Times Up! Q&A with Delay Expert, Stephen Lowsley
After nearly 50 years in the Construction Industry, Diales Delay Expert, Stephen Lowsley has now semi-retired.
In this light-hearted article, he is interviewed about his career by Gary Coward, Coventry Office’s answer to Jeremy Paxman.
How many years have you worked in the construction industry and how did it all start?
A very long time ago Gary! I left school in the summer of 1972, aged 16 and not really knowing what I wanted to do. At that time jobs were easy to come by and without making any great effort I was offered several jobs including telecoms apprentice, RAF recruit, engineering apprentice and a foundation course at art college. As I said Gary, I did not know what I really wanted to do!
Eventually in late 1972 I joined William Moss and Sons, a medium sized Contractor as a Trainee Planning Engineer and they provided a good grounding and introduction to construction. I have worked in the construction industry since this time, mainly as a Planner or Delay Analyst/Expert , having been employed by contractors, owners, designers, and consultants, in the UK and overseas.
How and when did you become a Delay Expert?
Good question Gary. A bit of a long story really. By the late 1980’s I had worked for many contractors, mainly in a site-based role, and I was getting a bit frustrated with many Contractors’ general approach to planning and programming. On several projects I worked on, but certainly not all of them, the planning role was not taken as importantly as I considered it should. There were cases where I was asked to produce and manipulate programmes, mainly just to satisfy the Employer, rather than to assist in the control the works. Control of many of the projects was largely based on cost, rather than what I considered to be good proactive management.
When you have spent 50 years in the construction industry, you may become as cynical as me!
Anyway, enough of my moans. In the early 1990’s I undertook full time study at Loughborough University gaining an MSc in Construction Management. Following this I decided to try my hand at being self- employed which went relatively well and over a period of around four years I was involved with the planning and programming of many diverse projects.
In the mid-1990’s I was invited to form a partnership with four other like-minded planners, providing general planning services to contractors. Contractors, in many cases, considered us an unnecessary cost, however, we found we were becoming in high demand where disputes concerning delay were involved. At the time, we were renting our office in Coventry from a leading Quantum Expert and Arbitrator, who generously provided us with advice and contacts.
My partners and I found delay analysis an interesting and academic challenge and as a bonus, our monthly invoices increased. The money wasn’t the main reason though Gary, honestly.
From this time, I have mainly acted as a Delay Expert and enjoyed every bit. Well, mainly every bit, but probably not the cross examination.
How would you simply describe the secret of good delay analysis?
The questions are getting harder Gary.
There is no magic secret. In my opinion, delay analysis involves a detailed review of the facts and the application of experience and common sense.
With any delay analysis, no matter what methodology is used, there is unlikely to be any precise answer. Although a lot of hard work and a detailed review of the evidence is always required, extensive analysis in an endeavour to find a precise answer is not, and it can be misleading.
If any form of computer-based analysis is considered as appropriate, it should be undertaken with great care, and with full knowledge of the potential pitfalls. Any calculated answer needs to be considered in the light of common sense and experience.
That’s my official answer, however, there are three unwritten rules in respect of ‘good’** delay analysis:
Rule 1 – If there are no records, or if there is any doubt, make something up;
Rule 2 – Anything you make up should be accompanied by a programme, produced in as many different colours as possible, with no attempt to provide any explanatory narrative;
Rule 3 – The coloured chart should be printed at such a scale that it is illegible.
**This is not advice, but Stephen’s pithy sense of humour.
What are your personal career highlights?
A bit of a difficult question there Gary.
Some good memories though. I remember when I was sent out on site for 18 months as part of my training. Being the naïve office trainee, I was given a ‘stop-go’ board, and told to control the traffic. I spent a day and a half standing in the road in the pouring rain. A very wet and miserable experience, but what a great sense of power. Temporary traffic lights have spoilt all the fun.
In late 1985 I was working for Laing Wimpey Alireza in Jubail, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The project was a 150-bed turn-key hospital, the construction of which was virtually complete, with the Laing Wimpey ex-pat management team being reduced to about eight of us.
