Amman-based Construction Management Associates (CMA) recently launched Forensics, a new service offering construction crisis consulting to companies involved in giga projects across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

As construction of mega and giga projects skyrockets in MENA and especially in Saudi Arabia, with the inevitable cost overruns and delays, there is a need for consultants who have the "deep expertise" to manage resultant crises, Isam Saad Sahawneh, Founder, President, and CEO of CMA, observed.

"We recognise that each aspect of a construction project requires meticulous attention to detail and specialised expertise. Therefore, we apply a rigorous methodology to each Forensics service, ensuring that we delve deep into the intricacies of the specific issue," he said in an interview with Zawya Projects.  

The firm provides six services under the Forensics offering.

"Our expertise, honed through years of practical experience in the construction industry, informs our judgment across the various Forensics services we provide," stated Sahawneh.

The CMA chief brings over 40 years of experience in the global construction sector, ranging from leadership roles in Dywidag Systems International in Hong Kong and VSL International in Switzerland to expert testimony across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Northeast Asia, and Southeast Asia.

"In addition to our hands-on experience, we leverage our in-depth knowledge of the Government Tenders and Procurement Law [in Saudi] and insights gleaned from precedents set by the Board of Grievances and Commercial Courts. This wealth of legal expertise bolsters the arguments we construct to support our clients' positions," he noted. 

Sahawneh explained that a typical engagement involves pinpointing the problem, conducting a thorough analysis, and comprehensively understanding the problem's nuances.  

"Identifying constraints, notably financial limitations, we generate a range of alternative solutions before meticulously selecting the most optimal one," he said.

"Our recommendations are grounded in best practices, industry standards, and proven methodologies, ensuring they are insightful, feasible and impactful."

He said the CMA team doesn't hesitate to question conventions that lack logic or challenge entrenched norms that advocate for alterations to standard Conditions of Contract.  

"Ultimately, our goal is to equip our clients with the knowledge, insights, and strategies they need to overcome challenges and succeed in their construction projects," he said.

Excerpts from the interview:

Your launch description about Forensics showcases it as "an innovative trilogy of deep construction, management and contracts know-how, packaged as consulting services for contractors, project owners and developers on giga projects in MENA." Could you elaborate on the trilogy aspect?

The successful completion of any construction project hinges upon a delicate balance of three critical pillars: construction, management, and contracts. Each plays a crucial role in guiding the project from inception to completion, and the absence of deep experience in any one of them can significantly diminish the likelihood of success.

Construction experience forms the foundation of any successful project. Practical experience in construction encompasses a broad range of knowledge and skills, including familiarity with construction methods and industry best practices.

Effective management is the guiding force that keeps the project on track, on time, and within budget. Strong management skills are essential for maintaining project momentum, ensuring smooth communication, and resolving issues promptly and amicably.

The construction industry is highly complex – involving subcontractors, multiple suppliers and manufacturers, and professional services firms, to name a few – and no person could ever learn everything there is to know within their lifetime. For this reason, we humbly seek the advice of subcontractors regarding their specific trades when it comes to defining their scope of work, planning, scheduling, and any other matter that someone with in-depth experience may best answer.

A thorough understanding of contracts is essential for protecting the interests of all stakeholders, mitigating risks, and resolving disputes. Projects are vulnerable to legal disputes, claims, and costly delays without a solid grasp of contractual nuances.

Forensics is meticulously built upon these three pillars, ensuring that our clients receive comprehensive support grounded in deep experience for the best chances of success.

However, when disputes are unavoidable, CMA objectively assesses the likely outcome of the dispute, whether in arbitration or litigation. Further, CMA assesses the cost involved in resolving the dispute, including the cost of the institution administering the dispute, the cost of the arbitrators, the cost of counsel, and the cost of expert witnesses.

We can work with the party's counsel to draft pleadings, select the appropriate witnesses, and attend evidentiary hearings. If appropriate, CMA can suggest an approach for an amicable settlement.

In the event of a meritorious claim, and given the exorbitant cost of disputes, and if funding is of concern, then CMA may be able to secure third-party litigation funding.

What specific subject matter expertise does your team possess? 

We have an all-encompassing team of management, procurement, design, planning, cost, contracts, claims and dispute practitioners who support project owners and contractors in navigating their projects from pre-design to post-construction. We endeavour to stay informed of best practices and the latest developments in the construction industry. We are willing to share unclassified information with the industry and maintain the strictest confidence in clients' unpatented ideas and know-how, providing them with a competitive advantage. 

