In construction projects, handling project delay is parts and parcels of a project. Some delay can be avoided, some can only be mitigated while some can only be managed.
I will like to discuss some of the cause of delays and measures to counteract delays based on my experience.
In a tight market, contractors are hungry for the job and will dive for the job without considering the tight schedule in relation to the project cost. At the beginning of the project, he is already stuck with low or no profit margin. At one hand he has a tight schedule and a tight budget on the other hand. Due to the tight budget, he may not get the most qualified sub-contractors on board or take a longer time to negotiate the sub-contracts which lead to delay from the start of the project
With lesser qualified sub-contractors on board the project, he has lesser resources to carry out the work. When the sub-contractor is not able to perform as well as they should, it is too late or too expensive to change the sub-contractors.
Therefore, it is prudent to select the main contractor carefully and not award to the cheapest. There is a saying:
“Cheap may not be good and good may not be cheap.”
Another cause of the delay is an unrealistic schedule. As most PM are from the civil engineering background, they tend to pay greater attention to Civil and Structural work while neglecting the downstream M&E fit out, T&C and downstream activities while planning of the schedule. One of the misconceptions about M&E fit-out work and T&C work is, the schedule can be squashed significantly by putting more resources. No doubt, when fit out is being done indoors, it is to a lesser extent dependent on the weather. However, there is a still a limit to how much more time one can be shaved off by putting more workers or increasing the working hours.
To ensure that schedule is realistic from start, the tender specification should specify more milestones and key dates as “gates” so that in the events of slippages to these milestones and key dates, it can be flagged out earlier and take remedial action to recover the delay.
The baseline schedule needs to be reviewed carefully together with the programme narrative to ensure that the schedule is realistic taking into account the project risk identified, the resources and the tracking measures are in place.
Mistakes and changes in designs
Due to the hectic and complex nature of the project, design mistakes are only discovered during the construction phase. Other times, changes in design are not being effectively communicated between consultants. As a result, fabrication or construction work has to be reworked,
To ensure design mistakes or changes are minimized, adequate time should be provided to prepare and review the design by the consultants and clients representatives before a contract is being awarded.
Lack of transparency and use of critical path management.
Very often, the site work between contractors is not in sync with one another. The contractors carry their work in accordance to own preference and oblivious to other contractors’ work. There is a lack of site coordination to ensure adherence to the Master Project Schedule. For instance, the area that is cast earlier by Civil Contractor may not one that is first needed by M&E contractor and on the critical path of the project.
Logistic and site constraint
In the event of concurrent works on site, multiple activities are carried out by different contractors. Logistic and space constraints are always an issue. For example, different contractors need the limited number of cranes or common access to bring in and out the materials. When these limited resources are not properly planned and utilized, the project can come to a standstill.
The contractor should ensure there is an adequate deployment of site coordinators for the project. There should be regular weekly detail planning workshops as well as regular updates of the working programmes. The 90 days look ahead schedules should be expanded and detailed with illustrations so that every person attending the coordination meeting understand what, when and how the activities will be carried out.
In addition, the daily coordination meeting needs to be attended by all contractors’ PMs and engineers to ensure that everyone understands what are the deliverable and the solve the site issues at hand.
Failure to keep a risk register and constant monitoring
Many contractors failed to verbalize the risk of delay of the project. Some of the delays are known “unknown” while some are unknown of unknown. Known “unknown” refers to delays that you know it could happen. Unknown “Unknown” delays refer to delays that it cannot have been predicted.
An example of a known “unknown” will be delayed due to unknown ground condition or long procurement lead time of some equipment. Knowing that all ground condition cannot be fully known based on bored log or geotechnical drawings given during the tender stage, the contractor should carry out more soil investigation prior to the commencement of work. Likewise, if some equipment requires long lead time, the contractor should source and proceed with the procurement of these items earlier and monitor the procurement of these items closely to pre-empt any delay to the deliveries of these items.
An example of unknown “unknown” delay is extremely bad weather. While we can’t say specifically when it is going to rain, we can still factor in some duration for external work to take into account the unpredictable nature of the weather. However, there are years where there is an abnormally high frequency of rain beyond the expectation to the detriment of the project.
Lacking the understanding and underestimating the duration of Test and Commissioning Work
Many projects are delayed due to Systems Testing and Commissioning. Firstly most PMs are not M&E trained and they do not understand exactly what is involved in T&C phase. They thought that since the equipment has already done the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT), site T&C work should be very straightforward. But they are totally wrong!
FAT is done in the manufacturer factory and in a very “ideal” environment. However, testing on site is much more complex. Firstly testing is done after installation of the equipment on a “standalone” basis before connecting to other systems. After it passes the “standalone” test, it proceeds with the interface test with another system. After interface tests, then it is finally the integration test. During testing, various functional tests are done. At it can very time consuming to locate the faults as the fault can be within or beyond the system’s boundaries. Furthermore, with multiple systems suppliers and installers, it can be very daunting as each systems suppliers and installers will be pointing fingers at each other for the defaults or faults
Failure to acknowledge the delay
Some owners, consultants or contractors frown upon open discussion and acknowledgment of project delay during progress update meeting to senior management.
For some senior management, they rather that you solved the problem than highlighting the issues to them. For the sake of pleasantry, they rather pretend it never happen and they want to believe that delay will just go away in due time. However, when it is finally acknowledged, it is already too late for any remedy.
I feel that the client’s senior management should not avoid the issue of delay. If the contractor has validity in entitlement for Extension of Time, it should be awarded accordingly and give instruction for acceleration work to recover the delay.
About the Author:
Stanley Tey has more than two decades of project management experience after graduating from the National University of Singapore in Civil Engineering. He also obtained a Master Degree in Software Engineering from Institute of Systems Science, NUS where he specialized in Project Management and Systems Integration.
He has worked as a Consulting Engineer, Project Planner, and Project Manager. Some of the projects he had handled are:
- North East Line
- Singapore 1st Desalination Water Plant at Tuas
- Integrated Resort Project at Sentosa
- Lonza Cell Therapy Plant at Tuas (Phase 2)
- Merck Junumet plant at Tuas
- Singapore Special Cable Tunnel Project