Discussion Thread

  • 1.  Miscommunication at Construction Sites

    Posted 09-23-2019 09:31 AM
    This past summer I have been going to construction sites more often for several of the projects I have worked on. One project, in particular, has been challenging for several reasons. The project is a high-end custom residential structure with multiple structural and construction challenges. The contractor has not worked on too many of these project types and has had many problems understanding the plans as well as supervising the subcontractors. We have been called several times to check something they did that was not on our plans because they could not find the information or simply went ahead without really understanding what was going on with the structure. 

    Another challenge is the language barrier as many construction workers (at least in this part of the country) speak mainly Spanish. Some of you may know that I am a native Spanish speaker but sometimes is hard for me to transmit the technical concepts as I learned all of them in English.

    There are a few ways I believe we can do to minimize these problems: 

    1. I generally like to get feedback from contractors in terms of how hard the drawings are too read. Sometimes we miss information or there are not enough details in the drawings to fully transmit the message. Think of your structural plans as an essay, sometimes you need to provide a little "backstory" to explain why you are doing something from a structural standpoint for the contractor to understand your the meaning of a complicated connection or detail. 
    2. Always bring a notepad and pencil to the job site, sketch what you are thinking from different views in order to better explain what is going on to the contractor, especially if he/she is having problems understanding how everything comes together. 
    3. Finally, if possible, have someone with less technical knowledge than you review your plans and details, they will be able to point out what they do not follow. We know exactly what is going on with our engineering plans, but it may not be obvious to some one else. 

    What have been some of the challenges you have faced at constrcution sites and how did you deal with them? Do you have some advice for all of us on how to prevent misscommication at the construction site? 

    Luis Duque EIT, A.M.ASCE
    Structural Engineer
    Broomfield CO

  • 2.  RE: Miscommunication at Construction Sites

    Posted 10-02-2019 01:24 PM
    Always have pre-construction meetings with all of the stakeholders present including contractors, subs, designer, project engineer, inspectors, etc. Everyone should be clear of their role in the project and share contact information, especially emails and cell numbers. Many questions are brought up at these meetings that are ironed out before they become a bigger problem down the road.

    Site walkthroughs are very helpful prior to the project starting. It is easy to see what the site conditions and problems are right away before starting anything. The plans may not make certain issues apparent until you actually see them.

    Yance Marti P.E., M.ASCE
    Civil Engineer IV
    City of Milwaukee
    Milwaukee WI

  • 3.  RE: Miscommunication at Construction Sites

    Posted 10-03-2019 01:24 PM
    Retired now, but during my working career, I learned that most problems on a project were brought about by or partially caused by communication problems. Many engineers I worked with were not very adept at putting themselves in the contractor's place. Plans were often poorly put together and not detailed enough to explain what the engineer wanted done. Line weights and text on drawings, especially with the advent of CADD, were not differentiated enough to highlight important items. This is a very good post. We should all try to learn from each other.

    Stacey Morris P.E., M.ASCE
    ETI Corporation
    West Memphis AR

  • 4.  RE: Miscommunication at Construction Sites

    Posted 10-03-2019 10:35 PM

    I am currently at a <g class="gr_ gr_156 gr-alert gr_spell gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim ContextualSpelling ins-del multiReplace" id="156" data-gr-id="156">jobsite</g> as a Project Engineer and I experience the issues you describe every day. I concur with Yance in having PreCon meetings is vital for the success of a project. I am also bi-lingual and this has certainly helped with getting some details <g class="gr_ gr_564 gr-alert gr_spell gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim ContextualSpelling ins-del multiReplace" id="564" data-gr-id="564">accross</g> the table. However, regardless of the language barrier, we all think, communicate, and process information differently. 

    If you are on the site, paper and pen are a great first tool. Don't be afraid to sketch a lot and markup your drawings as required. It's better to ruin a $1 piece of paper than a $10,000 concrete pour. However, a lot of the <g class="gr_ gr_3243 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Grammar multiReplace" id="3243" data-gr-id="3243">times</g>, you can take it a step further by taking pictures and using the markup tools in your phone or table to overlay information on the actual site conditions. I have found this to be really useful. When possible, I also like to do paper or virtual mockups. For example, if you are trying to example to someone how to <g class="gr_ gr_1573 gr-alert gr_spell gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim ContextualSpelling ins-del" id="1573" data-gr-id="1573">lay out</g> a complex pattern of tile, print pictures of the tile, and do a mockup in <g class="gr_ gr_1804 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Grammar only-ins replaceWithoutSep" id="1804" data-gr-id="1804">paper</g>. Alternatively, if you have 3D modeling skills, you may be able to do a quick model with simple shapes that explains what you want.

