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Get your E in to C – transition from Engineering to Construction

Get your E in to C – a seamless transition from Engineering design to efficient Construction

Many projects are slow to shift their focus from engineering design to construction (E to C). Four to five months can pass as the organisation moves out of design mentality and into construction mode, resulting in significant construction delays and a workforce that becomes used to low productivity levels. These tend to become entrenched behaviours which lead to long schedule over-runs. Shifting to a construction mindset early avoids costly delays and delivers the rapid ramp-up required to hit the overall construction schedule. We can diagnose problem areas which are holding your project organisation back, and provide tools to ensure that the transition is as quick and seamless as possible.

Why is E to C important? 

We are seeing globally that capital projects are resuming their execution from where they stopped because of COVID. Some engineering tasks have advanced, but now it is time to get ready to be back in the field for the construction phase. Considering the restrictions that are still in place for field work, and the increased complexity of projects as a result, it is important to have a seamless transition from engineering to construction-focus.

We find that many engineering design teams lack direct commissioning and construction experience; unable to transition quickly (if at all) to a construction management approach. As such, construction disciplines and commissioning schedules are often poor. Inevitably, this leads to a slow start to construction whilst workable plans are created, resulting in costly delays to the project.

How to tell if E to C is a problem for you

The first step is to diagnose where you are at in the transition from E to C. An example analysis output from an E to C oil and gas diagnostic is shown below:

engineering focus in construction

This diagnostic is based on the typical symptoms of an engineering focus:

Symptoms of an engineering focus
  • Drawings are completed according to ‘engineering’ priorities, i.e. technical complexity
  • Land approvals not integrated with construction plan
  • The project is still being run by engineering discipline and not area
  • The critical path is not documented/understood by E/D firm
  • Lack of mind-set around constructability
  • No appreciation of number of work fronts, when different skills are required
  • Design and procurement priorities not aligned
  • Sequencing for completion of designs not aligned with critical path timing
  • Contractors not involved in the design
  • Commissioning and handover teams not consulted
  • Drawings not ready when required for construction
  • Fabricated items ordered and/or delivered late
  • Land access is granted late
  • Errors in construction due to incomplete drawings. Designs do not fully account for site conditions – on-site modifications needed
  • Insufficient time for proper response to Technical Queries
  • The construction approach doesn’t adequately take into account constructability, access, accommodation levels, numbers of contractors leading to further delays

Commencing construction when your project is still in engineering mode will almost certainly result in significant delays to the schedule with associated cost overruns, diminishing project momentum and morale. Unless the 'wiring'1 is fixed, wiring issues will persist throughout construction, magnifying schedule delays and cost overruns.

What to do about it – wire and coach

Wiring and coaching combine to quickly drive effective construction performance. Construction wiring (or management operating system) establishes the priorities, rhythms and routines of construction in a timely manner. Extensive coaching in the first few weeks accelerates the quality of construction management.

1. Getting the contract thinking and execution right

A key step for construction success is establishing the right partnerships. Many of the construction projects that we are brought in to assist with can trace their disappointing performance directly back to problems in this pre-contracting stage. The work here involves establishing which party is in the best position to manage key risks, understanding what type of relationship best reflects that position, how best to align motivations and create incentives that are indeed meaningful and focusing. We do not cover these aspects in this article, but are certainly very happy to share with you our experiences on this important foundation for construction performance.

2. Clarify roles 

During the E to C transition the reporting lines and decision-making processes change. As a result it can be confusing for project team members, and accountabilities can be lost and misunderstood. Therefore it is critical to be crystal clear on who owns what, and when, before and after the transition takes place.

It should be noted that accountabilities differ depending on the engagement model undertaken by the owner’s team. For example, an owner’s team with a lump sum contract arrangement will have different accountabilities from those in an hourly-rate EPCM arrangement. Not all projects are the same, and accountabilities and their transition need to take into account both project deliverables and the contractual engagement model.

Responsibilities and accountabilities should be agreed upon between project teams using a RACI matrix. A RACI should include pre-construction, construction and commissioning steps as the roles of individuals change during these stages.

3. Install construction wiring 

construction wiringFor construction projects to be managed efficiently, there is an interlocking system of simple, standard review charts (which can largely be updated manually and effectively installed in weeks, not months). This is needed for construction to progress smoothly and on plan.

In Engineering mode, drawings are completed ‘by number’, but in Construction, drawings must be completed in the sequence supporting the project critical path. In the following example, the tracker clearly shows drawings as a looming problem.

Off-track performance is immediately visible at the daily or weekly review with the accountable people, enabling corrective actions to be agreed, and monitored. Without the early warning system of the tracking and review process, unpleasant surprises inevitably occur. We help teams use techniques such as ‘brown papers’ (pictured) to identify the composition of essential meetings and reviews.

You cannot shift from Engineering to Construction without a commissioning plan which drives the construction schedule. It is critical that the commissioning plan is robust; the logic of the plan can be tested with a Construction and Commissioning Logic Block Diagram as described below.

Tracking deliverables and readiness to start work

Tracking deliverables and readiness to start work


Construction Readiness Tracker assesses prioritised CWP2 list

Construction Readiness Tracker assesses prioritised CWP2 list


4. Coach extensively

The tools and wiring outlined above are explicitly designed to be simple and relatively easy to manage. We then support rapid take-up of these tools through coaching of stakeholders – both in the owner’s team and the contractors, so they are effectively adopted and utilised effectively across the capital project.

Expected outcome

Your project will display the right focus at the right time; transition from Engineering to Construction will be clear and effective, with all tools in place and roles and responsibilities understood. You will be set up well for the construction journey ahead, with an organisation wired to embrace the following characteristics:

  • Activity sequencing driven by critical path
  • Civil, mechanical, electrical schedules integrated or cross-referenced
  • Focus on project completion / commissioning / handover
  • Procurement driven by date required on-site and material lead times, but dependent on availability of drawings and specifications

[1] Wiring is the systems, processes, staff, competencies and behaviours (that you do and don’t accept) and norms of an organisation which combine to determine how individuals behave and therefore how an organisation will perform.

[2] Construction Work Packages

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