CEI in the Preliminary Engineering Phase

When do Construction Engineering and Inspection (CEI) services need to be involved in a project? Glad you asked!

Officially, there is no definitive answer to this question as it depends on factors such as complexity, budget, established schedule, etc. But it is a well-known fact that all projects benefit from involving CEI involved as early as possible in the development stage. How does one achieve the value-added benefit of CEI services in the Preliminary Design phase of a project without obligating themselves to a contract for services that are not necessary at this stage of the project (PE phase)? Obtaining CEI services from Consultants with a proven track record of success in the delivery stage of a project does not obligate an owner to utilizing those services on a full-time basis right out of the gate. But bringing the CEI portion of the team in early in the process affords as needed utilization of a resource that would not be available absent a contract. Experienced CEI consultants are well-versed in completing the required project reviews while still exceeding the requirements of owners on concurrent projects. Reviews in the PE phase are able to be completed on a part-time basis in the development stage of a project and any impacts to the project budget will be far outweighed by the benefit realized in the Delivery stage through a more efficient and effective Construction phase with fewer Notice of intents (NOIs) to file claim and compensable delays. Involvement by CN personnel in the PE phase reduces cost to the project by improved risk mitigation. By expanding the knowledge base of the development team through the engagement of CN personnel, the likelihood of experiencing impacts due to avoidable errors is greatly reduced.

Construction teams are tasked with receiving the project from the design team and building it within the constraints of the contract documents. This can be a daunting task absent the involvement of experienced Construction Engineers in the gestation of contract documents as no project can be built in the Utopian society of the design world. This is not to say that design Engineers (of whom I was previously a member) intentionally prepare projects in this manner. It is simply a matter of information not being supplied by the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) so that the information can be considered, and adjustments made to the project based on information received. As the detriment to the project of not involving Construction staff in the development stage is not realized during the preliminary stage, it is oftentimes viewed as unnecessary. The development stage, absent Construction input, typically involves design personnel who will not have to solve the problems that arise from insufficient information. Unfortunately, Construction is generally left “holding the bag”.

The project life cycle has been compared by the military community to the construction of an airplane. The project development team is in possession of the aircraft through assembly and testing. Once the aircraft lifts off and is in the air the development stage of the project ends and the delivery stage of the project begins. The most important part of the project is the construction stage since it IS the plane in the air. It is the manifestation of the intents of both owner and designer, just as the plane in flight is the manifestation of the efforts of designers, mechanics, etc. To not seek the input of Construction personnel during the development stage of the project would be akin to not concerning oneself with the experience and interests of the pilots that will fly the plane. If the plane flies but is unable to be controlled by the pilot due to lack of controls or even controls that are present but not located in a logical or ergonomic manner, the mission of a successful project – or landing – has the very real potential of being adversely affected.

Once the plane is in the air, the ability to make changes to it becomes exponentially more difficult. The same can be said of a Construction project in reference to the ability to deliver a “successful” project. While the changes on a construction project may be relatively easy to execute, the ability to obtain competitive bid pricing for additional work is lost and the potential impact to the project’s schedule, and thereby the success of the project, is real. Time is a commodity that no Contractor can have enough of. The provision of time, especially compensable time, on a project affords the Contractor the ability to alter their previously determined plans due to the supply of a previously unattainable provision, namely “more time”. Impacts to time created by no fault of the Contractor afford an opportunity to reevaluate the company’s priorities based on revenue, which may adversely affect a project that was previously on-time and under budget. The addition of supplemental work that could have been foreseen preliminarily and yet still must be completed within the original schedule has the very real potential of being completed at a premium due to the possible acceleration of other activities, addition of personnel, etc. And at the very least will require additional time by office Engineers for analysis of pricing, quantities, and schedules. While this impact may seem minute, a poorly produced set of contract documents generally results in significantly more than one instance of additional work and thereby numerous iterations of staff analysis.

These are only a few of the reasons that involving CEI in the Preliminary phase of a project is advantageous. Come back next time for a better understanding of the benefits to be gained in project delivery as well as the appropriate time to involve CEI personnel. (Read Part II Here)

If your agency is looking to better understand the requirements of project delivery in the LAP program, we would consider it a privilege to conduct a lunch & learn session on topics of your choosing. If you are interested in advancing your program through a no-obligation training session, please contact Emily Ripka at 804.466.0455 (mobile) or eripka@nxl.com.

Written by Paul Moose, PE, Locality Program Manager