In the construction industry, you never know what is going to come in the way of delivering your project on schedule: unexpected weather changes, misunderstandings within your team, and poor planning can all stand in your way. It’s no doubt that the challenges encountered when finishing projects on time can create a great deal of stress for everyone involved.
We recently surveyed a group of project managers in the construction industry about their experiences. When asked, “what metrics are your team constantly striving to improve?” out of the 29 who responded, 28% stated that completing projects on time was a metric they aimed to get better at.
While it is no easy feat, it is vital for your team to do whatever is in their power to complete projects on time while maintaining scope, quality, and complying with company safety standards. Not only does this make project teams stand out within the company, but more importantly, it keeps clients happy.
In this article, we’ll cover the top 6 reasons construction projects fall behind schedule and present solutions so you can deliver your construction projects on time.
Why Projects Fall Behind Schedule
1. The Scope of Work is Not Initially Understood
It is easy to get caught up fighting for a project without completely understanding the minor details and exactly how the owner expects it to be carried out. However, without taking extra precautions to ensure the project is well-defined, teams sometimes take on more than they intended. In effect, as one respondent, Evan from Bear Construction states, “the scope of work is not completely understood.”
Define the scope of the project as early as possible.
According to an article from Wolfe Law Firm, “It is important … to outline your scope of work deliberately and specifically, because it will be a determining factor in one’s liability to another party.”
Do not place your bid until you know exactly what is expected of your team, including extra details that can only be discovered by asking questions.
The article also states that “The general contractor would not want to sign a general contract with a broad, open-ended scope of work because then the [owner] could read much further into the provision than was intended.” When negotiating a contract, make sure the terms of the contract are clear and well defined in order to avoid being held responsible for something outside the original project plan.
Free construction contract templates:
This free, one-page template for a contractor agreement includes a section for contractors and owners to define the scope of the project before moving forward with the project. You can download it here. Be sure to replace, “all of the work” with more concrete specifications about the job.
Here is one more construction contract template, drafted by legal professionals at UpCounsel.com. This template is 4 pages, and leaves more space to define the scope of the job. You can download it here.
Finally, here are 30 more scope of work templates from TemplateLabs.
2. Errors in Communication
How many times have you or a team member misinterpreted an email or verbal communication because of its lack of details?
Many of the PMs we spoke with told us communication was an issue within their entire team. A failure of communication to understand schedule deadlines, lead times, or sub constraints can create many loopholes in the way your team carries out their tasks, thus reducing productivity.
Other communication barriers that create delays range from ambiguous drawings to a reduction of accuracy as messages are passed along the many areas of a construction team. Due to these errors, people often fall behind on project updates.
How to overcome communication errors:
The study Effective Communication as an Aid to Construction Project Delivery presents three ways that communication errors can be resolved:
- USE FEEDBACK to “[ensure] that [the] message is well understood by the receiver and action is taken.”
- USING REINFORCEMENT OR BACKUP. “For example, information may be passed verbally and also backed up by a written letter.”
- USE DIRECT LANGUAGE “When one speaks or gives orders in a plain and simple language, then the other party easily understands. The use of ambiguous words will be eradicated.”
To implement these three steps in one sweep, try using a solution like Priority Matrix, where you can centralize communication and gain real-time visibility of what your team is working on. Priority Matrix helps cut down on ambiguous email threads by providing a platform to delegate action items, along with context-based chats that can be referenced by members of your projects.
3. Subcontractors are Running the Show
You know how it goes. A team of subcontractors comes in and says “you have one idea, but we do things a different way”. Next thing you know, the superintendent has minimal control left. This can result in schedules being extended and budget increases. How do you gain back control?
How to manage subcontractors:
First and foremost, the superintendent needs to discuss the specific plan and ideas with the subcontractors before they begin the project. State your expectations and standards and make sure that the subcontractors understand them. Similar to the definition of scope discussed when bidding for a project, subcontractors should have a narrowly defined scope when they arrive at the jobsite.
While a contract is not required for subcontractors, consider it necessary to ensure completion of the project in the way that the superintendent desires.
Finally, if something does come up and the subcontractors can’t perform as intended, take a second to breathe before reacting. Give them a chance to state why they are not able to do what you want and what they can do instead.
