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Construction project management can certainly be a formidable task, especially when complex industrial, commercial, and institutional construction projects are involved. Managers who are tasked with overseeing the conceptualisation, planning, and execution stages of construction projects, such as building a large bridge, dam, or the renovation of an airport, have to keep track of a mind-boggling number of factors. They have to consider the procurement of all the necessary materials, the timeline for all the processes involved, the quality and quantity of labour involved, and any unexpected delays or roadblocks that can occur along the way.

When tight deadlines are in the picture, it is very easy to end up in a position where your construction team simply cannot complete the project on time. The consequences of a delay may be extremely costly for you and your client. In a worst-case scenario, your team’s reputation could be ruined and you could be financially burdened by liquidated damages (a contractual penalty for delays that causes your client to lose significant amounts of money). Here are some of the steps you can take to remedy the problem if you find yourself in this position:

1. Diagnose and Communicate the Problem

Whatever the reason for the delay, you should immediately communicate the problem to your client. Most contracts would have mandated that written notification be provided if there is a delay. Construction delays are an easily foreseeable problem that can be divided into a few categories for legal purposes:

  • Excusable delays. In general, most construction contracts will excuse the contractor for delays that were caused by external factors. This includes those caused by a third party, or unforeseen environmental factors. Some examples of excusable delays are itinerant weather, labour disputes, problems caused by the owner/client, or “acts of God”.
  • Inexcusable delays. These are delays that a contractor had the power to foresee and prevent – but failed to do so. Unexcused delays can be deemed a breach of contract; you will typically be expected to assume the costs and results of the delay (for the client, yourself, and other parties).
  • Critical delays. Does this delay prevent the project from being completed as a whole? If it does, then there is all the more reason to inform your client and other relevant parties as soon as possible.

2. Identify and address the underlying cause for the delay

Even if a legal inquiry finds that your contracting team has caused an inexcusable critical delay and your company is liable for liquidated damages, it is still in your interest to reduce the delay and minimise all the problems it may cause. Here are some solutions for four common reasons for construction delays:

  • Bad weather. Outdoor projects are necessarily prone to being disrupted by unexpectedly heavy rain, snowfall, and strong winds. Water pumps can be used to alleviate flooding problems.
  • Budgetary problems. Inaccurate job costing can cause delays when you run out of funds to buy raw materials or pay your workers. Revising the job costing software you use should be earmarked for the near future. For now, you can turn to a bank loan to solve your debilitating cash flow problems.
  • Labour pains. Construction firms often overbook their crew, resulting in fatigued workers who are demoralised and prone to possibly costly mistakes on the site. You should use reliable construction project management software to keep track of their productivity and make a better estimate of the project’s labour requirements.
  • Unexpected changes. This is part and parcel of the construction industry. Requirements can change at any point of the project. It is important to keep track of each change and make an accurate estimate of the delays and additional costs it may cause.

3. Execute an Appropriate Solution

Time is naturally of the essence once a delay is in the picture. Here are some techniques that you can turn to in order to adhere as closely to the deadline as possible:

  • Fast track. If possible, you can save time by managing multiple tasks at the same time (instead of doing them in a sequence). You should be realistic about which tasks can be executed at the same time, and whether your crew can handle the additional stress, risk, and pressure involved.
  • Inject more resources. You should be able to speed up the project’s workflow by adding more people to the team, increasing the amount of work each team member does, and/or add more time-saving tools or technologies (if applicable).
  • Remove scope. Your last resort would be to accept that the full scope of the original plan for the project cannot be executed after all. Make a careful note of all the elements you have removed from the project (you may have to deliver them at a later point in time).
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