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Construction Project Planning – timelines and delays

  • This topic has 47 replies, 15 voices, and was last updated 6 years ago by AndyG.
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  • #373129

    I have been experiencing (and reading about) delays in every job. Not one plan ever even seems close to reality, even when the “surprises” are things identified as possible from the beginning

    I have so much difficulty understanding and accepting how that can be normal in such an established industry, when so many others, younger industries have much more effective planning. I am really curious to know why. Does the lowest bid (or at least the need to sound competitive) prevent you from putting in contingencies for the predictable unknowns? Is it because often the guy selling/promising is the same guy who provides the timeline?

    I have mentioned that I work in IT before. In my field, there are a lot of surprises, especially when working on top of older work. I imagine the same is true in construction – new is easier to plan then trying to guess what will be behind the wall when you open it up.

    We have many ways of accommodating known risk, and ranges of time estimates – from PERT estimation, to Agile methodology. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but they provide much better planning than what I see from the residential GCs I have worked with. I have also never seen a GC manage scope creep other than to blame it for delays and overruns.

    Why do you think planning is so much less accurate in construction? Is commercial any more accurate? Is there anything that you do to make your estimates better then what is done by competitors? Is there anyone who works in other fields that has suggestions?

    #373138
    kurt@welkerhomes.com
    Moderator
    Owatonna, MN - Minnesota

    In a world of low cost, Contingencies add cost and will price you out of the market. We don’t compete a lot on the low cost Model, In our projects, we try to plan for the unforeseen and relay that to homeowners. In a lot of cases, buyers take the lowest cost and then complain about the results. I have had several people who I have bid projects to that went with the low bidder that have told me later that they wish they had gone with me instead.

    As for the “pert” charts and some of the methods you describe, Many of the people in our industry have come up through the ranks swinging a hammer and do not have degrees past high school. Some do, but in a lot of cases they learned on the job and ended up being put into management. In Commercial, many of the managers have 4 year degrees or more in a construction Management, civil engineering or construction engineering.

    You kind of blend a couple of terms in questions with scope creep and delays and overruns. Scope creep is what causes delays and overruns.

    In a lot of cases contractors are an optimistic bunch, provide a price and hope you can build it for that price, build a spec home and hope it sells, hope for good weather. It is the same in schedules, hope it goes faster than it may. we try to push out schedules then improve on them, it does not always happen, Homeowners always want it done faster and will go with the firm that makes the best promise even though they know it wont be done. In a lot of cases, the buyers are also part of the equation. When selections are not made in a timely manner, it is difficult to make a schedule.

    The economy over the last several years is the final issue, a lot of people left the trades in the downturn and have not come back. There is a serious shortage of carpenters, plumbers, electricians and masons now. When a sub is given 2 to 3 weeks notice of a project being ready for them and then they are still 3 to 4 weeks out from being able to get there and cannot find anyone to hire, it is hard to manage schedules.

    #373149
    Doobie
    Moderator

    I know from the many renos I’ve done for myself over the years that I calculate that it will cost twice as much and take up to three times longer than I think at the outset. I know that sounds bad, but when you start a job and take things apart you never know what you are going to find that needs addressing and also what else you start doing you never thought of in conjunction with other semi associated improvements around a reno you are doing. Note, I am not a pro in this field.

    #373152

    I’m pretty sure this phenomena isn’t unique to construction. I believe I read recently that close to 1/3 of major IT initiatives fail or are very much delayed.. and that’s with career project management experts scoping and guiding the process.

    #373153
    kurt@welkerhomes.com
    Moderator
    Owatonna, MN - Minnesota

    I’m pretty sure this phenomena isn’t unique to construction. I believe I read recently that close to 1/3 of major IT initiatives fail or are very much delayed.. and that’s with career project management experts scoping and guiding the process.

    Just look at what happened to the health care websites when they came out. Microsoft has delayed several windows releases over the years due to delays also.

    #373158

    I’m pretty sure this phenomena isn’t unique to construction. I believe I read recently that close to 1/3 of major IT initiatives fail or are very much delayed.. and that’s with career project management experts scoping and guiding the process.

    Just look at what happened to the health care websites when they came out. Microsoft has delayed several windows releases over the years due to delays also.

    All true – I know some of the guys who worked on the healthcare website, and the issues they had with their clients is the stuff of legend. A real case study for everything that can possibly go wrong.

    The 1/3 stat is a bit polluted though. IT has a lot of kids who start out with no experience, trying to be the next Gates or Jobs, and have no idea how to plan anything. I assume construction companies usually have a least a couple of veterans.