    If you are <g class="gr_ gr_2088 gr-alert gr_spell gr_inline_cards gr_disable_anim_appear ContextualSpelling ins-del multiReplace" id="2088" data-gr-id="2088">off site</g>, use Facetime or other <g class="gr_ gr_2138 gr-alert gr_spell gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim ContextualSpelling ins-del" id="2138" data-gr-id="2138">videoconferencing</g> tools or get as many pictures as you believe are necessary. Remember that pictures are free.

    As <g class="gr_ gr_2476 gr-alert gr_gramm gr_inline_cards gr_run_anim Punctuation only-ins replaceWithoutSep" id="2476" data-gr-id="2476">engineers</g> we are always pressured by tight deadlines. However, always remember the Navy SEAL saying "Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast". Rushing someone to do something they do not understand is a sure way of asking for rework. Share this idea with your contractors.

    Carlos Zuluaga Ph.D., EI, A.M.ASCE
    Ph.D. Student, Civil Engineering

  • 5.  RE: Miscommunication at Construction Sites

    Posted 10-05-2019 07:27 AM

    Hi All,

    Totally understand this as a common problem, but it goes way deeper than expected. All the items listed, yes definitely a problem. To me, these things can also be prevented through mostly better planning and scheduling. I have experienced, that most project team members are starting the construction project and then start thinking about, how things can be put together, meaning literally, using the construction site as a test station to try things out, mostly because, it is the first time they are looking at the details in the field. I am not sure, how this can be improved, as this reaches into 'the way of working and processing', which is an individual routine for each contractor/subcontractor.
    Very poor organization and late project response are mostly the problem, because this is, how they always have dealt with their construction projects. And you as the project manager or construction do not want to tell them directly to please change the way they work!? Or tell them , but still see no improvement wse....

    Friederike M. B. Burckhardt

  • 6.  RE: Miscommunication at Construction Sites

    Posted 10-07-2019 10:06 AM
    Great topic!  One issue I've had with Yance's suggestion with these meetings is that the people in attendance are more senior staff that aren't actually the ones at the site.  They are  usually the contractor firm's construction manager, which has seen much more plans and usually has an engineering degree, and are only on site a few times.  So they don't have the same issues understanding the plans as their contractors.  If you can't get at least the foreman at this meeting try to find out who they are and talk to them.  Otherwise Yance is right, these meetings are near essential to producing good outcomes.

    The other issue I faced a lot is contractors that think they understand the plans.  It all makes sense so they don't ask questions, then when they go to work it gets done improperly.  Not because they're stupid, just because they've done it differently in the past or a misunderstood the plans.  This seems to be the source of most of the issues I faced.  Heck, this is a common problem when I do projects around the house and my wife/friends misunderstand what needs to be done.  Clear communication is important to try and prevent this.

    To remedy the issue I gave above and to supplement what others have stated, I would suggest asking your contractor to explain to you what they think needs to be done.  If it's what you intended excellent, move on.  But if they're struggling or not outlining the right plan you need to find out why.  And I stress find out why, don't just "mansplain" them how to do it.  Again, they're not stupid.  Find out why they are struggling or aren't right and focus on that.  Maybe they have a different method from experience that's acceptable and works better.  Maybe there's an error or lack of information in the plans.  Maybe the field conditions prohibit following the plans exactly as outlined (often the case with underground utilities).  Once you know why, work to make sure your back on the same page.  Whether that's correcting their course of action or changing yours.

    At the end of the day communication is key.  If language is an obstacle, make sure your interpretor understands as well as you do what's going on.  This is less an issue in Michigan, so hopefully others with more experience in the area can continue to contribute.

    James Smith P.E., M.ASCE
    Design Engineer
    Grand Rapids MI