Rework Busters: How to Save Time, Money and Frustrations
“Not good enough; do it again!”
… is no one’s favorite sentence to hear on the job. As humans, we like to move forward, not backward, and nothing frustrates us like having to retrace our steps and complete a task we thought we’d already checked off the list.
Most of us discover this hatred of do-overs early on, such as back in the day when Mom and Dad asked us to wash the dishes again (and get all of those spots this time!). While necessary, it’s irritating, to say the least. Nonetheless, when the work at hand is a multi-million project or even multi-billion dollar megaproject, the fallout of construction rework can be more than simply frustrating–it can be downright devastating to the schedule and budget of a project.
Nowhere is this truer than in construction, where rework plagues owners, managers, subcontractors and laborers alike. It is one of the biggest reasons for stagnant and declining productivity, stealing hours, days and even months from projects. In some cases, it causes such severe missed deadlines and budget overruns that builders fail to meet contracts and face legal consequences, or at the very least, loss of good name and potential future business.
If that sounds like a professional nightmare to you, as it does to most people in construction, you’ll be glad to hear that there is an answer. In fact, a lot of rework can be avoided, if only you understand the most common causes and how to prevent them.
So unless you love professional nightmares and do-overs, keep reading on to learn about how to reduce rework in construction.
Common Causes of Construction Rework: Identifying the Problem
First and foremost, it pays to understand why rework crops up in the first place. By that, we mean it literally pays to know the root of rework. Who is responsible? What processes or materials aren’t cutting the mustard? Why does information get lost in translation, and how does decision-making play in?
Here are a few of the most common reasons for rework in construction:
- Missing documents and details: Not having the information or the correct information you need when construction teams need it most
- Poor or ineffective procurement methods: Failing to get supplies in time or getting the wrong materials and supplies altogether
- Poor quality: Workers who don’t have the proper training to complete the work correctly or are just being careless in the execution
- Poor quality materials: Building supplies that don’t meet technical or structural requirements
- Poor supervision: Lack of proper oversight of subordinates
- Failure of structural design: A poor or incomplete design in the first place that does not meeting engineering standards
- Poor communication: The inability or barriers for teams to speak to one another in the field, especially when project information is all stored in a central space
- No collaboration: A work environment that fails to encourage proper teamwork, and might even create adversarial relationships between different stakeholders
- Misunderstanding of client requirements: Not understanding what the client is looking for, or being confused and failing to correct the problem
- Ineffective management or decision-making: Higher-ups who don’t know what they’re doing or don’t inspire others to follow
- No standard systems or processes: A failure to implement quality control and ensure the process and results measure up
- Schedule pressures: Rushing to meet a deadline and failing to adhere to designs or quality standards
The biggest factor to rework in construction, however, is design changes, errors and omissions. According to quality.org, “Up to 70% of total rework experienced in construction and engineering products are a result of design-induced rework.”
According to a meta-study conducted by the Islamic University of Gaza in collaboration with the Berlin School of Technology, “almost 80% of costs of deviations were related to design and 17% were construction related.”
The takeaway? Designers and contractors sow the seeds of rework in the very earliest stages of a project. Understanding what causes rework, however, isn’t enough to ensure you avoid it in the future. You must also gain the proper motivation and the right approach to mitigate the potential of rework effectively.
How Much Does Construction Rework Add Up? (Spoiler Alert: A Lot)
First, for the motivation part: understanding what happens if you choose not to address rework is a critical place to begin. Whereas the consequences of spotty dishes are minuscule–a lost half hour at most–the consequences of construction rework can significantly undercut your bottom line or even bankrupt you if the owner or other major project stakeholder is unhappy enough to litigate.
Even if the worst doesn’t happen, though, rework still results in:
According to some estimates, between 4-6% of total project cost is rework-related, and that’s only counting direct cost or reported rework. This estimate fails to capture all the little side projects and do-overs that suck up so much extra worker hours, materials and other financial resources. When you consider both direct and indirect factors combined, the cost is closer to 9%.
Staying on deadline is just as important as staying on budget. One of the biggest challenges to meeting final project deadlines and intermediate markers is productivity. Smooth workflow results in a much better chance of meeting projected deadlines, yet this is more of a distant dream than a reality for most companies.
