Having an inefficient pipeline construction team can result in decision-making bottlenecks and workplace conflicts: two sure-fire ways to slow your production rate. Setbacks in the environmental permitting phase will throw off your pre-construction surveys, which will delay your ROW preparation, and so on. And when it comes to pipeline construction projects, there’s no time for playing catch-up or to add more resources.

Putting together a sophisticated team with varying areas of expertise is time-consuming, not to mention frustrating as all get-out. The good news? You don’t have to source pipeline construction workers individually. You don’t even have to source workers from multiple specialty contractors. Find skilled consultants with areas of expertise spanning the entire project lifecycle, and you’ll notice your project planning and execution go exponentially smoother.

Challenges of having the wrong consultants on site

Cobbling together a crew using a number of different contractors might make financial sense in the short run because you can go with the lowest bidders. But in the long run, it can result in headaches on multiple levels, like managing individual service providers and controlling costs. Take these logistical and worksite challenges into account before you start sending out dozens of RFPs or just hiring bodies right off the labor supply shelf.  

Logistical challenges

Obtaining and tracking trainings and certifications

To take part in environmentally sensitive projects like pipeline construction, you need workers who are well-versed, and often certified, in specialized areas of expertise. How can you be 100% positive that all the contractors you’re considering have the required qualifications? Sure, one of your contractor’s proposals might state they have Professional Engineers on staff, but when’s the last time the PEs renewed their licenses? What if employee turnover resulted in the loss of their only certified stormwater inspector? You need proof that each individual on site is trained and certified in accordance with the tasks they’ll be performing.

Working with highly proficient consultants will simplify the vetting process. For consultants with different areas of expertise under one roof, reliably renewing certifications, providing regular training, and document tracking is all second nature.

Inadequate training leads to accidents. Failing to obtain proof of training is never an option.

Managing the revolving door of workers

There’s a lot of coming and going during pipeline construction projects, and contractors don’t always have a presence during all phases of the project. That makes it challenging to track who’s on site.

When you have a consultant who’s involved in multiple, if not all, phases of your construction project, chances are that they will remain on site in some capacity from project planning and permitting through hydrostatic testing and restoration. That means fewer people to train, fewer people to show the ropes, and fewer people to learn how to work alongside.

Keeping track of varying billable rates

Nothing is more nightmarish for controllers than having to keep tabs on billable rates for a horde of different consultants. Even if you have multiple workers on site with the same experience and job title, if they’re from different companies, you’ll probably have some variance in hourly rates.

Hiring consultants with multiple proficiencies won’t eliminate the need to track different rates, but those rates will be much more consistent based on job titles. For example, project manager rates will be the same, field technician rates will be the same, and so on. The less data controllers have to work with, the less room there is for error, and more importantly, the easier it will be to forecast and control costs.

Communicating with multiple project managers

Successful pipeline construction projects require efficient communication between decision-makers. But the more management-level workers you add to your project, the more convoluted communication becomes. From our experience in the industry, we’ve found that having too many project managers is one of the most infuriating challenges on major projects.

There are organizational tweaks you can make to combat communication issues, such as hosting weekly meetings or conference calls with all your project managers. You can also include all points of contact on email threads, but this suggestion comes with a caveat: reading and composing unnecessary emails can lead to a significant productivity deficit. The average worker spends a ridiculous amount of time on emails per week — 13 hours to be exact. On pipeline construction projects, it’s critical that project managers allocate those hours to tasks like scheduling, monitoring the scope of work and contractual commitments, and completing project status reports.

The most efficient way to streamline communication (and keep production rates high) is to cut down on the number of people involved in daily conversations without compromising transparency. Hiring skilled contractors with fewer points of contact is a way to achieve both.

Wrangling different reporting strategies

Measuring the efficiency of your operations requires accurate data from each contractor. You probably have a standardized reporting strategy, but try as you might, some contractors will give you trouble. Contractors will either report their data their way or not report at all. Noncompliant reporting (or lack thereof) leaves your staff in the lurch, having to pry to create accurate metrics.  

Also, field reporting tactics vary significantly from contractor to contractor. Your survey contractor might collect information by hand in field books. Your inspectors might have tablets or computers on hand allowing them to collect and send data digitally. When contractors use both digital and manual approaches to managing field data, it can be challenging to receive and organize all of the information that you need to track.

That said, reporting strategies are typically consistent on a company level. Choosing contractors with sufficient (and preferably digital) reporting strategies means you have to do less “data wrangling.”

Working environment challenges

Contending with multiple company cultures

Every pipeline contractor you deal with will have their own company culture. One might allow their staff to work long hours and late nights to keep construction on schedule, while another might call it quits at a reasonable hour to prevent worker fatigue. One company might focus on doing everything by the book, while another will race to get the job done whatever it takes.

Clashing company cultures can lead to a breakdown in communication and workplace morale. And if you have the impulse to ignore morale as trivial, consider this: according to the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), morale and attitude are top factors affecting construction productivity.

When contractors have varying areas of expertise, usually you’ll find a company culture that fosters inventive collaboration — a potent recipe for achieving high productivity and developing creative solutions. Bringing these adaptable, forward-thinking contractors on board will give you a fighting chance of establishing professional working relationships between companies. Contractors will be pleased to forge sometimes career-long relationships, and you will see your productivity soar.

Communicating and enforcing work standards

High-risk projects like pipeline construction require a certain quality of work, and it’s your job to ensure your contractors live up to those standards. When you have countless employees on site, the line between acceptable and unacceptable quality of work gets increasingly blurry… and easy to cross.

Being choosy about the contractors you hire will significantly cut down on the time you spend communicating and enforcing work standards. Truly resourceful contractors understand what a job well done looks like. Plus, they’ll do what it takes to achieve your standards using the least amount of labor, saving you both time and money.

Implementing emergency spill response plans

Emergency responses are terrible situations for everyone involved. As an oil and gas company, you need to prepare for spills, fires, and other emergencies. But there’s a big difference between making a plan and implementing that plan.

Take emergency spill response for example. When catastrophe strikes and you sound the alarm, coordinating separate consultants for cost control, health and safety, and remediation will take a minimum of three phone calls. On the other hand, the right consultant can make sure a highly skilled and versatile team shows up, all together, in force. All you have to do is make one phone call. Every second counts during emergency spill response. Choose the contractors that you have on speed dial wisely.

When everyone is in charge, no one is in charge

Having folks on your project who aren’t quite the right fit, can result in gridlock, interpersonal conflict, and plain ol’ inefficiency.

When it comes to environmentally sensitive and tight-budgeted projects like pipeline construction, no one has time to deal with the challenges that arise from having the wrong companies on site. Having a short list of resourceful, skilled consultants to call will save you time, headaches, and in the long run, money.

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