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Construction projects always take longer than you think

Every time I meet new clients, we talk about their aims, what they want to change and the conversation inevitably will get to the point - so how much is this going to cost me and how long will that take?




These are two things people want to know but equally can’t accept the truth. We are going to focus today on the latter part as I talk a lot about cost in all the other blogs. Why are construction projects well known for time overruns and why do they always take way longer than expected?

  1. Insufficient / improper management We could probably finish this blog right here as given my profession I would say that CORRECT project management can eliminate delays. However real life isn’t a coursebook and there isn’t just one answer here.

A very common issue is management of design information/ approval of elements in a timely manner to enable progress on site. If builders need confirmation on something, they ask the architect. If the matter is important, the architect will ask the clients. If they don’t reply instantly or don’t understand the question - a problem extends in time.

  1. Variations to the original plan. Another typical issue that causes time delays are the changes made to the original proposal. I have never come across a project where a single change (variation) wasn’t requested. But the more changes requested, the more time is needed to redo certain elements. These, usually, take extra time and yet it’s very rarely highlighted in the process.

  2. Unforeseen issues There are loads of things that we can plan and be prepared for; however the refurbishment of an existing structure always brings surprises we cannot expect. They might be of lower or greater significance but usually it’s worth having some form of a time contingency for these. What do I mean here? I started a project recently when upon strip out it came to light that the external walls of the extension had no foundation. Literally none. Three floors up of the brickwork walls standing in mid air. Could that have been predicted? Specifically, no. Will every project have an issue as serious as this? Probably not. But giving yourself a buffer of a few weeks in every project means there are less chances of watching your project completion date disappear into the sunset.

  3. Supply chain There are loads of things that can go wrong here. Covid has proven that the only thing we can be sure of is that you can’t be sure of anything really. Depending on how complex your project is, whether or not it has specialist items in it - there might be delays that are just out of control of anyone. Great example here could be Lutron components (smart lighting system). Over the pandemic they had major issues with manufacturing components and transportation, then we had some further delays in terms of global transport and the political situation didn’t help either. The result? The backlog of orders is pushing new orders to a lead time of 32-34 weeks. Is there a guarantee that this is the end? No 🤷🏼‍♀️

  4. Over optimism It’s something that happens but isn’t really spoken about out loud. I often come across a situation when clients are refusing to accept the truth. It really is hard to convince someone who thinks the project will take 6 months that it will take 10-12 months. So ultimately what tends to happen is the builder says it will take 6 months and then looks for reasons to buy himself extra time.

Is that ok? Not really. But it happens.

If you would like my bottom line opinion on why projects take longer, I’d say it’s down to an overall the lack of proper programming and inadequate management.

Architects sometimes offer project management as an add on to their service, thinking all they need to do is oversee the works. It's not to say that it’s impossible but I’ve yet to come across an independent architect who would be preparing procurement schedules for the projects he is managing. If I’m completely honest, I very rarely see architects doing design phase programs nowadays.

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The other post (for engagement) I went into a discussion with a builder recently. I know I shouldn’t 😑 But it was regarding the heritage statement of the property I was visiting and kind of blew me away.

If you are a builder / contractor I hope you know all of the above. If you don’t, please do your own research on this matter and don’t simply trust a Blog. But for god’s sake have some common sense!

So back to the story. We had been talking about the heritage statement and items that should be retained as part of it.

I of course could shut my mouth but instead said that if he was to strip out an original feature that was down to be retained it’s a criminal offence…

To which he responded that he is a Limited Company so he wouldn’t be responsible 😳

Eeeerm…

Limited status of the company, same as any insurance, can protect you against civil cases at best. So if someone decides to sue you – you may flash your limited company status. But it won’t protect you against criminal cases.

If you rob a bank in a company van - it’s not the company that is liable. It’s you.

He said he will do some more research on it but it didn’t seem right to him…

I dropped it there.

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