The dangers, risks and costs of ambiguity in construction contract documents

There’s been a war going on, for longer than the oldest of us are alive, between project Owners and Contractors. The endless skirmishes are mostly about project scope, and to a much lesser degree, about project time. These skirmishes – a global phenomena – have become so pervasive that we take them for granted; we can’t remember any other way.

Perhaps it is time to pause for a moment, to look at the roots of these conflicts, and to see if there is a better way to go about creating the built environment. I’m far from the first to suggest we re-think this issue; there have been many efforts over the decades to find less fractious ways to get things built. None have made much difference.

Design professionals are often caught up in this war, both as “meat in the sandwich” foot soldiers in clashes between Owners and Contractors, and directly with Owners of all stripes over their own scope of work negotiations. That’s a different paper, to come.

There’s collateral damage in these wars. In commercial construction it is often the end users and those who buy the construction created. In the government sector, it’s almost always the taxpayers and end-users, who live with the consequences of bad decisions long after the politicians who made them have left.

The causes? On the Owners’ side, the primary drivers are seeking value and certainty. On the Contractor’s side, the primary drivers are profitability and certainty.