    An IT project that is well managed will ALWAYS come in on-time and on-budget, just not always with the ORIGINAL scope, timeline, or budget 🙂
    Half a joke, but the key is better estimation and scope control.

    Of course, I am biased. I tend to dismiss the failures in IT as the work of a few inexperienced or incompetent people, but assume the equivalent in construction is somehow the norm. So that isn’t fair either.

    A big part of what I do is find ways to scope out and track IT projects in ways that keep it under control, while managing the client as well. So I am perhaps less forgiving of this in any field (including my own)

    What I don’t see in IT though is the No-shows. Delays and issues are flagged early, and impacts are communicated right away. On my reno, I had guys telling me they were done in a couple of days (as in done by Thursday as of Tuesday) and have it stay at “done in two days” for three weeks. NO-shows were annoyingly common, as was forgetting materials, and having to start the next day instead. I just don’t understand how there can be such an indifference to trying to respect the timeline (not calling anyone out, but it is my outside observation.

    Is there a view that being late is normal, and therefore doesn’t matter?

    #373163
    ChadM
    Moderator
    Rogers, Ohio

    Like Kurt stated, it is very difficult to account for unforeseen circumstances and be competitive. In my case at least it is a rarity that unforeseen circumstances or hidden conditions cause serious delays. I plan ahead for a lot of these and most only take a few days to remedy. Usually I include these things as a line item so they customer has a good idea of the cost up front so there are no delays when it comes time for a change order. Example: If I am replacing your roof I will give you a total job cost of $xxxx. If I feel that there is a chance that the roof will need re-sheeted I will include a line item in the estimate (that does not contribute to the total cost) of $xxxx and will explain to the HO the reason for that line item.

    I have found that the majority of delays are caused by:

    1) Subs – You have no control over when a sub will show up to your project and, again as previously stated by Kurt, there is enough of a shortage of good tradesmen that even if you wished to just hire a different sub it isn’t always possible.

    2) Home Owners – Nothing can cause a project to grind to a halt faster than the home owner. I have had HO’s change their vinyl siding color choice after I have materials on site and a 1/4 of the house sided.

    3) Materials – I try (when it is feasible to do so) to have the vast majority of materials ordered before I start a project but material delays are common. I have had replacement window orders go from a 2 week lead time to a 5 week lead time overnight. I actually once had the delivery truck that was delivering my windows get in an accident and the majority of the windows broke…wait 3 weeks for new ones.

    4) Lack of labor – Being a one man show this doesn’t really effect me but I have managed projects in the past that have stalled due to a lack of labor. The workforce in the construction industry is far from stable; there is a lack of skilled workers and there isn’t a bounty of unskilled labor to be had. To compound the lack of readily available labor, a good portion of the labor is, for lack of a better word, unreliable. Not necessarily in their work ethic but many guys in the trades have the “grass is greener on the other side of the fence mentality”. It is not unheard of for a seemingly content employee to suddenly quit to go to another company or to leave the industry entirely.

    5) Weather – You can always rely on losing a day or two to the weather.

    As for PERT charts, Agile methodology, Scrum methodology, Waterfall process, SDLC….Most of the contractors I know are carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc that happen to own a business not businessmen who happen to be a carpenter, plumber, or electrician. To be honest, I have a business degree and have held two different PMI certifications and have never used any of them. Flow charts and your average contractor don’t usually mix well, lol.

    Chad

    A Working Pro since 1993

    Member since 12/07/2013

    #373170

    Like Kurt stated, it is very difficult to account for unforeseen circumstances and be competitive. In my case at least it is a rarity that unforeseen circumstances or hidden conditions cause serious delays. I plan ahead for a lot of these and most only take a few days to remedy. Usually I include these things as a line item so they customer has a good idea of the cost up front so there are no delays when it comes time for a change order. Example: If I am replacing your roof I will give you a total job cost of $xxxx. If I feel that there is a chance that the roof will need re-sheeted I will include a line item in the estimate (that does not contribute to the total cost) of $xxxx and will explain to the HO the reason for that line item.

    I have found that the majority of delays are caused by:

    1) Subs – You have no control over when a sub will show up to your project and, again as previously stated by Kurt, there is enough of a shortage of good tradesmen that even if you wished to just hire a different sub it isn’t always possible.

    2) Home Owners – Nothing can cause a project to grind to a halt faster than the home owner. I have had HO’s change their vinyl siding color choice after I have materials on site and a 1/4 of the house sided.

