Even the best project managers can run into trouble. Here are six tips to help keep you from tripping up on what many would consider commonsense considerations.

Tip 1: Prepare detailed system drawings for the field

You may ask, "Why do I need to make any drawings; I have working drawings my foreman and electricians can use. "Sure you do, but those drawings probably show a lot of diagrammatic information. Let's take a fire-alarm system, for example. You'll see this system shown in the form of a riser diagram. Each device may have a location designator such as "Stair 3" or "Main Hallway," but there is no plan view showing the actual device locations. The lines connecting the devices on the riser diagram denote cabling between the specific devices. But, there is no conduit sizing or routing.

As a result, someone has to count cables, plan cable-grouping, size conduits, and plan conduit routing. Should your foreman do this? The answer is a resounding "No," unless you like having a very expensive draftsman/designer. His or her responsibility is to supervise work, not make drawings. Instead, you as the project manager or your firm's electrical designer (with your estimator's and foreman's input) should do this. Then, your electricians can work with a plan view drawing showing the best conduit routing and cable grouping.

You should do this for systems such as public address, nurse call, security, clock, intercom, etc. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the resulting labor and material savings.

Tip 2: Compensate for retainage Most contracts have a retainage clause whereby the owner (or his or her representative) withholds a certain percentage of the monthly billing (and resulting payment) until completion of any punch list items and final acceptance. This percentage can vary from 5% to 10%.

You can compensate somewhat for retainage by process known as front loading. In preparing your cost breakdown for the specific project, identify (in your mind) those items you know will be installed at the early stages of your project. Examples of these items include embedded conduit in slabs, device boxes in poured or bricked walls, underground duct banks, concrete foundations for electrical equipment, and light pole bases. Then slightly increase the installed cost of these items (usually on the labor portion). Conversely, reduce the noted installed cost on those items you know will be installed toward the tail end of the project. These include light fixtures, lamps, wiring devices, and systems (fire alarm, P.A., etc.). Obviously, the total installed cost of all items cannot exceed your contract price.

This way, you won't be negatively affected by retainage. Also, you'll improve your cash flow for the project.

Tip 3: Take care of oddball items early There's nothing more frustrating or disturbing than having relatively inexpensive items hold up your final payment. We've all been there before, with these items remaining on the punch list for various reasons. The promised delivery date of a 12-gang combination device plate in a special finish with custom engraving continues to be pushed back. The required spare sets of keys to every panelboard on the project are supposedly "on their way" but never seem to arrive. The required set of spare fuses was never ordered. The list can go on and on.

Here's what you should do at the beginning of a project. With your firm's estimator and purchasing agent, go through the project specifications and your original estimate. Highlight those items that are somewhat extraordinary, will have long delivery times, or are special orders. Then, jump on them immediately. By focusing on them early on, your final punch list items should be miscellaneous repairs and/or adjustments, not missing equipment.

Tip 4: Check architectural drawings before ordering light fixtures Ever run into this problem? You've ordered lighting fixtures based on the catalog numbers provided in the contract specifications and drawings. They arrive on site and you store them until the area is ready for their installation. You're notified that the plasterer will begin his work shortly and you should have the necessary plaster frames ready. You ask, "What plaster frames? The fixtures are for a lay-in ceiling." You're informed that the ceiling is definitely a plaster ceiling. You check your purchase order and the listed catalog numbers agree with the contract documents. Yet, you have to scramble and have plaster frames air shipped in to keep ahead of the plasterer.

Because your contract drawings or specifications included catalog numbers, you may ask, "Wasn't specifying the correct catalog number the consulting electrical engineer's responsibility during the design process?" Well, the answer is "Yes" and "No." Yes, the consultant coordinates the electrical design with the other disciplines, including architectural. But changes can occur after the fact. That's why specifications have wording we like to call "boiler plating." Basically, this wording says you as the contractor are responsible for reviewing all project drawings and coordinating your installation with all trades. It also says you're responsible for providing product finishes and constructions compatible with wall and ceiling types based on your review of all project drawings.

So, regardless of what the fixture schedule says via catalog numbers, you're responsible for ordering the correct fixture type and mounting for the specific area.

Tip 5: Keep your eye on as-built drawings

Does this sound familiar? You're nearing completion of a project and find out the set of "as-built" drawings that were supposed to be updated as construction progressed are nowhere near complete. In fact, the updating has gone by the wayside, in the heat of meeting a construction deadline. You're sure this will show up on the final punch list, so you embark on a "crunch" input process, where speed, not accuracy, is paramount.

There's no need to go through this stress. Here's how to go about this. Have your foreman or general foreman instruct his or her electricians or foremen to write down and explain any changes from the working drawings and return the written changes to the field office daily. Then assign an estimator or designer to visit the job site weekly, review and discuss the changes with the appropriate person, and input the information into the record set of as-built drawings. The input should include the following at a minimum:

*Actual feeder routing (overhead, in slab, and underground) with dimensions.

*Location and sizing of any feeder pull boxes.

*Revised locations of panelboards, switchgear, transformers, etc.

*Correct panelboard circuit schedules.

*Catalog numbers of purchased light fixtures (if different from specifications or fixture schedule).

*Any HVAC wiring schematics not included in the original bid drawings.

Tip 6: Take advantage of any prefab work

Suppose you're doing a large office building with lots of lay-in fluorescent troffers. Instead of making all the fixture pigtails in the field, make them up in your shop. You can use an electrician and/or an apprentice to do this in a much more efficient manner and comfortable location.

Another example: Suppose you have a large number of long radius conduit sweeps to bend in large-sized galvanized rigid steel or aluminum conduit. Why set up a hydraulic bender in a cramped area (possibly with little heating) when your shop is a much better location? There are other prefab possibilities as well:

*Assembling and prewiring light fixtures.

*Fabricating large or odd-shaped pull boxes.

*Doing large numbers of drillings and tappings.

*Doing all types of welding.

*Doing any work requiring special tools, jigs, or templates.