Unfortunately, things don’t always go as expected. In that case, keep an open mind. As one PM said, “through strong relationships with subcontractors and being able to deal with different personalities, you will be able to get the most out of people.”
You’ve probably learned to expect the unexpected in regards to weather. Since we can’t demand the rain stop falling, PMs have to find ways to work around the weather, rather than try to control it.
Overcome setbacks of bad weather in construction:
So, how do you work around the ice, heat, and sleet?
First, you can reference data from looking at reports of the location’s weather from previous years before starting the project. US Climate Data is a great site to start with in terms of generating expectations for local weather. Weather.gov also provides great insights regarding snowfall and rain.
Rusty Reynolds of Contractors Inc. tells us that his company tracks bad weather days and records these instances to share with their customers to prevent extended delays. For example, if you’re working in the winter in Denver, take snow into consideration when planning your schedule. Being transparent with customers about potential weather on the front end helps keep the relationship positive.
Secondly, if you know that unfavorable weather conditions are coming, safeguard the site in advance. Nathan of MAPP Construction advises, “you cannot always prevent weather and unforeseen site conditions, so the best course of action to take is an immediate one. As the contractor, you need to be the driving force in coming up with a solution that works for all parties.”
5. The General Contractor is Behind
When the General Contractor is behind, this holds everybody back in some way, shape, or form and also can push the timeline back. What’s more, when a GC falls behind without updating the overarching project plan, this miscommunication can lead to more unexpected delays due to a lack of coordination.
How to overcome this:
The best way to make sure your team understands the long-term project plan is by using a tool like Procore, Primavera or Microsoft Projects to define your timeline. Tools like Priority Matrix, mentioned above, are useful to manage the day-to-day tasks and exchange of information, while tools like Procore and Primavera allow you to see a large scale picture of the project and where you should be at different stages.
However, just having the Project Management software doesn’t instantly solve the problem. One big challenge that the project managers told us they face is that not everybody complies when they are told they have to update Primavera once a week.
To make sure that your team updates the project plans regularly, set aside 1-2 hours every week to update the plan and make it a regular occurrence in your schedule, rather than an extra task. To make sure that everybody complies, some managers using Priority Matrix create tasks for their team such as ‘Update Procore’ or ‘Update P6’. When the task is documented in a shared collaboration platform, it increases accountability, meaning it’s more likely the task will get done.
Construction Scheduling Tools
Here is a list of over 100 different long-term scheduling software solutions used in the construction industry. For those who prefer a manual method of project planning, the most commonly employed technique is the Critical Path Method. Using this spreadsheet from Vertex24.com you can avoid complex software like Microsoft Project while enjoying the effectiveness of a well-laid out construction schedule.
6. Unexpected Changes
“Let go of things you can’t change and focus on things you can,” said no project manager ever.
Every PM knows the feeling of frustration when their equipment doesn’t arrive on time, or the owner of the project states that they want something that wasn’t in the original project plan. Approving changes for projects can take a long time and push your schedule back quite a bit.
Luckily, there are many different ways to reduce unexpected changes.
How to manage unexpected changes in your project:
- If the owner of the project wants the change, let them know the repercussions on the timeline early on. Transparency helps build a strong relationship with the project owner, and your project won’t be considered “behind schedule” if the additional time is agreed upon at the time of the change.
- Identify potential changes early on. This might involve thinking back to changes that lengthened your timeline in previous experiences with similar projects. If possible, integrate these potential changes into your Critical Path planning to reduce the chance of changes interfering with your schedule.
- Delays are inevitable when materials do not come in on time. If it is in your budget, add additional equipment to be prepared in case things change, especially if that equipment can be used in the future for another project.
- Agree on a point with the project owner where no more intentional changes are allowed to be made. This will ensure that you do not lose any valuable time due to late-stage changes in the plan.
- After the project ends, do an analysis of the unexpected changes that delayed the project, so you can be better prepared next time.
Following these measures will allow you to prevent any delays, establish more organization, and finish your project on schedule, increasing the success of your team and company tremendously.
So, what are you waiting for? You have a timeline to complete!