    3) Materials – I try (when it is feasible to do so) to have the vast majority of materials ordered before I start a project but material delays are common. I have had replacement window orders go from a 2 week lead time to a 5 week lead time overnight. I actually once had the delivery truck that was delivering my windows get in an accident and the majority of the windows broke…wait 3 weeks for new ones.

    4) Lack of labor – Being a one man show this doesn’t really effect me but I have managed projects in the past that have stalled due to a lack of labor. The workforce in the construction industry is far from stable; there is a lack of skilled workers and there isn’t a bounty of unskilled labor to be had. To compound the lack of readily available labor, a good portion of the labor is, for lack of a better word, unreliable. Not necessarily in their work ethic but many guys in the trades have the “grass is greener on the other side of the fence mentality”. It is not unheard of for a seemingly content employee to suddenly quit to go to another company or to leave the industry entirely.

    5) Weather – You can always rely on losing a day or two to the weather.

    As for PERT charts, Agile methodology, Scrum methodology, Waterfall process, SDLC….Most of the contractors I know are carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc that happen to own a business not businessmen who happen to be a carpenter, plumber, or electrician. To be honest, I have a business degree and have held two different PMI certifications and have never used any of them. Flow charts and your average contractor don’t usually mix well, lol.

    Thanks! That was a really, really awesome insight into the reality.

    In all fairness, my PMI certifications have mostly served to call bullshit on people hiding behind their PMP. Applying the entire frameworks in the real world almost never works out. Stealing a few good tools and ideas does though.

    The one PERT tool I do use for my own reno is that I ask for each step what the optimistic, pessimistic, and best-guess realistic effort is, and when I see a big range, I ask why. Obviously, It doesn’t go to the level of success I hope for, but your post helps me to understand why not.

    The approach I take is to make an average of optimistic, pessimistic, and 4X realistic (add them, divide by 6). Then add a set amount (1-2 standard deviations – Excel calculates it, so no math to be done) to that average. Anything with too big of a spread between optimistic and pessimistic gets challenged, and buffers are added to allow for “knowable unknowns”. But I am doing this as the client, not as the contractor, to make my own expectations – I can imagine most clients would run away if faced with that much buffing of quotes, with math to explain why.

    #374581
    AndyG
    Pro

    Chad pretty well covered it .

    Heres another reason why construction planning often goes wrong: No planning was done .

    Many contractors don’t have the experience and job vision to see what they are getting into, or what may happen later.

    Here’s the last part of that equation…resourcefulness.

    Here’s an example : why is this mosaic installed around these fixtures? For future access…guess what …it was needed..valve o ring failed.

    #374711
    Warren6810
    Moderator
    Akron, OH

    Comparing construction to IT is impossible. Besides the preexisting conditions, there are thousands of possible construction materials to deal with. Not to mention many different people performing many different jobs. The expertise of these folks in their field can affect the whole job.

    #374768
    Lakelover
    Pro
    Fort Qu'Appelle, SK

    Very simple. Dealing with suppliers that have no clue of what is going on. Last job they said everything was shipped. It was not.

    Then the boss called and said were are missing a crate. It took a couple days to find the crate and then promised it would be there in 4 days. Well 4 days turned into 10. Then after 10 I called and they would not deliver till next day. So had to drive to the warehouse and pick it up.

    The paper work in the crate was dated May 15. So this sat for almost 3 months before the mistake was caught.

    #374775
    Youngin
    Pro
    Edmonton, AB

    Over thing I find in our work are unreliable subtrades. We have some that have worked for us for years and are great but there are others we’re still looking for. It’s one to say something has come up and you can’t make it on the scheduled day but it’s completely another to make multiple promises to appear and never show up. We are currently 4 weeks behind on a project due to one trade.

    #399367
    Rob
    Pro
    Birmingham, Alabama

    No one taught you in school how to plan, manage or organize a remodel project.
    But if you want to…. you can learn how.
    Contractors are guessing at what the project will cost because they don’t have time to really price out the job (since they didn’t charge for doing that)
    and when they get the job they now believe there own press and assume that their guess was correct, this equals surprises.
    I was one of those guys but I decided to really examine how I was creating these problems and find the fix.
    The secret is Planning throughly and Managing the job all the time.
    By charging for Pricing we now had the time to really examine the jobs and get all the facts about the project. With a full time project manager we could control and minimize the surprises.
    By keeping good records we knew where we were making mistakes and could fix that in our pricing. For the past 5 years we have experienced a variance in the contract price and the actual price of the job of .06% AND I know where that .06% occurs and could eliminate it if I wanted to.
    Our jobs began to be completed faster and now we can do a project 40% faster than we could before we started working on this process.
    We build a timeline that shows every 1/2 day of work and when there is a delay we know about it immediately and can implement a solution faster.
    “It doesn’t have to be the way it has always been.”

