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Step 4: Set Performance Standards

Reference Number: MTAS-1251
Reviewed Date: 05/12/2023

Having clearly-stated performance expectations at the beginning of a project follows closely with defining the project. The project owners should clearly describe to the engineers, contractors, managers, and staff what is expected and what success looks like. The formal conferences that occur throughout a project are the times to have these discussions. Generally, there are pre-design, design review, pre-bid, and pre-construction conferences as well as regular meetings throughout construction. Discussions with these groups at the various conferences should focus on how the work will meet the short- and long-term goals of the project. Listen carefully. If there is industry-specific language or jargon you do not understand, ask for clarification. Use good communication skills. Repeat vague sentences in your own words and seek support or redirection. Take good notes at the meetings. If problems go to litigation, whoever has the best documentation usually wins.

For example, a successful design should meet regulatory or water quality requirements at a minimum, be affordable to the customers, and be within the operational capabilities of staff charged with operating and maintaining the new infrastructure. TDEC will review all plans for compliance with state design criteria. Note that this does not mean the state guarantees that the design will work as you expect. A careful review of the design by your operators for ease of maintenance and operability as well as function may locate potential problems. Ask these questions:

  • Will regulatory requirements be met?
  • Will community needs be met?
  • What are the projected operation and maintenance costs?
  • Do the equipment and technology choices match local conditions and capabilities?
  • What are the staffing needs and costs?

Engineers do make mistakes (Heathcoat). Review the engineer’s work. Catching mistakes and/or incorrect assumptions in the design stage saves money and stress. If developers are making expansions to your distribution or collection system, their plans also must be approved by TDEC. The state, however, does not oversee or inspect the actual construction. Inspection is a local responsibility for both city or utility-constructed projects and projects completed by private developers. It is up to the local utility to inspect the construction and oversee the installation to assure that what was designed and approved is built. Owners also should hold designers responsible for a design which solves the intended problem or yields the appropriate solution. For projects constructed by private developers, the city or utility department may choose to employ the services of a third-party engineer to review the design of the project and to inspect its construction. Cost associated with such design review and/or construction inspection should be borne by the developer.

The quality of a contractor’s work generally is documented through inspection. The scope of inspection and who will perform that inspection should be decided early in the project, and the contractor should be notified prior to bidding that exact compliance with the contract will be expected. Generally, the consulting engineer provides an inspector, though many utilities are performing their own inspections, especially in water and sewer pipeline construction (McElroy). The costs of inspection can be substantial, so clear agreement (typically noted in the project contract documents) about such details as:

  • the amount and extent of inspections,
  • responsibility for documentation of as-built construction information, and,
  • which party(s) will bear the cost of inspections,

must be agreed upon to avoid misunderstandings and different expectations. Inspections can be general or detailed. The inspector may be working more than one job, be dedicated to one job or be part of one job. Along with the decisions regarding scope of inspections, also have a clear understanding of who can stop work for noncompliance. Roles must be clearly defined (Crutcher). There may also be regulation-specific or funding-specific inspection that vary from project to project. The engineer may assist the owner with compliance to these inspection requirements.

Plans and specifications will detail material quality. Shop drawings and material manufacturing specifications must be provided to the engineer and/or owner (as specified in the contract documents) for review and approval for compliance with plans and specifications. Approved shop drawings and materials then are part of the plans and specifications, and no unapproved substitutions are acceptable. Of course, after setting high standards for inspection and materials owners must support the inspector’s decisions; otherwise, the inspector has no authority, and inspections become a waste of money.

Another area of performance to be discussed involves water quality when a sewer or water treatment plant is being constructed, renovated or upgraded. EPA and the state expect all water quality standards to be met throughout construction interruptions. This will require planning and coordination between operators and construction workers. Here, again, clear understanding of roles, responsibilities, and authority is critical. If the contractor needs to interrupt plant operations, the operators must be notified in advance. Also, operators need to understand that construction will disrupt their routine, and major adjustments may be necessary for the duration of construction.

A widely-known fact in public works is that no matter what type of work you have performed, no matter what its public benefits, if you leave a mess in someone’s yard or damage their landscaping or flowers you are in for trouble. This is especially true of the construction of utility pipelines. The cleanup of the construction mess is vitally important. Cleanup in pipeline construction should be a daily process as the construction moves down the right-of-way or easement. If quick cleanup is expected, it should be specified in the bid specifications. It is recommended that construction easements be photographed or videotaped prior to the beginning of construction to help resolve disputes about preexisting damage or damage that occurred during construction.

The warranty period for new equipment and facilities often is misunderstood. Beginning and ending dates should be clearly stated as well as who is responsible for warranty work, the scope of warranty coverage, and, importantly, what is not covered. If an inspection is to be performed prior to the end of the warranty period, this detail should be specified at the beginning of the project. There also should be clear understanding about start-up and training on the use of all equipment, especially the control electronics and computers. All equipment should include operation and maintenance manuals and recommended spare parts.

In construction, always expect problems. Construction projects are major logistical efforts where even the best planning can be undermined by unforeseen events. Because of this, project budgets (depending on complexity) may have 10 to 20 percent of the value of construction set aside for contingencies. Use this money carefully. It may also be wise not to include these funds in the agreement with the contractor but as a budget allowance that the owner and engineer work with as needed. A common reason for increasing costs is “differing site conditions.” This could be unknown ground water, rock, or difficulties with utility relocation. Easement costs may change, and there is always concern about inclement weather.

Many of these items will be in the various contracts, so read them. If you do not understand them or the technical language, ask questions for clarification, or change the language.