Defining Client Objectives for Coatings Specification
Mark Davidson discusses pre-job planning best practices in documenting client objectives in the design basis for projects of any size or scope, be it new construction or maintenance painting work.
It is important for client objectives to be addressed and documented early in the life of the project or the life of an asset. This follows from defining the service requirements and environmental factors for coating specification. (For more on this these steps, read Defining Service Requirements & Environmental Factors for Coating Specification.)
In addressing this topic, I have my experience, which has mainly to do with large projects as opposed to maintenance painting. Large projects are more complex because the client can appear to be a single organization, such as an operating company or owner, a public utility or a major infrastructure organization. But in fact, within the organization, there can be many departments or groups, all with different objectives.
For instance, you have the operations group, whose objective is to achieve the lowest cost of ownership while at the same time incorporating the highest levels of safety, within budget. So that’s one group that is very significant and present (or should be) from the start of a project.
Other parts of the project team can include project management, whose job is to get the project built and delivered. Or in the case of a maintenance project, it is this team’s job to get the maintenance activities carried out within schedule and within budget, while meeting HSE (health, safety and environment) objectives. (See Writing Safety Into Your Coating Specification for more on this topic.) Depending on the project size and structure, you may have the procurement team, contract management teams, the quality team, the HSE team and various other teams, all under that one heading: "client".
In such a project, you have numerous and always intersecting and sometimes clashing objectives, so the coating specifier has to walk a very fine line to meet the objectives. It’s very complex at times. In recent large projects in which I’ve been involved, the focus has been very much delivery-oriented—on time, on budget.
Client objectives are really a function of the asset or project, the scope of work, and what the stated and unstated objectives of the client are. They should ideally be documented in the design basis document, or a high-level philosophy document for the project.
Objectives must be documented somewhere so that it is clearly understood by all members of the client’s team what’s expected of individual team members. For instance, the maintenance team or the facility operations team should understand what the project management team’s objectives are. They must recognize that when someone in the operations team asks for something, such as a design change, it must be within the agreed and documented limitations. This helps to ensure that they’re not going to ask for, say, gold plating or something that is outside the approved budget or outside the schedule.
Whether the project is maintenance or new-build, it’s very important that all these details are documented, agreed and signed off. This is ideally done in the design basis, which is the owner’s document.
The Design Basis
"Design basis" is a term used throughout the engineering and design industry, regardless of what the project is. It can be a multi-billion dollar construction project or something as seemingly simple as the design of a widget. There still has to be a statement that records the requirements for the design of that project or that widget.
For an offshore oil and gas facility, there will be a document that states the design life, among many other important parameters. The same is true for the widget. The design basis will state that this widget, which you can purchase at the hardware store, will have a design life of, say, 15 years under particular environmental conditions.
The design basis can be a large multi-page document, or it can be a letter or an email. But it will be a clear statement to which all parties can refer—particularly the engineer or the consultant who is writing the coating specification. They will then understand the owner’s objectives and prepare the specification accordingly. Once the coatings engineer understands the owner’s maintenance painting cycle—say 10, 15 or 20 years—they can then select a set of appropriately durable coating systems. It is, or should be, made clear in the design basis.
So the design basis is prepared, agreed, signed and then it is frozen or approved for use. After the design basis is done, the coatings specification is written. It’s the same in maintenance painting—a pulp and paper mill for example. The owner will say, “Based on our business plan, we want maintenance painting done, and after it’s done, we don’t want to have to do it again for another 15 or 20 years.” And that’s in writing and the owner will have allocated their maintenance painting budget on that basis.
When the coating engineer or the consultant receives their instructions from the owner or the project management team, they will say, “Right. No maintenance painting for 10, 15 or 20 years. Therefore, based on the environment and the location, the coating systems that go into the coating specification must have a documented durability to meet this objective.”
The design basis is a document that is prepared early in the life of a project. It sets down things like design life or, in the case of a coating system, durability. It’s a document owned by the client, and it is written and goes through various revisions before it’s agreed to by the various disciplines in the client teams. These include the project management team, the HSE representative, the quality representative and the various engineering disciplines, such as the client’s structural and coating engineers. They all sign off. There are various sections within the design basis stressing those particular disciplines’ requirements for the project.
