Key Elements - Customer & Contractor Relations

In its many years of business serving both government and private industry, the Hydro-Klean team has witnessed a wide range of contract service procurement practices. Through it all, we have noticed that the most successful maintenance projects share a common thread, a high level of effective organization and fluid communication between the contracting parties.

Good project communication focuses on three general areas: planning, execution and post-project evaluation. Clear communication between a customer and a cleaning contractor in all three areas virtually guarantees project success.

Planning:
The planning stage should involve several key components:

1. On-site visits. An on-site visit is critical to successful planning, and the cleaning contractor should make on-site visits prior to service procurement. This is imperative if the service provider is new to the plant or if the customer requests cleaning tasks not previously performed by that contractor.

Familiarity with a plant's make-up is essential for the service contractor. The contractor needs to discuss issues such as water sources, disposal sites and access to vessels to be cleaned with the client’s staff.

2. A detailed review of the scope of the requested work. Both parties need to review all the steps involved in accomplishing the project's scope. This may sound elementary, but if omitted, the results are frequently undesirable. Having a detailed, step-by-step plan that both parties understand ensures the expected results and less downtime for the plant. The customer representative also should  clarify whether the client is providing any labor for the project. This often includes removing and replacing access hatches or cleanup. This input lets the contractor plan efficiently.

3. Upfront discussion of quality expectations. Each customer has different expectations for quality, and it is critical for them to communicate detailed quality expectations to the contractor. These can range from tubes perfectly polished and immaculate cleanup to something less in the interest of decreased downtime and expense.

4. Project-specific safety planning. Getting the job done safely is of mutual and vital importance. Safety representatives from both parties should agree on the scope-specific safety elements. A good contractor will share this information with his or her team in a pre-project meeting before mobilizing. Changes in project conditions or scope are reasons to revisit safety planning.

5. Establishing a point of contact for both parties. This is the first step in creating rapport and relationship building and ensures successful communications throughout the project. A designated point of contact improves the interactions between the contractor and the customer. To avoid communication misfires, each point of contact should be a decision-maker.

6. Timelines. An agreed project timeline is valuable for both parties when planning a shutdown. The customer company can plan its downtime, and the contractor can provide an accurate cost estimate, as well as honor other commitments.

7. Clarifying payment terms and conditions. Both parties need to agree on payment terms and conditions. Before the project, the contractor should provide an hourly fee schedule for additional work or unanticipated changes in scope. Additions, deletions or other scope modifications always should be documented with a change order that both parties sign. This prevents misunderstandings and promotes a strong relationship between customer and contractor.

Execution
Once the planning is done, the focus becomes project execution. Maintaining great communication continues to be essential and should include these major elements:

Project status updates
Timely updates are critical during the execution stage though the frequency of the updates preferred by each client varies. Some customer representatives want an hour-by-hour account while others just want their contractor to get in and get out and supply updates at the end of each shift or day. Whatever the case, both parties should be clear about the reporting requirements at the beginning of the project.

Unanticipated conditions
Expect the unexpected. Anything that could affect project timelines, fees and even safety should be communicated and addressed as soon as they occur. The points of contact for both parties need to discuss these unexpected situations and agree on how they will be handled. The contractor then should communicate the changes to all project personnel.

Work stoppage points
Although the planning process may address this, unforeseen situations that require longer-than-estimated work hours, such as tubes fouled worse than anticipated, can occur . The parties need to consider both the project timeline and worker fatigue to keep the project safe and downtime minimal. Safety representatives from both parties should agree to the maximum continuous hours worked per shift.

Post-task inspections
Both the contractor and the customer should conduct inspections after a task has been completed and before the contractor moves on to the next task. This prevents wasted time resetting equipment and keeps the project efficiently moving forward .

Project Wrap-Up and Review
A post-project discussion is essential for the both parties and should address the following questions:

1. What went well and exceeded expectations?

2. What could have been accomplished or communicated more effectively or efficiently?

3. How could a different approach have been better, faster or safer?

Although the customer and contractor won't have time to hold this discussion at the end of the project, both parties should make individual notes on these questions. Once the plant is operational and time permits, holding a wrap-up meeting is the single most effective action that the customer and contractor can take to promote continuous improvement. Involving everyone from both teams in this process precludes missing any good ideas.

Once both parties establish a template for communication and organization, their progress toward a common goal takes on a life of its own, which can be hugely beneficial. The customer gets the clear information that he needs to reduce downtime continuously and keep the plant producing efficiently. The contractor becomes familiar with the client's preferences, which eventually minimizes the preparation overhead. This type of relationship, built on loyalty, fairness and open communication will produce and amplify fantastic results over time. This in turn positively impacts the client’s bottom line with reduced risks. How can you beat that?

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