When reviewing the details of a large claim, it is often difficult to pinpoint how things could have been done differently. But after the claim has been resolved, I think it is important for firm leaders to take a step back and review the circumstances that led to the claim. Sometimes claims are driven by outside factors that are truly not the firm’s responsibility, such as the collapse of the economy that drives the client to try to recover costs for a project that is not expected to perform as well due to changed circumstances. Often times, there is some element in the firm’s operations that could have been done differently to avoid the claim or to dramatically lessen the severity of the claim. The answer often lies in one or more of the following three areas:
1. What was the work that had to be done? This generally means properly identifying the scope, quality, and budget. Hopefully this was identified in the contract and any subsequent changes were properly executed. You should examine whether you had properly identified the actual work that had to be done.
2. Who was supposed to complete the work and did they perform as expected? This includes an honest evaluation of your staff and the subconsultants that you chose to hire. If your evaluation reveals some weaknesses, you should consider developing training plans to make your staff more capable. You should also look at the responsibilities that the client had to you to provide information you could rely on in a timely manner.
3. How were you going to get the work done? Did you have adequate resources to devote to the job? And how did you do when the job started? Honest answers to these questions will help you identify possible problems about how work is actually completed in your firm.
The purpose of this exercise is to learn from your mistakes. If you do this honestly and actively implement changes based on your evaluations, then over the long run you will be able to reduce your risk profile.