Unfortunately, rework is one of the biggest productivity-sucks. In some cases, it can negatively impact productivity by up to 300%. The result is that a full 30% of all work performed by construction companies ends up being rework. Ouch.
Losing time and money, much like hearing “do it again,” is a source of serious malcontent for everyone on a project. Construction rework takes a toll on morale, with workers and contractors having to tear down work they thought they had already checked off and start over.
In turn, worker frustration can negatively impact productivity and motivation. That kick starts a new cycle of lost time and money, and so it goes. Consequences dire enough for you?
7 Ways to Reduce Rework in Construction
As we know from exploring the causes of construction rework above, most of it results from missteps in the early stages of a project, or from systemic problems that plague a project throughout its lifetime. Below, we’ve identified seven intelligent ways to reduce rework helping you to kick nightmares of redo and rework to the curb.
1. Ditch Paper and Manual Processes
Paper and outdated systems like Excel spreadsheets and lengthy email chains lead to error and incoordination. They do not reflect changes in real time, and workers are forced to trek long distances into an office to find the information they need–by which time it’s often too late to make good use of it. Instead, go digital and adopt technology to automate some of those tedious and typically error-ridden administrative processes like submittals.
2. Align Project Teams Early On
When all stakeholders and subcontractors on a project treat their spheres as independent of others, chaos is likely to prevail. Rather than letting havoc reign, consider implementing more modern and cohesive approaches like integrated project delivery (IPD), a collaborative delivery method that treats everyone on the project as part of one firm. When team members are aligned, at the start of a project, motivations shift from “how can I do my part” to “how can we complete the project together.”
3. Focus on Collaboration in the Design Phase with BIM
Failure to visualize and coordinate designs derails many a project, even before it is actually built. If you want to reduce construction rework due to design errors, employing the visual power of building information modeling (BIM) is critical. It allows everyone to see the plans, update them in real time and work accordingly. Team members are more likely to weigh in on big decisions at the very start of a project, reducing the chance of surprises later down the process.
4. Establish Reasonable and Flexible Construction Schedules
Make sure to carefully plan construction schedules, including accounting for labor shortage and any seasonal churns if relevant. Furthermore, it’s always wise to have a Plan B. Have a backup plan and also try to leave room to accommodate change. Make sure to add in extra time to the schedule so the pressure of meeting a deadline won’t cause faulty work or set project executives and owners up for disappointment.
5. Improve Field Communications
Communicating in the field is hampered by many roadblocks: many times paper designs, a central office that doesn’t always mesh with on-site needs and more. Instead, if you utilize cloud-based technology and collaboration software, like PlanGrid, you can solve much of that. The cloud will provide instant access to your project documents, on and offline, and collaboration software will keep communications seamless and centralized. In fact, according to a McGraw-Hill study, 76% of contractors using cloud technology reported improved team collaboration.
6. Set Quality Standards
A laissez-faire approach might sound like a good idea in principle, but in reality, it is nothing of the sort in construction. Instead of hoping for the best, adopt systematic standards for processes, workflows, tools and equipment. Institute a system of checks and balances to ensure quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) is met to reduce the potential of construction rework.
If you’re looking to improve your standardization in construction, read our recent guide.
7. Invest in Continued Training
Research indicates that the more money you spend on training, the less the rework cost will be. Contractors who have conducted training programs regularly reduce rework costs between 11-22%, according to the same Islamic University of Gaza/Berlin School of Technology report. While training is an upfront cost that can seem high for cost-conscious constructors, the right training will reduce your costs over time by decreasing the likelihood of mistakes and errors, while improving productivity.
Reducing Rework: An Ongoing Process
At the end of the day, like anything else in life or construction, rework is mostly a matter of understanding and effort–and it starts with early action. If you comprehend the most common causes and take immediate steps to alleviate the potential and problem, you’re far less likely to suffer big time at its hands. Keep the above tips in mind, and get ready to avoid cost overruns, missed deadlines and ticked-off owners and investors.
As an added bonus, you never have to hear the phrase “Do it again!” … again.