How to plan and organise a construction project

Problems to keep in mind when planning or organising a construction job, and how to mitigate them.

There are a bunch of issues that can cause a delay or throw a wrench into your construction planning. Depending on your role within the project, different things are going to affect your ability to deliver on time. Some challenges can be mitigated through proper communication alone. Before we start planning anything at all, let's briefly review what's going to go wrong.

 

Issues we should probably anticipate or be planning for...

If you're a seasoned construction boss you already know what's going to crop up. What follows are a few common ones[1][2] for the uninitiated among us:

 

With the overall project

Problems

  • The contract duration is too ambitious/short
  • There is a fuzzy definition of "complete"

Recommendations

Try and give each phase in your project timeline a bit of wiggle room at the end when technically feasible. It's a good idea to also include one or more "Delayed" or "Potential for delay" status options in your plan so that all key players are on the same page and can see at a glance when an upstream phase is potentially going to impact their originally intended start date.

Make sure you've clearly documented and gotten a signature from the owner on what constitutes "completion" on any given phase. And then do the same with your sub-contractors. This can be as simple as a bullet point check list on a work order. For the owner, make sure it says on there that anything outside of the scope of the checklist is going to incur additional time and costs.

With the owner or client

Problems

  • Delays in progress payments
  • Changes by the owner during construction
  • Delays in approving shop drawings and sample materials
  • Slowness in decision making

Recommendations

Communicate and be up-front with the owner and get something in writing that acknowledges that the delivery schedule is predicated on them;

  1. Issuing progress payments, or their bank releasing payments without delay.
  2. Reviewing and approving design changes without delay.
  3. Understanding that any deviation from the original plan is going to have a knock-on effect.
The owner's flow of cash is like turning a spigot on the entire project.

With contractors and consultants

Problems

  • Scheduling conflicts or poor communication and coordination between parties
  • Rework due to quality control, general mistakes or crap work by dodgy sub-contractors
  • Poor site management and supervision
  • Ineffective planning and scheduling
  • Delays in site readiness
  • Delays in inspections
  • No incentive to complete on time

Recommendations

Before simply going with the lowest bidder, do your due diligence and make sure they've done a similar job in the past and delivered on time and on budget.

Make a visual project road map with each phase clearly defined and arranged in a way that will minimise conflicts where possible.

Rigorous quality control and having everything done 100% perfectly is a commendable goal, and obviously everybody in the world wants to do that. The reality is that money limits us from doing things to perfection every time — so long as safety and environmental impact aren't a factor, be prepared to pick your battles and strike a compromise between cost and quality. A good contractor will communicate to the client when they spot an opportunity for potential savings, and make sure that the client has a realistic expectation about what they're going to end up with given their budget.

In a perfect world, everybody is on the same page and genuinely excited about building something cool. In reality you have a hoard of workers showing up for a pay cheque and doing an "adequate" enough job to be kept around. Consider recommending the owner budget in bonuses to sub-contractors for early completion of their work, subject to a flawless inspection and sign off. Keep people happy and give them a tangible incentive to put the project ahead of schedule.

With the design and engineers

Problems

  • Mistakes or discrepancies in design documents
  • Delays in producing design documents
  • Unclear or inadequate details in the completed design
  • Insufficient surveying prior to design
  • Misinterpretation of the owner's vision, or an inadequately defined spec to start with

Recommendations

Owners need to be made well aware that engineering designs are both time consuming and expensive to draw up. Allocate sufficient time for engineers to complete design documents and allow for repeated back and forth with the owner. Make sure that the owner is aware that any mistake or discrepancy in a finalised design will take a bunch of additional time and money to correct.

 

Other things that are out of our control which we hope we won't encounter

Materials

  • Market shortage on construction materials
  • Change in material selection by the owner
  • Delays in material delivery
  • Damaged materials during transit or on site

Equipment

  • Mechanical breakdowns
  • Equipment shortages
  • Lack of skilled equipment operators

And on and on...

  • Legal disputes between various parties
  • Poor communication and coordination by parties
  • Conflicts between joint-ownership of the project
  • Regulatory inspection delays
  • On-site accidents
  • Weather and other environmental factors inhibiting work

Clearly there's a lot that can go wrong here, and on small construction projects some of these aren't applicable. The benefit of bearing these challenges in mind when mapping out our project plan is obvious.

 

A comprehensive construction plan

Let's have a go at mapping out a standard hypothetical turnkey home construction plan in a logical order. Our aim is to succinctly define each phase of the project where we'll be able to easily pigeon hole e-mail discussions between ourselves, our client and sub-contractors, and keep tabs on each issue or discussion as everything progress.

Here's our example:

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A comprehensive turnkey construction plan

With the stages mapped out, all that's left to do is plug in dates — we'll leave those up to you. When you do set dates, there are going to be delays and overruns at just about every turn (Murphy's Law.) Let's make this clear up-front for everybody involved by setting up our project with a suitable array of status options.

By whittling down our list of construction issues, we end up wanting something like this:

* Check in with active sub-contractors regularly either over e-mail or on-site, and when a potential for delay seems imminent, set the Running behind stage status accordingly. If you have the details of the cause of delay somewhere in an e-mail discussion, projemail can highlight them for everyone to see.

Status options for a construction plan

Now we're in good shape to bring 3rd parties into the project and present our construction road map to the owner.

We recommend that you let the owner and sub-contractors log in to your secure project area and let them to set their own periodic status reports. Make sure to inform your sub contractors that any e-mails sent to the project address will be visible by the client.

Our construction planner portal

With your project road map done — simply click on the #DesignPlan e-mail discussion starter and set up a meeting with the client, or send a Project Invite E-mail via the Project Settings screen.

Happy building.

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References
[1] Sadi A. Assaf *, Sadiq Al-Hejji. Causes of delay in large construction projects 2005. pdf
[2] K. W. Chau, Isabelle Y.S. Chan, Weisheng Lu, Chris Webster. Proceedings of the 21st International Symposium on Advancement of Construction Management and Real Estate. book
Further guidance