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Author: Patrick Mwangi


Red Flags in Contractors

The contractor is generally the builder and can cause serious damage if not scouted for wisely. They are mandated to execute works and pay the largest share of the project sum. Adequate due diligence is very important since 70% of the work rests in their hands. Here are a few insights to be keen on:

Lack of licensing or insurance: A reputable contractor will have the proper licenses and insurance to protect both themselves and their clients. Be sure to ask for proof of both before hiring a contractor.

No references or portfolio A good contractor will be happy to provide you with references from past clients and show you their portfolio of previous work.

Poor communication: If the contractor is slow to respond to your technical calls or emails or doesn’t seem to be listening to your concerns or questions, it could be a sign that they’re not interested in providing good customer service.

Pressure to sign a contract or make a deposit: If a contractor is pressuring you to sign a contract or make a deposit before you’re ready, it could be a sign that they’re not trustworthy.


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Lack of clarity in the contract: Make sure the contract clearly outlines the work to be done, the timeline, the payment schedule, and any warranties or guarantees.

Poor reviews or ratings: Check online reviews and ratings to see what past clients have to say about the contractor. If there are a lot of negative reviews, it could be a red flag.

Unwillingness to provide a written estimate A reputable contractor will provide you with a written estimate that clearly outlines the costs associated with the project. If they’re unwilling to do so, it could be a sign that they’re not trustworthy.

Generally, it’s important to do your research and trust your instincts when hiring a contractor. If something seems too good to be true or doesn’t feel right, it’s best to keep looking for someone else.

A contractor`s primarily defined as a business person. Stay alert!


Dealing with Arrogant Clients

The clients, being our employers and the key financiers in projects, tend to be insidious at certain times. This is very common during the project conception phase, when the project planning is in motion. As the experienced consultant, I am sure that you had your fair share of dealings and agree that not all of them are cooperative.

Firstly, achieving the milestone of being a consultant is not an easy task. There should be no room for negotiations for such `kind` charges, as you worked hard for that specific reward. Secondly, you are the party with the required information and advice. You bear the responsibility and never bend to demands outside the professional order of practice. That being said, I assume that, as the consultant, you best gauge your client from the briefing stage. If the situation is erratic, abandon the mission with immediate effect. Feeling sorry for the client and being desperate for a project will mess up your career.

It’s also safe to note that clients are often insecure about their finances, especially the sole financiers. This is mainly because there are untrustworthy consultants we hear of every day or who meet with the wrong advisors prior to your counsel. For instance, foremen are known to tell clients that consultants ask for `unnecessary` sums of money and are therefore inconvenient to approach. This messes up the psychology of the client, who ends up concluding that the consultant is the fraud in his plans. This is the precursor to animosity between the client and consultants.

In my practice, I choose to settle on two very clear strategies. Firstly, restrict the authority of the client only to the briefing. Don’t give the client too much power because, as you know, you are first protecting him against himself. Let him speak his mind and ideas as he narrates the house of his dreams, but not tell you how to do your work afterwards! This is the cardinal rule of management. Apart from financing and briefing, the direct influence of the client on the project should be limited.

The young professionals are terrified of such procedures because they fear losing clients because they will miss out on being part of the project, and obviously because of the petty sums offered. Never fear losing the client; it’s part of the job. You dare charge unworthy sums; you are also an accomplice in undermining the integrity of your relevant professional designation. Furthermore, most clients are usually aware that projects are capital-intensive investments and come prepared. The cries and stubbornness you experience are just mind games to salvage as many discounts as possible. It’s not real.


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Secondly, embrace the use of contracts to legitimize some of your agreements. The first item here is payments, followed by quality assurance. Where payments are not in lump sums, always demand 60% of your defined sum in advance, especially for project managers. I also recommend you put in writing all site visit costs agreed upon as well as any other necessary allowances. You are also to agree that the quality of work is not to be interfered with in any way because, in case of building failures, the consultant is held responsible. Such interference may result from the misinformation supplied by the foreman regarding reducing the quantity of materials or substituting the designed quality altogether. There may also be future inflation in materials.

Having these agreements in writing helps to ensure that the client remains disciplined regardless of the situation. This will be a win-win event. Remember, this is an agreement between the client and consultant or contractor, where necessary, and must be signed in the presence of a witness of common consideration from both sides.

Dearest client, I am the professional who has the information you require. Kindly listen and adhere to my advice and instructions. It is for your own good. I cannot invent information out of the bushes. I have repeatedly mastered the skill for several years for me to dedicate it to you. Therefore, let me do my work responsibly with no unnecessary interference, as you reward me with what I deserve.


Site Management – The Tough Call

A construction site is a zone that builds or ruins you, depending on your level of composure. A lot of drama occurs there, starting with moody site meetings, site accidents, and general community interference. As the consultant is present at such tough moments, smart and counter-responsive measures have to be taken. You know your employer is watching keenly with your future referee. Dare to mess once, and your resume will be composed for quite some time.

