How to Put Your Project Back on Schedule
Mention construction delays to anyone in the industry and you’ll hear endless stories of projects that went weeks, months, and years over schedule. In fact, construction delays are so common that according to McKinsey Global Institute, 77% of megaprojects around the globe are 40% or more behind schedule. In each construction project, there are so many moving parts and individuals involved working to complete a project, it’s easy to understand how even the smallest change can negatively impact a project schedule. Furthermore, with delays often comes fines and fees, and construction companies that have too many delays can lose profits and potential customers.
Although delays are common, no one benefits from them and they can be extremely costly. While reasons for delays may be out of a worker’s control, i.e., the weather and natural disasters, some types of delays that can be controlled to a certain degree to avoid huge cost overruns. Project controls are no guarantee against costly delays, but will drastically increase the likelihood of avoiding them.
Like many issues during the construction process, being preemptive and proactive is the best way to handle potential schedule problems. By setting up communication and proper planning in advance, along with technology and tools to help reduce risks and increase ability, some of the most common types of construction delays can be avoided or at least reduced. In short, proper planning minimizes delays and helps construction companies meet more aggressive schedules, as well as gives those companies better control of their budgets.
What Types of Construction Delays Are Most Worrisome?
For the remainder of this post, we’ll cover the most common types of delays and then provide you with tips to help you avoid them. In general, the following four major areas of delays that can occur in construction are important to understand because they will impact projects in different ways:
Excusable vs. Non-Excusable Delays
As we already suggested, some delays are beyond our control. These are typically classified as excusable delays and include things like inclement weather and city or county issues that delay the work through no fault of the owner or people who have been contracted to complete the work. On the other hand, non-excusable delays happen because of poor planning and other issues including poor quality of work, faulty equipment, and subcontractors failing to meet deadlines. In short, these delays could have been avoided but weren’t, and all too often contractors are blamed and need to make arrangements to make up for the delay.
Of all delay areas, critical delays need the most immediate attention. Simply put, critical delays can stop the project from going forward, and definitely reduces the ability to get work done in the original scheduled time. No matter whose fault these delays are, they inevitably cost time and money If critical delays take place, you’ll inevitably be forced to adjust your project schedule and budget. If you encounter a critical delay, you might want to also move forward with an additional risk assessment to ensure similar critical delays do not arise.
Like the name suggests, when compensable delays occur, an owner will need to compensate contractors accordingly. Usually defined in the original construction contract agreement, compensable delays include errors and omissions and owner directed changes. While a number of factors can contribute to these delays, getting compensation for them is important and keeps the relationships between the owner and contractors fair and civil. Some of these delays may be arguable and have to be worked out, but if the original contract is specific in defining these delays and compensation, major disputes can, for the most part, be avoided.
When two or more delays happen at the same time, they often affect the original project schedule and are classified as concurrent delays. Construction companies that have trouble with managing one delay may find that other delays are bottling up and will have to be handled more aggressively to keep the project moving forward. Some concurrent delays can be controlled more than others, and it’s important to understand how one delay might impact other aspects of the project, so they can be addressed immediately when they come up.
Pre-construction Issues that Cause Delays
Now that you know about the types of delays that can occur, you can better anticipate for a wide-range of setbacks that could occur at any point in a project. Still, the best way to handle delays is to prepare adequately in the preconstruction phase.
Changes to the Project Scope
Unexpected change orders and scope creep happens on a large majority of projects, and with inaccurate scheduling, projects can get underestimated in a myriad of ways right from the start. When inaccuracy exists from the beginning, it can be very hard to catch up or make the right level of changes to get the project done in the time it was estimated. Keep in mind that getting a project done on time is not always a realistic option, and the delays that happen from underestimating can put your company in a negative light for future business.
Codes and Building Regulations
Sometimes a project is progressing nicely, but once the city gets involved and if they determine building regulations are not met, the project can have big delays. With an understanding of a wide-arrange of regulations in the first place, your construction project will be more focused on making sure the city regulations and other building codes and requirements are met right from the beginning. Without comprehensive knowledge of relevant rules and regulations, cutting corners to speed the project up will actually delay it more.
Financing or Budget Matters
Financing is another common need that can be addressed at the start of the planning phase. Naturally, having financing in place and lined up before a project begins can help reduce budget issues, but some projects do go forward with just partial financing. Due to the competitive bidding process, contractors will sometimes take this chance if they want to receive the project. Nonetheless, budgetary changes can become a serious issue for projects that overspend or that were designed around an expected, higher budget. Investing in budgeting software is one way to lower the chances of running into monetary problems and subsequent delays. Using this type of software definitely reduces risk and helps you in planning, but there is still a chance that delays will occur due to financing issues if they’re not managed properly throughout the course of the project.
Construction Stage Issues that Cause Delays
Making sure schedule changes are adequately anticipated for in the planning phase will definitely cut back delays, but do keep in mind important site management measures in the construction phase are needed to keep a project on track.
Labor Shortages and Overbookings
You may have plenty of people lined up to complete a project, and not have any other projects that have to be completed right then, but that could easily change one day to the next. Just like in any job, people get sick, relocate, or leave the company. In particular, employee turnover in construction is one of the highest of all industries at 21.4%. Even if you plan the right amount of staff for one project, other projects might come up if you win more bids and your workforce needs could change a moment’s notice so you don’t overbook. It’s also important to know your own project limitations. Even if you bid on an additional project and get it, if you’re short on people, you will certainly delay one if not more of your projects.
An Inefficient Crew
In addition to labor shortages, if the crew you have for a construction project isn’t efficient, you could end up with real problems. The quality of your subs could vary significantly from company to company and even person to person. It may take inefficient workers many more man-hours to complete something and when that becomes a problem, your project gets behind and could cost you more due to more billable hours. Inefficiency is a very real issue for a construction project and results in major delays and expenses that can be difficult to recover from. By pre-vetting your subcontractors and tracking which companies are providing you with the most efficient staff, you can make better decisions about your go-to crew making the most of their time on the clock.
Issues In All Stages that Cause Delays
The issue of human error needs to be controlled at all stages of a project. In particular, communication issues can have immense impacts on a schedule but is better controlled with the help of technology.
Gaps in Communication
Without collaboration and up-to-date communication, it’s easy to get behind on your construction project. If you’re using systems or procedures that don’t reflect changes in the moment, your project will be wide open for errors, rework, and delays. Using construction productivity software, like PlanGrid, helps because it allows you to communicate with your crew and everyone else involved in the project. It also helps ensure that collaboration is easy, so you have less to worry about and no one can claim that they were left out of the discussion when they needed to know something important about the project and its completion. While communication doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be delays, it certainly reduces the chances and makes it easier to get more done in a shorter period of time so your construction company can meet deadlines and complete projects efficiently and effectively.
The Bottom Line to Avoid Significant Construction Delays
Although projects seem to be delayed more often than they’re not, construction professionals should be aware of the varying degrees of delays and what causes them, in order to avoid as many of them as possible. Some construction delays simply cannot be avoided, but the damage they cause can often be mitigated with proper planning, communication, and software applications. When construction companies are prepared, delays become shorter and less frequent, helping them stay on time and on budget. In turn, the more successful and on time your project is, your ROI increases and your company now has more time and resources to win more work.