A Guide to Operation & Maintenance (O&M) Manuals Part 2.
Common Problems and Solutions

This article is a follow on from our earlier “O&M Manuals. What are they and how do you ‘do’ them?” Please read that article first if you haven’t done so already.

This article describes some of the problems that we regularly encounter during the production of O&M Manuals and other handover documentation and ways to overcome them.

Problem 1. Lack of resources?

This is very simple. If you want a decent set of O&M manuals and other handover documentation, then you need to ensure that if you’re doing them in house that the people you’re expecting to put them together have the time and ability to do so. It’s just not fair to expect site personnel to do this on top of everything else without some sort of help. Companies like us can take the hassle away completely if you want to go down that route but if you decide to go with the in-house option, please give your people the time and training to do them properly.

Problem 2. Poor communications

Ring as well as email. There is a tendency nowadays to text, email or message people in preference to the more traditional picking up a phone and talking to them. Emails are great as they keep a record of communications but there is still a place for phoning. There have been plenty of times where we have not received replies to our numerous requests for information (rfis) but when we phone, we find that the person we’re dealing with has maybe gone on holiday, been transferred to another job, left the company or even died but no one has thought to look at their emails.

One phone call can be all that’s needed to find out what’s happening and to redirect enquiries to someone who can supply what is needed.

Also, O&Ms tend to drop down everyone’s priority lists (apart from ours) so emails can just get ignored. There’s no better way to get someone to respond positively than to politely ask them in person rather than by email.

Problem 3. No one has properly read the spec and questioned the O&M requirements.?

Very often, the O&M requirements laid out in the spec have been copied from a previous job or are from a standard piece of text dating back years. If you have your own preferred O&M layout and template then it’s worth asking the client if they can be used instead. If they agree it can make things simpler to work with a familiar template and if they don’t then you just continue with the one in the spec. No harm in asking.

If you are required to follow the O&M layout in the spec, have a look at all the specs and see if there are contradictions. Quite often there will be separate O&M instructions in the architects, mechanical and electrical specifications. If this is the case, point this out to your client and ask for verification as to which one should be used. Get the layout agreed as early as possible as it can be a huge pain if you have to convert from one layout to another later in the job.

If the spec requires a printed (hard) copy, it may be worth checking if this is still a requirement. These days, people are becoming more and more aware about the importance of minimising environmental impact and the requirement for printed copies may be out of date. If the client is happy with a downloadable electronic version for storage on The Cloud or on their servers then it’ll help an Orangutang or two and will save you time and money.

Similarly the days of CDs and DVDs are pretty much over now with memory sticks being preferred and direct downloads being quicker and cheaper than even them.

Problem 4. Ascertain what degree of detail is required in the Description of Works / Scope of Works section

Nearly all O&Ms will require a summary of the works covered in that manual. Some clients require this to be a full description similar to the one in the job specification (but converted to past tense and edited to accurately reflect the works) or they may be happy to have a simplified bullet point list that just gives a rough overview of the job. This is not necessarily a ‘bodge’ option because the finer detail of what was installed and where it went is available in other parts of the documentation such as the drawings and equipment and finishes schedules.

Again, it’s worth asking as a bullet point list will be a lot quicker to compile than the full descriptive textural version.

Problem 5. ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’

As a company, we try to minimise the number of parties who will be checking the documentation. With new clients, we’re often asked for multiple progress updates from multiple people. This is understandable because they will want to know where their money is going and that they’re getting the service they are paying for, but it can be a problem for us if too many people are involved.

Typically, issues arise when our client has been issued a draft copy of the documentation. They may then keep it for a couple of days before passing it onto their client, consultant or someone else. This third in line person may not view the documents for a week or two after it was issued. He / she can then get annoyed because the information they’re reviewing is out of date. They produce a load of comments and complaints about the information which can take a while filtering their way back to us.

We then need to inform that person that they wasted their time on an old draft version and that most of their comments have already been addressed.

So we prefer to deal directly with anyone who’s interested in viewing the documents so that we can make sure that they have the latest version.

Problem 6. The manuals are left until the last minute.n

One of the biggest problems we face is when the manuals have been forgotten or just left too long before being started.

At the end of a job there is more chance that people have fallen out with other people, not been paid, gone bankrupt or are just too busy finishing the work to be bothered with contributing info for the O&Ms. Because of these difficulties, we charge more for late notice jobs as they’re always going to more difficult and will likely involve out of hours and weekend work.

We prefer to get involved as early as possible in a job life cycle. Even at the point of our client tendering for the work.

Once the job starts we can lay the foundations of the manuals and sort out who to nag for information at what point in the job. If things are planned out with enough time, we can quietly build the O&Ms without unduly annoying people at the busiest point of the project.

Problem 7. The manuals look cheap and badly done

A poorly presented or laid out manual gives a bad first impression. Generally speaking, a well presented set of docs is more likely to contain the correct information than a scruffy set.

Check for typos. Check for visual arrangement of the images logos etc. There few things more likely to annoy a client than having a poor, out of proportion or badly sited logo of theirs sitting on the front cover.

Problem 8. Subcontractors will not provide the information or leave it very late to do so

Don’t let them fob you off with the old excuses “There are still changes being made” or “we’re waiting for the As Built drawings or test certs / commissioning sheets”. Even if there are good reasons why certain bits of information can’t be supplied, there’s no reason why everything else shouldn’t be available.

Subcontractors often view their O&M contributions as annoying extra work that they gain nothing from. The more far thinking ones realise that this information has to be provided and that if they put a little time into doing right the first time it will save them time and money and reflect well on their general professionalism in the long run.

Problem 9. Thinking that no one reads the O&Ms anyway

O&Ms are regarded by many as an overblown box ticking exercise. That’s one view, but there are two things to bear in mind:-

  1. O&Ms are almost always a pre-condition to being able to achieve PC and getting paid in full.
  2. If something goes wrong after handover, you can bet the O&Ms get read then and in detail. Grenfell! – enough said.

Recently, for example, we produced an O&M manual which included advice on cleaning an expensive specialist leather finish.  Within 6 months of the building being occupied, the leather had been ruined by the cleaners.  The occupier went straight to the O&M manual, expecting to see vague or no cleaning advice.  Instead, they found detailed and specific care & maintenance instructions, which had not been followed.  Our client could not be held liable under their warranty and saved thousands of pounds.

We hope this article has been of help. If you need more advice or are now thinking that you’re better off subbing them out to someone else, please call us on 01580 240431.