Disruptions are part of the construction business because the complex process of building or remodeling a facility does not occur in a vacuum, but in the context of the larger world, where many forces are at play. From weather to an owner’s operational schedule, there are numerous factors that can disrupt the best laid construction projects and plans. The secret to dealing with these disruptions is to anticipate them and plan contingencies so that when the inevitable occurs, it won’t derail a project and cause significant repercussions.
The first step is to know what type of incidents may cause a disruption. Here are some, but certainly not all, of the most common disruptions during a construction project:
- Safety issues or accidents
- Owner / Design changes
- Unforeseen / Environmental issues
- Delayed or prolonged decisions
- Delayed permits by city
- Unrealistic owner expectations
- Occupied buildings and their schedules and schedule changes (especially in manufacturing facilities)
- Schedule acceleration
- Large value engineering process resulting in change in scope
- Manpower / Labor shortage
- Material availability
Disruptions not only slow down a project, but they add costs to the job as well. Preplanning and setting expectations can keep common issues from surfacing or creating major problems when they do. Because 25% to 75% of the disruptions on the list above will happen on any job, teams must have a comprehensive, realistic schedule, budget and logistics plan in place as well as a back-up plan for when something goes wrong. This is especially true of the most common disruptions: material or labor shortages and weather. Projects fail when people refuse to understand that no project will be free from disruptions, so having a “hope for the best but plan for the worst” attitude is best.
Material shortages or delays are a common cause of disruption, but you can work around these issues and still keep a project on track. For example, with the construction boom occurring now, large projects are taking priority for concrete producers. So if your project will only need 50 yards or less of concrete, you need to schedule that pour well in advance or plan on doing it at night when demand is less. In another instance, your plans call for steel to arrive by certain date. But what If the material is delayed? Can the framing crew make-up the time? If your “Plan A” calls for 10 framers, have a contingency for a later date that includes 20 workers to expedite the process and keep the project on schedule.
Unforeseen conditions are a very real disruption in retrofits and remodels, especially in older buildings where as-built drawings don’t exist. If someone at the facility thinks there is an issue, check it out. For example, if a long time plant employee thinks he remembers someone saying there is an abandoned storage tank under a slab, then spend a little money upfront to investigate (such as x-raying or core drilling) to ascertain the actual conditions early, rather than waiting until you uncover the problem in the middle of construction when this discovery will cause a major delay.
Here are some other steps you can take to mitigate disruptions before they occur:
- Be proactive with a project-specific safety plan: accidents stop everything
- Use historic weather data for the project’s location to calculate / plan for weather disruptions and have a back-up plan if weather is worse than normal, for example if there are 20” of rain instead of the usual 10”
- Establish a schedule and deadlines for when decisions must be made; push for decisions at weekly Owner Architect Contractor (OAC) meetings; don’t delay decisions, get them done early to push closure
- Have realistic expectations with the owner and all construction team members
- Assemble project teams early; get subcontractors on board as soon as possible so they can pre-plan and get their work planned and sequenced
- Request and understand the facility owner’s schedule when working on occupied buildings. Understand the facility’s use and how to work within their parameters. This is especially true in manufacturing where the client’s production schedules can vary or change drastically with little notice. You must be flexible and able to adjust
- Have a procurement log to record when materials are expected and when they show up on site. These delivery dates need to be double and triple checked. You can’t get a project completed on time, if material doesn’t arrive on time
- Establish strong relationships with manufacturers so as to be in a position to get their attention in the event of material shortages
- Over communicate; use project management software tools to post schedules and costs in real time for everyone to see: owners, architects, subcontractors
- Risk avoidance: make sure insurance and contracts are in place before starting the project
Dealing with the intricacies of construction is technical, but is also an art to some degree. When it comes to potential disruptions, listen to gut feelings and trust your instincts. If you think there may be a problem coming, for instance a materials provider is over optimistic about meeting a deadline, be proactive and get ahead of those feelings, make sure the problem isn’t real and have a contingency plan. Having realistic expectations, careful planning and anticipating problems are your best tools for managing and limiting construction disruptions.