Could you elaborate on forensic services offered by CMA and targeted clients and sectors?

CMA's Forensics services offer crisis consulting support to construction executive teams, project teams, and legal teams. We are sector-agnostic and have completed more than 100 successful projects in seven countries in the MENA region, including airports, bridges, power plants, dams, roads, factories, hospitals, high-rise towers, residential cities, metros, hotels, resorts, malls, universities, and cultural centres.

Our clients include owners, contractors, subcontractors and, to a limited extent, engineers. We have also provided our services to banks.

While our Forensics offerings are designed as short-term, we also provide long-term continuous consulting services to contractors and owners. We support owners in procurement strategy, construction management, design review and management. For contractors, we offer support in design, tender, contract, planning, claims, and dispute management.

Our Forensics offerings include six services:

Conditions of Contract Analysis: Tender phase analysis of contract conditions to identify onerous clauses, contradictions, duplications, and recommendations for reasonable interpretation, in addition to identifying important obligations that have been improperly allocated under various clauses.

Measurement Disputes: Interpretation of a contract, analysis of the rules of measurement and errors in the bill of quantities that have given rise to the dispute, and provision of an accurate estimate of the cost involved.

Construction Methods: Preparation of method statements for buildings and civil engineering, with narratives and drawings for activities including site mobilisation, building excavation and shoring, formwork systems, precast concrete construction, earthmoving, and bridge construction.

Engineering Delay Analysis: This is a forensic delay analysis to detect piecemeal approvals by the Engineer and determine whether the Engineer can be held responsible for project delays.

Specifications Interpretation: Review the specifications to ensure that they are written in the imperative mood, not the indicative or subjunctive mood and that the project specifications are free of non-measurable standards through escape clauses.

Cost to Completion: Interrogation of the project's cost estimate and establishment of the target budget, including any contingencies, to serve as a reference throughout the project, and end-of-contract forecasts, as well as a reconciliation of the final income statement between the project manager and the project accountant.

Could you describe your typical approach to analysis and investigations in providing these services? What findings do you typically uncover, and are these objective and quantifiable?

At the start of every project, we prioritise a comprehensive forensic analysis of the contract documents, meticulously scrutinising the contract conditions, specifications, design documents, and bills of quantities. This detailed examination allows us to identify any deviations from standard contract conditions, assess risks, pinpoint omissions, and detect general imbalances within the documents that could potentially lead to disputes in the future. By proactively addressing these issues, we aim to mitigate risks and foster smoother project execution from inception to completion.

When measurement disputes or cost-to-completion exercises arise, we use thorough analysis to generate quantifiable results. Whether reconciling measurement discrepancies or conducting detailed cost assessments, our approach ensures precision and clarity in findings. By providing clients with actionable insights derived from our analysis, we empower them to make informed decisions and effectively navigate any challenges that may arise throughout the project duration.

In what construction disputes or conflicts is forensic expertise most beneficial for clients? To what extent do your assessments serve as the basis for obtaining compensation or resolving disputes?

The primary sources of disputes on construction projects arise from improperly written conditions of contract, unclear measurement and specification methods, and assessments of delays. Our assessments rely on standards, case law and common sense. We'll always present our clients with a realistic view of a dispute, and we won't recommend claim preparation or legal proceedings if we believe our clients don't have solid grounds for recovering time or money.

Do your team members have experience serving as expert witnesses in court or in alternative dispute resolution (ADR) forums?

Although we have acted as expert witnesses on contractual and technical matters for many high-profile projects in Jordan over the last 25 years, this service is not actively promoted across the MENA region and is not part of our growth strategy moving forward. However, we may decide to invest more in this business in the future as the construction industry in MENA continues to evolve rapidly.

How do your services ensure efficient and equitable outcomes for project owners and contractors?

We serve both project owners and contractors, but never on the same project. While our objective is to best represent our clients on every project, we always present a fair assessment of a situation. An adversarial approach will cause a project to suffer, so we always strive to cultivate a problem-solving attitude, no matter who we represent, and keep the project's best interest at the forefront.

Our Forensics services were born from the realisation that clients often encounter particular problems that require short-term involvement and fast turnaround times so that projects can quickly get back on track while creating win-win situations and ensuring all parties remain committed to the successful completion of a project.

(Reporting by Anoop Menon; Editing by Dennis Daniel)


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