So, how do you deal with it? You are in a contractor`s meeting, and the gentleman is fuming to the extent of withdrawing his gun and placing it on the table as part of his agenda to intimidate you. What do you do? You happen to supervise ongoing demolitions, and members of the neighbouring area unleash violence on you and your workforce. What will your response be? You happen to be paid a courtesy call by relevant authorities, and unfortunately, you lack all the documents. How will you handle the situation?

To simplify the context, I chose to only settle on two tactics. Firstly,where your directives are to bring out short-lived outcomes, immediately abandon the mission. The authorities, for instance, are on your site and found to be lacking adequate protective gear. What will be your response? If you go ahead and compromise the situation with bribes just to get rid of them for the day, remember that it will be the first of many because they have termed the act of visiting the site a business opportunity.


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Another scenario that several site managers miss out on is the issue of community mobilization. Some of you act as bullies, claiming you have come in the name of the government. This is common for demolitions and other civil engineering works. Remember,the community you are speaking to is actually the government. Furthermore,being the representative indicates that you are by yourself, and therefore, failing to connect properly with the residents will have serious consequences. The tactics used for mobilisation must remain useful for the rest of the project period. When you inspire intimidation at the inception and think you have won, wait until you begin the construction works and have the full force of animosity from the residents.

Secondly, stick to your lane as per your respective line of work. This makes it easier on whom to bear responsibilities with no altercation whatsoever. Assuming you are the architect on site and the labourers need some advice on the concrete mix, will you go ahead and offer your recommendation? If yes, as who? That is the work of the structural engineer! The Architects and Quantity Surveyors Act, Cap. 525, states clearly the extent of our powers. When you take on someone else`s role, you end up creating huge unnecessary conflicts and thereby affecting progress on the project.

In general practice, it is always best to attain composure in order to be resilient and tenacious in the face of pressure, oppositions, constraints, or adversities and to focus on the implementation of the project at all times. As the guy on site, you must have no room for emotional outbursts, regardless of the scenario.

As for the client, ensure you gauge the consultant from the onset. Someone who lacks composure and a sober mind is unfit to be an advisor. The clients and developers who have been in the game for some time know this and thus prefer older and more experienced consultants.


On-Site vs In-Office Experience – Word to the Interns

As you exit or take a break from your learning institutions and transit to the industry, you carry a lot of fantasies in your head about the good and comforting expectations that your tutors lied to you about. The construction industry in this country is not thoroughly regulated. Doctors have very good advocates that make their line of work look civilized and even indoors—what you call white collar. Your first test on the field is your capacity to bear what happens on the ground compared to what you have been writing in your books.

For the intern, who is either an Architect(Arch.), Quantity Surveyor(QS) or Structural Engineer(Eng.), the situation is not so tough as you will apply about 72% of your theory on site. The incoming project managers have a tough ride as you only apply 28%. As the engineer or Qs get on paper to do his calculations, you will sit on a corner and begin shaking your head in all directions, scanning for solutions on how to contain an emerging risk on site.


I recommend that you begin your journey as a site guy rather than an office guy. A lot of events happen on site that you will never get to experience while sitting in the office enjoying the free wi-fi and 10 a.m. tea. First, you will be able to expand your network through other professionals that you interact with through site meetings. Second, you will have high chances of landing a direct client, as they prefer to see the quality of your work rather than your academic portfolio. Third, you will be able to appreciate the role of builders, as you will feel a sense of pride as they transfer your work to the ground.

For architects, you will appreciate how the elements of design are practically implemented. For example, space, function, mood, and perception. For engineers, you will need to check how the design mix ratio is practically achieved as well as the reinforcement patterns in your drawings. For quantity surveyors, you will be able to do re-measurements for valuation purposes and breakdown your bill of quantities into a schedule of materials, which is the only document that suppliers understand.


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If you continue forcing your way to offices to only take care of paper work, then you are in the wrong industry. Leave that to accountants and politicians. From my experience, the office guy who rarely associates himself with the construction bit is the main cause of conflicts, starting from project inception to handover. He creates a moody environment between the consultant and the builder without appreciating the importance of “alternative measures” on site, especially where the situation is not so critical.

For example, if you, as the engineer, sit in the office designing and checking the suitability of your structural analysis just using software and fail to come on site, this is what happens; assuming you indicated bar x for a column and you are briefed that such a bar is currently out of stock in the market, what will you do? Because you want to be bossy with no tolerance to brainstorm with the site guy, you end up ordering for work to be halted until bar X is restored. The client will term you incompetent because you lack a versatile mind, thereby causing an unnecessary delay to the project. If you were the professional who was a site guy, you would let the builder continue with another bar, but in such a way that the purpose that was to be served by bar X is still maintained.


As I conclude, there is a common Chinese proverb that says, “What you hear, you forget; what you see, you remember; what you do, you understand.“ All are lessons right there. When you also go to the site, don`t just be there to whirl your eyes around. Take that dumpy level and proceed with setting out, obviously with some guidance. If you don`t understand, ask the builder, and you will be a complete construction prodigy.