BMJ Stone
EZG Manufacturing
Federated Insurance
Fraco USA, Inc.
Hohmann and Barnard, Inc.
Hydro Mobile, Inc.
iQ Power Tools
Kennison Forest Products, Inc.
Mortar Net Solutions
Non-Stop Scaffolding
Pullman Ermator
Tradesmen's Software, Inc.
October 20, 2006 8:00 AM CDT

Paying the Price for Someone Else's Bad Designs


Full Contact Project Management
Full Contact Project Management

Okay, team, huddle up! I've been thinking about this for a long time. I'm going to talk to you from the heart, tell you some stuff you probably don't want to hear, and run the risk of being despised by a whole group of people. Not smart, maybe, but we're going to do it anyway.

Some common sense on my part dictates that I have to say this first: 1) What I'm about to give you is NOT legal advice; 2) What I am about to give you is strictly my opinion; 3) I suggest that you run this by your attorney and get a professional opinion. 4) I'm giving you free advice (and you know what is said about the value of free advice!). Here we go.

First, a survey: By a show of hands, how many of you have changes to your scope of work on virtually every project? Yikes! It's even worse than I thought.

Second question: How many of you find your clients relying upon your skills as a contractor to overcome their designer's poor plans? Holy mackerel! It's an epidemic out there!

Third and final question: How many of you always get fairly compensated for the use of your practical skills in solving a professional's problems? How about that – no hands!

I can't resist! Here's a bonus question: How many of you find that, not only do you not get paid for your knowledge, but that your company routinely absorbs part of the cost of overcoming design deficiencies? See? That's what I'm talking about.

Okay, here comes the opinion of Coach Gary – which, as a final disclaimer, is not legal advice.

Here's what I do when this comes up. I say something like this to my client: "You know, as the contractor, I am entitled to plans and specs adequate to construct the job. This means that, when the plans are not clear, it is not up to me to imagine what the fix is. I can't be expected to include in my bid something that is not called out in the plans and specs."

Depending upon the client, I sometimes soften things; sometimes I make them a little bit more firm, particularly in the public works arena. Private work? Sometimes you have to "go along to get along," but you need to make a value decision.

In your bag of tricks should be your knowledge of something called the "Spearin Doctrine," which is based upon the 1918 U.S. Supreme Court case United States v. Spearin. Look it up sometime. The long and the short of it is that the Supreme Court is on your side when it comes to you being entitled to decent plans. So don't forget it.

I was once working in a city, doing some prestigious work, helping to make sewage flow downhill. (Hey, somebody's got to do it!)

Well, I was the PM on several of those projects, and we would always get into "discussions" as to the quality of the plans. In fact, the CM for the city got furious when I once suggested that the plans were about as accurate as if they had been drawn on a cocktail napkin! As you can imagine, a good time was had by all.

But here's the point: If a city – which had way more resources than my company – was unwilling to spend the amount of money necessary to develop adequate plans to build work that is to the city's benefit, why should we, as the contractor, assume that burden? Now, every time there's a surprise, I'm not surprised! Not anymore.

Because we are good, Full Contact project managers. Our response is predictable: we whip out our RFI form and hand it to our client. After awhile, they are no longer surprised to see one. Our RFI becomes as predictable as the client's surprises! (Note: If you don't know how to write a winning RFI, see Coach Gary's Playbook below.)

Here's the point: When there is any kind of a change at all to the plans, it is not your fault – you aren't required to design the fix. You are not even required to implement the fix until you have written direction, and that written direction should specify how and when you will get paid for all your hard work.

As that famous philosopher and college football linebacker, Brian Bosworth, once said in a deodorant ad on television, "Anything less would be uncivilized!" Now there are some words to live by.

About the Author

Gary Micheloni is a working project manager, speaker, author, consultant and coach. He has severals years of industry experience, including a background as a licensed general engineering contractor. For further information and insight on the Full Contact Project Management approach, write Coach Gary at

Copyright © 2006, Gary Micheloni and Full Contact Project Management.


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