Dictating Means and Methods, A Practical Example.

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Rarely will an owner dictate the exact way that something must be done, usually because they are not the experts at performing the task at hand. However when an owner does specify “exactly” how the work must be performed, then they accept the liability and costs associated with performing that work.


We recently had a job that required decorative stenciling to be performed in a TI in a busy shopping corridor. Due to the location, the schedule demands were strict and the schedule was already impacted. After having been awarded the proposal, it was turned over to Cliff and I from the estimators. Upon realizing that there was a stencil required on the upper portion of all the walls in the FOH, we discussed the option with our decal/signage supplier. We commissioned a vinyl stencil that would be applied to the walls, painted, and then removed and disposed of. It’s the same process we use when we perform Gold Leaf or other types of decorative painting.

An Example of Stencil work from Previous Projects.

After the stencil had been made and we were scheduled to perform the work, we sent an RFI asking if there was a certain way they wanted the stencil to line up with the tile on the lower walls. In response to the RFI, the designer decided to completely change the stencil and make the pattern twice as big as it had originally been. We informed the designer that we would have to procure another stencil, it would take an additional week  and they would have to pay for both the unused stencil and the new one..

At this point the Designer asked how much the second stencil would cost. When told that the ROM for the original had been $2,600.00, he couldn’t understand why. After explaining to him the method that we had anticipated for performing the stencil work, he told us that we were overthinking the process. “Typically the painter will have a small stencil made, stick it to the wall with masking tape, paint over it and move it to the next section. A room like this will probably take 6 hours to stencil.”

The Designer informed us that they were going to provide the stencil and wanted us to perform the stenciling as he had directed. At this point the means and methods of the stencil are now being dictated to us by the designer. We submitted a Request for Change that included a credit for the stencil labor we had anticipated, and made it clear from this moment on, all the work on the stencil is proceeding on a Time and Materials Basis. Our Craftsmen completed the stenciling over the course of 5 days, (when we had originally estimated 2 using our method and stencil.) So the additional costs in labor are the responsibility of the Designer.

The important point is that, none of us are experts in ALL fields of construction. You rely on the Subcontractors to determine the best way for them to accomplish the task at hand. You can always make suggestions and ask questions as to why they prefer to do it the way they anticipate, however once you begin to dictate the Means and Methods, ESPECIALLY if you do so after the contract has been signed, then you will be liable for the added costs with doing it “My way.” Understand that as a Project Engineer, P.M., Superintendent, G.C. or a Subcontractor, unless the means and methods are clearly written in the Specification, The Scope of Work, or the Contract, you are best leaving it up to the contracted party. You can still have final say over the Quality, the Safety and any requirements of the contract. However telling a contractor how to do their job, is going to be a costly proposition.


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