    #399410
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    @Rob…i plan myself silly, and it still doesn’t help sometimes. Someone said materials delay…that’s one issue happening this week…supplier said shipped over a week ago from north Ohio, same state I’m in…still nothing. Someone also said lack of labor…#2 issue this week…husband is very sick, so all is on my and two men’s shoulders……geo-tech 9 out of 10 times looks down my footer holes, says dig deeper or let them stand as is, drives off. Less than 5 minutes work, but I get billed $750.00 for a 3 line report to give to the building department. This last geo-tech though, says dirt is fill and no good. I end up having to rent bigger equipment than my dingo because to get the geo-tech approval, I’ve got to remove a dump truck load of dirt, plus build a retainer wall. We build on slopes ALL the time, and there’s not one neighborhood where it rarely isn’t just fill dirt. So, going by my records of normal happenings…I input my normal contigency cushion of $2500.00 where in the decking world can save your backside for we’re not doing what the rest of you guys here do….just decks. I don’t know where I could planned differently for this past week.

    #399868
    Rob
    Pro
    Birmingham, Alabama

    Hi Tara,
    1) Ask your materials supplier for a guarantee- on time delivery or free (or what ever you could live with.) Get them to raise their standards of performance.
    Hold them responsible for hurting your business
    Find other supplier that is trustworthy
    You are not the problem he is

    2) Do what you are already doing- examine all jobs and determine what it costs you in workers getting sick or hurt ( this is a Normal part of business-charge for it in your regular markup)

    3) Write a contract that covers you for hidden foundation problems
    If there is a question about the quality of the ground, offer to work the crew by the hour till you hit stable ground, then write the contract- this is fair to all
    The ground can be pre-tested by dropping a weight on a 1″ square rod to see if it is loose or solid.
    We ran into this on one job and used a screw jack (foundation specialists carry these) which we could install with a air drill ( it created a spread footer and we capped it with concrete to put our deck post on
    No surprises
    This can be done and you can do it.

    #400457
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    @rob appreciate your feedback. #2 and #3…..fairly easy. I still have to get geo-tech report for the building department though, or won’t get the permit approved. By the hour until bedrock sounds better. As far as suppliers, I order a month or two ahead of time to make sure I’ve got it, but sometimes that doesn’t seem like enough. Salesman at lumber yard does go above and beyond, but it’s out of his hands quite often. Will have a chat with my railing vendor…they’re the hold up alot of the time. Thank you again

    #400501
    kurt@welkerhomes.com
    Moderator
    Owatonna, MN - Minnesota

    I would agree with Rob on #3. We write all of our contracts based on 42″ footings, the standard on our area, anything over 42″ is billed at T & M. I have had to go up to 8′ to get good soils on some decks and up to 10 on some home foundations. Not to often but it does happen. without that contract clause, I would have been eating that.

    It does help that we can go 9+ feet with our Skid loaders and extensions for a deck footing, but we usually do not have the extensions with us so we end up having to run and get them.

    #400524
    AndyG
    Pro

    I’m in northeast Alabama, don’t know Rob, but everything he’s ever put on here is good…. Very good . I haven’t seen anyone more seasoned and insightful in our industry in a while .
    Also, I can tell from other posts, he works ahead…way ahead.

    Listen to this guy.

    #401016
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    I would agree with Rob on #3. We write all of our contracts based on 42″ footings, the standard on our area, anything over 42″ is billed at T & M. I have had to go up to 8′ to get good soils on some decks and up to 10 on some home foundations. Not to often but it does happen. without that contract clause, I would have been eating that.

    It does help that we can go 9+ feet with our Skid loaders and extensions for a deck footing, but we usually do not have the extensions with us so we end up having to run and get them.



    @kurt
    @wwelkerhomes.com as always, I appreciate your advice, take it very seriously. Have a folder that say ” what Kurt said” full of printouts of your comments on all of my dilemmas. Thank you.

    #401034
    ChadM
    Moderator
    Rogers, Ohio

    I’m in northeast Alabama, don’t know Rob, but everything he’s ever put on here is good…. Very good . I haven’t seen anyone more seasoned and insightful in our industry in a while .
    Also, I can tell from other posts, he works ahead…way ahead.

    Listen to this guy.

    Couldn’t agree more – @Rob doesn’t post a lot but when he does it is always worth the read. The same could be said of your posts Andy.

    Chad

    A Working Pro since 1993

    Member since 12/07/2013

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