Maintenance Painting Project: Public Marina
About 25 years ago, I was involved in a painting project where I oversaw maintenance painting on the pilings and structural steel underneath a marina. In this project, the owner was represented by a facility manager. That facility manager not only had to ensure that the budget and schedule were met, but he also had to make sure the work was done and there was minimal impact on the public and on the owners of shops on that marina.
While it was recognized that the project would have some impact, or cause "reduced amenity", the objective was to minimize that reduction so that the visitor experience was still high and the shop owners weren’t negatively impacted. Of course, the objectives included getting the maintenance work carried out within the budget and within the schedule.
Again, this was a public facility, so those retailer and public-impact objectives had to be recognized and met, and they had to be clearly stated in the tender documents to ensure that all contractors made provision.
The Anatomy of Pre-Job Planning & Documentation
In an ideal world, the objectives data are collected and collated by the client’s project manager or project engineer. This will be someone appointed this responsibility by the owner.
In the case of that marina maintenance painting project, that responsibility fell to the facility manager, which was a real estate management company. That company had a manager on site, who was responsible for the smooth and safe day-to-day running of the marina.
That manager approached the consulting company I was working for then, and said, “We need to do some maintenance painting. I’m not sure of the extent of the painting, so Mr. Consultant, write me a proposal and give me costs to come up with a specification. Give me a separate cost to oversee the maintenance painting of this marina while the contractor is undertaking the work.”
The consulting company that I worked for went to the site and got in a small boat. We went under the deck and assessed the condition of the structural steel items, including piles and supporting beams for the concrete deck.
We did an assessment and prepared a report, which said, “Of the total area of the steel including the steel piles supporting the structure, approximately X% is suffering from a degree of coating breakdown, in accordance with the applicable ISO standard that necessitates maintenance painting. Therefore, it’s estimated that 25% of the total surface area of the structural steel requires maintenance painting. The estimated cost to meet your requirement of no more maintenance for 15 years’ coating durability is such and such, and our cost to prepare a specification for that level of durability is X dollars. The estimated duration of the maintenance painting is Y months. The estimated cost of doing the maintenance painting is Z dollars, ± 30%.”
At the time we did our survey, we also invited a painting contractor to come with us, and he prepared a cost estimate for the work. So we were able to give the marina manager a condition assessment, a cost for specification, a cost for the painting work to be done, a schedule and the consultant’s cost to oversee the work, inspect it, give the marina manager progress reports and attend progress meetings.
The marina manager then obtained the owner’s approval to proceed.
After the client chose the contractor, the next stage was for the contractor to mobilize to site and for the engineering contractor to oversee by making daily visits, reporting progress, reviewing costs and advising the facility manager of any issues that would have an impact on schedule or costs.
This whole process is much the same, regardless of the project. It could be a large paper plant or a bridge. The person who is the focal point of the project, who will be responsible to the owner for having the work done, is the individual who documents the client’s objectives and conveys those objectives to the coating specifier. The specifier then writes those objectives into a coating specification, which is then issued to the bidders. The bidders then respond with their tenders, and during the bid evaluation process, the consultant checks to ensure that the bidders clearly understand what the client’s objectives are. This understanding must be clearly demonstrated in their bid documents.
A requirement of the coating specification is that the painting contractor has his/her own step-by-step procedure, as well as a quality control document called the Inspection and Test Plan (ITP). This includes all of the quality control requirements and a daily report sheet where ambient conditions, surface conditions and painting done that day are actually logged. The log can include batch numbers for abrasive media, batch numbers for paint, the names of the workers on the job—all of those daily specifics.
When the contractors submit their bids, they also submit pro forma inspections and test plans, and other documentation that demonstrates to the consulting engineer that this contractor has a clear understanding of the client’s expectations and has demonstrated that understanding through the documentation submitted with his/her bid.
After award and before the start of any site work, a pre-job conference is held. This is an opportunity for all parties to ensure a complete understanding of the project requirements by reviewing the documentation and addressing any vagueness or ambiguities that may not have been raised during the tender period.
If the foregoing process is followed, the client’s objectives should be met and the required coating durability achieved safely, on budget and on schedule.