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Deals in the Field: Harmless or Hazardous?

In any construction project there is a proper protocol to follow, a chain of command. The pre-construction checklist and statement of work are vetted and approved by certain authorities to ensure that the project will fulfill all deliverables.

Changes can happen mid-project, and competent project managers expect these changes and plan for them. But it’s important to follow the proper chain of command for any changes to the original plan.

If a client visits a construction site with a new idea and simply begins speaking to the foreman or other workers on the job about it, and the workers agree to the change, this is a “deal in the field.”

Deals in the field should be avoided. Why? Because failure to follow the chain of command can lead to increased liability, incorrect records, inaccurate billing, and client dissatisfaction. For example, when we work with a government agency, there is a Contract Administrator at that agency who has authority over modifications to the contract. If that administrator does not sign off on a change, that change never happened.

If workers continue to go ahead with the change and something goes wrong, the contract administrator has no formal record of approving the change, and the builder is liable for problems caused by the undocumented change. Conversely, if the change works out and everybody’s happy, the builder will be unable to bill for any additional cost because the contract administrator has no formal record of the change.

All of this contributes to scope creep, deviations from the established work plan that lead to higher workflow, longer timelines, and diminished returns for everyone.

The easiest way to avoid deals in the field is simply to make sure all employees, on both sides, are fully informed of protocol and know how to submit a formal change order. Workers should insist on a change order before making any changes to their plans, and clients should insist on the same. Clear communication and attention to protocol will ensure all changes are approved, budgeted, and documented, so all parties are protected.