When it comes to project management, construction projects can often be the biggest source of heartburn for owners and contractors alike. The potential for problems, including failure, is high. Most jobs cost several millions of dollars with many running into the billions. These projects can take several years to complete. Schedule delays, blown budgets, errors and omissions, scope creep, improper building methods and unsafe conditions can have devastating impacts on the successful delivery of the job. There are plenty of uncertainties in construction, so here are some best management practices to help lead to success.
Accurate Bidding and Constructability Reviews
One of the biggest risks to project success is busting the budget. It is incumbent upon design engineers and contractors to develop construction estimates that are realistic given the plans, specifications, schedule, field conditions and building means and methods. On the owner side of the business, constructability reviews can go a long way to identifying potential problems before the bidding process begins. On the contracting side, contractors need to do a thorough assessment of plans, including investigating site conditions to develop realistic bids. Some contractors try to go “cheap” on the bid to win the work, intending to run up the bill later through change orders.
Effective Communication and Escalation Procedures
Verbal and written communications between the owner, contractor, consultants (including the designers and the owner’s construction oversight staff) and other important stakeholders must be constant, organized and effective. When there’s an issue, a single point of contact representing each party must be established to maintain a through-line on communication and to make sure issues don’t get lost in translation. There should be regular progress meetings where progression of the work and issues are conveyed and resolved in a timely manner. There also needs to be a clear plan of who should be contacted when a field issue needs to be escalated to persons of greater authority.
Construction Management Tools
It’s rare to find a major project that doesn’t use computer software or web-based platforms to manage and administer the job. From document control to schedule management to inspection documentation, a variety of computer tools exist to help better manage the job. Contractors and construction managers should take advantage of technology to document daily work progress, share and organize site photos, process submittals, requests for information and shop drawing reviews. From major infrastructure ventures to commercial construction, management tools are a must.
Controlling Scope Creep and Managing Change Orders
It is often said that “change is inevitable” and this tends to be true on construction projects, big and small. Various situations require deviations from the original work plan. Errors and omissions in the plans, site conditions that differ from what was expected, lack of available materials, and other unforeseeable circumstances can require work be added to the plan. Managing change requests and processing the resulting change orders quickly are essential to staying on track. When the scope of work increases unnecessarily, this can result in major delays and budget shortfalls.
“Safety first” needs to be more than just a witty saying. Construction projects wherein safety is not paramount tend to result in failure. The presence of large machinery, loud noise and working near vehicular traffic are just a few of the reasons why work zones can be very dangerous. A safety plan that involves all field personnel and details plan of action is critical. Work zones need to be as safe as possible. This includes making sure everyone in the field has personal protective equipment such as hard hats, goggles, steel toe boots, gloves etc. Regular safety inspections should be conducted with findings shared with all relevant parties. Safety rules need to be enforced, including the removal of those who continuously violate rules and regulations.
Construction projects usually bring great benefits once they are complete. From new buildings to widened highways to upgraded water conveyance systems, these jobs are absolutely necessary. The sheer scope and budget of these plans come with great risk. It is incumbent upon owners and contractors to employ best practices that increase the likelihood of job success.