Construction schedule setbacks are a near-universal, and universally costly, experience. The International Journal of Project Management identifies a list of 28 (!) well-recognized causes for construction scheduling delays, which gives a sense of the sheer volume and variety of factors that must be taken into account when estimating the duration of most construction projects.
Additionally, according to McKinsey & Company’s 2016 piece on Construction’s Digital Future, large capital projects are typically 20 months late, and 80% over the original authorized budget. That’s because each seemingly minor delay causes costly construction project setbacks that ultimately create one or more of these problems:
- Labor cost overruns
- Material cost overruns
- Storage cost overruns
- Disruption of cash flow due to project end date extensions
- Loss of use
The difficulty of predicting delays contributes significant uncertainty and risk to every project. Construction companies who can conduct effective quality control can accurately predict and reliably reduce project delays, and gain considerable competitive advantage and reduce rework while improving their own profit margins.
To that end, we’ve talked to many contractors to help them identify the causes of their project delays. We’ve uncovered a short list of common causes that crop up time and time again, many of which can be eliminated, managed and/or predicted. The three biggest ones we see are:
- Lack of scheduling accountability
- Lack of alignment between project teams
- Inefficient work processes
Let’s take a closer look.
1. Lack of accountability in construction scheduling
In a traditional construction environment, responsibility for project scheduling often falls to a single or several individuals, tasked with outlining when each element of construction project should be complete. Underlying this approach is a cultural attitude contained in the word, “should.” The preceding work SHOULD be done by this date, the materials SHOULD arrive on time, the work SHOULD be completed by deadline, the next scheduled job SHOULD begin on time.
Unfortunately, the original schedule doesn’t always get updated with all the details as the project proceeds. Additionally, those responsible for making sure teams meet the schedule are often not included in creating the original scheduling process, which means the schedule might be too aggressive from the start.
As a result, they often feel that the schedule is:
- Lacks urgency
They may also:
- Have no confidence that critical path items will be ready in time
- Lack commitment to getting it done
Problem: Lack of Ownership
When subs and laborers don’t “own” the schedule, they lack commitment to meeting it.
The Scheduling Solution
Effective production planning is the key to scheduling accountability.
Production planning is the process in which all contractors, subcontractors, and others involved in construction collaborate to create a realistic schedule. Including them in the original scheduling process will help devise a more realistic schedule from the start, and give the people actually doing the work more of a sense of ownership in the project.
To further maintain accountability, production planning needs to incorporate the SHOULD CAN WILL DID process. This process clearly states what needs to happen on the project, what tasks are expected from each team member, aligns their tasks with their skillset, and provides an avenue for them to make their updates as they complete their work.
Factoring in weather conditions is also important to help stay on the construction schedule.
Problem: Building in “Fluff”
Subs often build “fluff” into their portions of the schedule. This happens for two main reasons:
- They don’t trust that the person before them will be done on time, so they plan not to have their crews on-site until day 2.
- They want to cover their rears in case something takes longer than expected.
The Planning Solution
Construction planning software provides visibility and increases trust on the part of the subs, because now they can see whether the previous work is done and it’s safe to bring their crews on site. It additionally creates visibility and transparency for the GC to see what’s really happening on site, and to build more realistic schedules and hold the subs accountable to it.
2. Lack of alignment between project teams
According to the National Research Council, approximately $15.6 billion per year is lost as construction waste due to “lack of interoperability,” which can be traced back to a lack of alignment between project teams. This misalignment shows up primarily during constructability reviews and project communication.
Problem: Poor Constructability
In practice, design teams don’t always understand what’s constructable in the field. Likewise, construction teams don’t usually have a hand in the design process, nor do they have the skillsets (or authority) to make effective design changes. This is a basic misalignment that results in significant delays.
The Constructability Review Solution
Constructability reviews are critical. Bringing in the entire construction team to review the design for constructability reduces the number of changes that will be incurred during the construction phase, and therefore the delays associated with communication, redesign, and rework.
Construction firms can even conduct constructability reviews virtually -- during pre-construction. Using design collaboration software, teams can create and view highly accurate and highly detailed visualizations, and see how they fit together -- or don’t.
For example, the tool can be used to view clearances for lights and electrical boxes, which can show any clashes, which can then be corrected virtually, before ever breaking ground on the site.
Problem: Time-Consuming Project Communication
Communication in regard to RFIs, non-conformances, and approvals can be major sources of schedule delays. Whenever something on-site pops up—whether it’s a design change, weather condition, unexpected site conditions, a mistake by a subcontractor, or any other issue—excessive time to communicate and make decisions slows everyone down.
This problem can be practically eliminated by equipping field personnel with real-time digital communication that enables immediate documentation and delivery to the relevant parties so that it can be responded to right away. When communicating among teams, particularly across disciplines, it’s important to be able to provide the right amount of context, as this can help minimize unnecessary and time-consuming back-and-forth.
Cloud-based construction software can really help with this as well. Using such a cloud-based construction document management tool, if a superintendent wants the owner to review room dimensions, for example, they can put that right on the drawing, and add an issue asking the owner to provide their input. When creating an issue, the superintendent can attach pictures so the owner has all the information needed to make a decision, quickly.
3. Inefficient work processes
The issues of waste and schedule delays are inextricably intertwined. Waste causes delays, and delays lead to waste. Here are some recent stats on the problem of waste and project efficiency the construction industry faces today:
Considering the massive efficiency gains made in other industries—manufacturing, for instance—these numbers are alarming. Much of this waste is caused by improperly managed site and project logistics, so those issues must be addressed, holistically, if possible.
Logistics issues arise for a variety of reasons, including:
- Storage constraints
- Site safety constraints
- Noise constraints
- Material delivery delays
While some logistical issues are a natural part of the construction world, the majority can be managed and controlled with the use of the right software tools. These tools allow contractors to:
- Visualize the real space before work begins
- Plan the work in 4D, including the time component
- See potential logistical trouble spots ahead of time
- Schedule materials deliveries efficiently
Tools that have any of the capabilities above -- that can help greatly with construction project coordination, and that can act as a central repository to keep tabs on all construction documents -- can have a major impact keeping teams on the construction schedule.
What a Difference an Accurate Construction Schedule Makes
The construction site of the future will eliminate many of these major causes of delays, leading to more efficient, faster, and better quality results. But the good news is that the construction site of the future is here today, and customers like IMCO Construction are already seeing really impressive results.
Due to the site's extremely remote location, all of IMCO's construction materials had to be shipped by barge.
To overcome the major physical and logistical problem of their extremely remote build site, IMCO’s strategy was to use BIM 360 software and exciting new time-saving technologies like drones for surveying and prefabrication.
Their strategy also included maintaining rigorous daily quality control, schedule and logistics checks, the combination of which efforts allowed them to complete their major water treatment plant project 10 months early!
Other benefits IMCO realized while using BIM 360 software:
- Completed a 1.5 year project in just 8 months
- Only one minor layout error with over 130,000 man-hours worked
- Speeded construction and reduced rework and downtime by using drones, laser scanning, BIM and offsite prefabrication techniques
Additionally, advantages like these can be very helpful for construction firms to close out their projects sooner, and reach their time-to-cash period faster.
The benefits of improved scheduling, project team alignment, and work process efficiency are realities in reach of nearly every construction company today, and using software tools like the BIM 360 suite can make a huge difference.
Want to learn how to reduce waste? Check out our eBook, Getting Started with Lean Construction!