an unpleasant surprise after landing the project?