Project Management Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Project management provides the critical framework for construction projects. But behind every construction project there are events just waiting to surprise you. Pay attention to these construction project management pitfalls to build predictability into your days.

Not Checking for Blue Sky

If you study the project schedule you’ll get early warnings of pending problems. One of the biggest issues comes from unrealistic tasks baked into the schedule. Sometimes they show up on master and subcontractor schedules as resource errors. For example, no one scheduled the pumper for placing concrete in elevated forms. Other potentially unrealistic tasks include any successor tasks not labeled as “Finish to Start.” If you see any more than 10 percent labeled otherwise, start looking deeper for signs that the schedule is only half-baked. Then, take steps to firm up the endings and beginnings of tasks.

While you’re at it, you might also find unrealistic deadlines crept into the schedule when the subcontractor schedules were married to the master. Usually, the sub’s schedule will still show their original deadline. When you see the discrepancy ahead of time you can confirm the sub knows the deadline, or you can work out a compromise ahead of time.

Relying on Unverified Information

Like it or not, perceptions quickly become facts, and if you rely on information that’s not based on fact, your decisions will suffer. Project managers must often mediate disputes about work sequence and congested workspaces. Arguments about who was there first, and “possession being 9/10ths of the law” don’t go far in trying to keep activities on schedule. You always have to check the value of information by going to the source before you rely on it. This is especially important when you have friction between work crews.

Not Administering Contracts

You set yourself up for surprises if you stuff project contracts into a drawer and never look at them again. One of the biggest surprises comes from finding out the work is not tracking correctly with the contract documents. You have specifications for nearly everything. And, change orders increase the job of making sure people follow the specs. Certain events trigger penalty clauses and damages for delays. You stay in control when you make administering the contracts an integral part of your daily routine.

Another key aspect of administering the contract is enforcing communications protocols. The project’s communications plan outlines the channels, who is responsible for each aspect of communications, and the specific methods to use for each type of documentation. Make sure the plan gets followed so you can avoid disputes from absent, improper, or tardy communications. For example, if a stop work order goes missing, or someone files it with the wrong person, damages can ripple throughout the project. If someone doesn’t incorporate design memos into the communications flow, something’s likely to get built wrong. And, a notice of delay won’t mean anything if it’s never filed.

Assuming Subs Have it Under Control

It’s tempting to dump all the subcontracted portions of a project into the “out-of-sight-out-of-mind” basket. While that takes a load off your mind, it’s nothing more than an illusion. Subs often deal with multiple projects, and with today’s labor shortages they face staffing uncertainties every day. You can’t assume they’re keeping up, or hitting quality goals. Pay close attention to subcontractor progress reports each day, and don’t delay finding out the causes for nearly-missed deadlines. Yes, the deadline is the deadline, but when a sub is cutting them too close, there’s potentially a missed deadline right around the corner. The earlier you spot trouble, the better chance you have to prevent delays and rework.

Finally, don’t underestimate the value of following up. Somebody’s going to forget something, and it’s always better when you can prevent that from happening.  

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