Duties of the Owner’s Team

From hundreds of yards and thousands of projects over many decades, a class of Owner’s Representatives (OR’s) has arisen in the yards of Asia, whose skills and knowledge to deliver quality products, cannot be found in any school book.

The target reader for this site is an Owner who is looking at using an Asian yard for an upcoming marine project. If his company is not familiar with local cultural and regulatory conditions, can he safely execute a project here? The answer is yes, if he chooses the right Team Leaders and no, if he chooses the wrong people.

TECHNICAL SKILLS VS HUMAN SKILLS
Or intellectual intelligence versus emotional intelligence. Construction projects can be difficult beasts to control, because too often, people were hastily selected – resulting in too many of the wrong people in the wrong job. Rarely does this get fixed. Instead we just make do, muddling along with the people that
we have at hand. The job still gets done, because good project Team Leads instinctively know they must apply Peter Drucker’s dictum that good managers: “build on people’s strengths, not their weaknesses”.

There is no handbook or university course on how to select people for Owner’s Teams, we tend to depend on who we know from previous jobs. In an oil boom, many inexperienced OR’s (Owner’s Reps) appear. Many have never planned a marine project, meaning that they too easily recruit completely the wrong people to support projects.

Yard OR’s come in two levels, the Team Leads and Inspectors. To ensure that the owner receives a product of acceptable quality, both are critical to the project outcome. (A Team Lead in this case means anybody responsible for planning and supporting the execution of all or some aspect of the job. A Project Manager is a Team Lead, so is a Project Engineer or a Piping Lead.)

Since the advent of computer Cut and Paste, it is not enough to depend on somebody’s CV. You need to know who they are. Due diligence on unknown candidates is essential.

MANAGING RELATIONS WITH THE YARD – Qualities of the best owner’s Team Leads.
There is nothing worse than bad blood between Owners and the Yard. People come to a project with the mental baggage of previous jobs. At the very first meetings, it is essential to watch for those people have have bought with them, an “us versus them” mindset from previous jobs. Watch for bad manners in meetings and for bad language in emails. Such behaviour must be identified and stopped urgently, before it becomes ingrained into the project culture. The best Team Leads are friendly, approachable, knows more about his aspect of the job than anyone else, never loses his temper, always puts people at their ease, makes people laugh, asks advise of ordinary workers, remembers people’s names (and has a prodigious memory for details), gives credit to others in public, criticises in private (or with humour), is at the jobsite an hour before anyone else and is always encouraging those around him to think and ask questions and to not take anything for granted. It would be unthinkable for a good leader to belittle somebody for asking a “stupid question” at a site meeting.

BUILDING ON THE STRENGTHS OF YOUR INSPECTORS
Most Asian projects will have many local Indonesian or Filipino inspectors, who often struggle to get the yard’s people to pay attention to their technical Comments. Watch out for your inspectors bringing an Us versus Them attitude towards the yard’s work (as poor as that work may be). Your inspectors are your eyes and ears on the job, you need to help them set a level of priorities appropriate to your type of the project. By the same token, you may have to schedule a higher level meeting with the yard to help the yard understand your project’s quality standards. Low standards are not always the fault of yard people; for all we know, the owner of the job on the wharf next to our’s, may wants the cheapest possible shortcuts. Your yard reps may be struggling to shift priorities between your yard project and the ones next door. Unfortunately, this may not have been well understand at the contract negotiations stage as yards know that many owners pay lip service to “high quality”, even when they actually want to just save money.

CORRUPTION
This article needs an article of it’s own. If you are paying your inspectors peanuts to approve millions of dollars worth of work, expect somebody to try and pay him off. It is often easy to see by the yard’s attitude, which owner’s team members they feel they “own”. Indonesia’s labour laws are so strict about firing people, that you are better to hire your owner’s team through a third party. If you have to get an unsuitable person off the job, don’t make a fuss, just get them off the job ASAP. If you directly hired this person, you can be in deep do-do, as Indonesian labour laws allows them to stay on the job (and on the payroll) through months of tortuous litigation.

SUPPORTING CLASS SURVEYORS
Most class surveyors are young-ish engineers who have never taken charge of running a marine engine room. They range from good to bad. Make sure you have met their boss and explained what you want for your class survey money. I suggest you use your class surveyors to confirm that yard work was done properly. If you suspect hanky panky between the yard and the surveyor, don’t hesitate to ask for a different one. Some surveyors will take shortcuts, both in what they inspect and how they prepare their written reports (if you let them get away with it). Set the tone for the project by closely reviewing the results of their first day or two worth of inspections and explain what you expect from them for your company’s money (in front of the yard’s people and your inspector). Make it clear how much the surveyors’ site visits are costing the project.

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