Carlo Jansen: Every great project starts with good contract management

Written by LetsBuild

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Carlo Jansen is a construction management expert based in Antwerp, Belgium. He has 10 years of experience in contract management including the 8 years he spent managing the construction and refurbishment of 170 buildings while working as the Manager of Infrastructure for the Antwerp Port Authority.
He currently works with freelance contracts consulting on construction management, architecture, facility, workplace innovation, real estate and energy efficiency. He’s an advocate for energy savings and enjoys doing assimilations for buildings’ energy performances.
Carlo is a legend in Belgian construction and we recently talked to him to hear his insights about construction, construction technology and the most overlooked aspect: how construction collaboration is central to all of these. What follows is a lightly edited transcript of the interview.

You have an impressive construction background working with massive infrastructure projects. Can you share with us briefly your career path?

Carlo Jansen: I worked as a manager of infrastructure (buildings and roads), architecture and energy efficiency for the Antwerp Port Authority for ten years. The last eight years, I was managing the construction and refurbishment activities of a portfolio of 170 buildings of the Antwerp Port Authority. My responsibility included facility management (hard and soft facilities). The most challenging project I handled was the Antwerp New Port House where I got the chance to work with Zaha Hadid Architects and with Zaha Hadid herself. It was a complicated project as the original building (the old fire station) had to be preserved while attaching a modern structure above it. We finished the project September of 2016.
I now work with freelance contracts that change within 2-3 months. My team and I have worked with all the big Royal offices in Belgium to come up with the best contract possibilities. We have been part of about six building projects with a total of €150 billion.

What would you advice to someone who is just starting in the construction management industry?

Good contract management is very important. In order for you to get what you ask of the contractors, you have to establish a clear understanding of the contract with your team and all parties. Everything has to be clear from the beginning. Good planning and good budget control should be highlighted so that every cost is foreseen and that the parties involved would be in control. I cannot stress enough that everything starts with good contract management.

Talk about the biggest failure you’ve had. What did you learn from it?

One failure I cannot forget was for a big project. My lead architect became ill and instead of replacing her (thinking she will get better soon), I took all her responsibilities and juggled two roles. I did not have time to oversee the whole project. I should have looked for a replacement but it was not clear from the beginning how long she will be gone. This experience reinforced the idea that in a construction team, everyone has their own role to play and how important those specific roles are. My failure to make a decision regarding this affected the entire flow of the project.

What would you say is the number one key to success in your business?

It’s very important to have a good team alongside good contract management. You have to have the right people with the right skills.

What has been the biggest challenge thus far in your career?

In my early days with the port, I had to develop a technology for loading and unloading stocks and cargos. Together with a team, we built the cranes, stocking buildings and a loading/unloading technology system to deal with all the goods that go in and out of the port.

What’s your personal opinion on the disruption and digitalisation of the construction industry? How do you see the future of construction?

Contract management is always very challenging. It’s always a task to make sure everyone knows what he has to do, what the budget is and what the deadline is and to polish contract negotiations for all parties before building something. The contract management system went from a contractor-supplier system to a system of design-build-maintain-finance in the contract. And with ICT applications, the new contract system makes things easier, faster, and with better control of timing and budget planning. This evolution took 5 to 10 years in Europe.
Additionally, when you have a huge project, you can have around 8,000-10,000 drawings. When I started in the industry, it was difficult to immediately have the right drawing or plans for any given project. You will have to find the correct drawings in your archives which takes a lot of time. Now, all is digital. It’s a lot easier to find particular documents and specific drawings on site. Personally, I think the digital transformation of construction is a good thing. There’s so much information on site that you have to be sure that the right people have the right information at the right time. By making everything digital, you can track work progress, you can be sure that the latest design, solutions, and versions of the drawings and plans are being used. It makes construction management easier and clearer. Digitalisation is an absolute must.

“There’s so much information on site that you have to be sure that the right people have the right information at the right time. Digitalisation is an absolute must.”

Like what you read? Check out the previous interview where we discussed the digital revolution in construction from an Australian point of view with Paul Netscher. So far, our interviewees lean towards digitalisation, which aligns with our stand – that embracing new ideas would solve the old age problems in the industry.