I used to share a villa with the accountant who only visited Jubail on a part time basis. One Thursday lunchtime (Friday was the day off) the accountant flew in from Riyadh and told me in confidence that we were ‘doing a runner’ and leaving the country that night. It was only when he showed me a briefcase full of cash and passports that I believed him.
I was given strict instructions to work the afternoon and to ‘act normally’, and not to tell anyone else due to the danger of us all being arrested and having our passports confiscated to keep us in the country. That night, we took as much as we could carry, left our accommodation at set intervals, and drove to the airport in separate cars, carefully within the speed limit.
The cars were left at the airport, with the keys in, and we all checked-in separately, hoping that no one would discover our plan. Once the aircraft left the runway, a fair amount of British Airway’s free alcohol was consumed. Although I never saw it myself, I am reliably informed that we got a small mention in the Daily Telegraph.
Probably not a highlight Gary, but a good story.
Can you describe how the industry has changed over the years?
How long have you got Gary?
There have been substantial changes since I started in 1972, and it is difficult to cover all of them.
Construction management has changed. In the 1970’s, most construction managers had come up through the trades, which in itself was not a bad thing, as they possessed hands-on experience of the construction process, however, they probably lacked management skills and knowledge of the contract. I think it’s fair to say that management styles and the whole construction environment was very macho.
Today, this has changed with construction management becoming much more professional, however, I feel some of the hands-on experience has been lost.
In the 1970’s, apart from the occasional architect and main office secretaries’, women involved in construction were virtually non-existent. There are now many women involved in all aspects of construction, which has possibly reduced the industries macho stigma, and definitely added to the professionalism of Construction Management.
Health and safety has improved unbelievably.
The whole structure of contracting has changed. In the 1970’s most projects consisted of traditional construction elements, with contractors having their own directly employed resources. Today, the construction process and materials are much more technologically advanced, with the Contractor acting more as a manager, co-ordinating the works of the various subcontractors.
Planning and programming are now much more accepted as a means of managing the works, with one of the main advances being the introduction of the personal computer and planning software. Having said this, the basic planning skills of building up programmes from first principles, has probably become a little lost with it being all too easy to produce programmes consisting of hundreds, if not thousands, of activities. In my own experience, such large programmes often lack credibility, and in some cases, are to a certain extent meaningless.
Sorry Gary, starting to sound a bit cynical again.
If you could change anything about your career, what would it be?
I’ve always fancied being a postman, or the guy who drives the sit-on mower for the council and cuts the verges.
Seriously though, as with any retrospective delay analysis, it is wrong to theorise about what might have occurred. In life, it’s always easy to look back and discuss what might have been, but on the whole, I’ve really enjoyed my time in the construction industry. The main thing is, I’ve had a few laughs.
I’m sure there are some who would suggest I would have made a better postman than delay analyst!
For those that don’t know you well, running has played a big part in your life. What has been your proudest achievement… to date?!?
I have always enjoyed running, but don’t pretend to have ever been very quick. I once ran a half marathon in 84 minutes, which is not too bad. This was before the internet though, and I only had Roger Banister’s 4-minute-mile as a guide. A bit disappointed, that I only averaged a six-and-a-half-minute mile.
It may seem strange but running has always helped with my delay analysis. After spending 4 or 5 hours reading through 5-year-old diaries, a 30-minute run clears your mind.
Probably my proudest achievement is that, aged 65, I can still go out on a Sunday morning and run 10 – 15 miles. I won’t tell you how long it takes though Gary.
On a more serious note, I have been with Diales for nearly 9 years, and will still be providing delay analysis for them following my semi-retirement. This is the longest that I have worked with any organisation, which must say something (don’t be old and cynical like me and say it’s because no one has found me out).
I can honestly say that I have thoroughly enjoyed working with such a highly professional team, and I would like to thank everyone in every department and office throughout Driver Trett for their support, assistance, and friendship.
The same goes for everyone outside the organisation; lawyers, contractors etc., who have been equally supportive.