Construction projects rely on good management and direction in order to succeed and be completed on time. A lot of things can go wrong during a project, and sometimes all it takes is a small mistake to bring down the whole project like a house of cards. There are several causes of construction project failure in this industry, primarily linked to 3 main factors: people, time, and money. They can create issues like underbudgeting and mismanagement among other obstacles that eventually lead the project to its bottleneck – and this often becomes a point of no return, after which the project fails. In this article, we will talk about various causes of construction project failures to help you watch out for them and ensure a smooth, well-planned project that wins in the end.
One of the major causes of failure in construction is poor management and a general lack of good leadership. Construction projects – no matter how small – require a keen eye and a clear direction from start to finish, without which things can easily slip through the cracks when there is no one on the lookout. If your project lacks accountability, decision-making, conflict resolution, problem-solving, backup plans, and proper leadership, it will be next to impossible to guide the project forward. Also, a lack of relevant construction management tools like software apps and site supervision drones creates confusion, chaos, and complications within the project – so now the only path your project can take is a downward spiral.
Poor management is a huge people-related flaw because it triggers a domino effect of several other mistakes like delays, reworks, material wastage, and reorders, all of which cause projects to fail.
Another people-related cause of construction failure is insufficient planning. You cannot cut corners when it comes to the planning stage of construction. This stage should be as thorough and elaborate as possible so that everyone at the planning table – clients, architects, engineers, designers, suppliers, contractors, etc. – fully understands the project scope before collectively building a roadmap for all construction professionals to follow. If you do not work on detailed schedules, resource planning, logistics, task breakdowns, task dependencies, and risk assessment, your planning stage will be incomplete. So, when construction takes off, problems like safety issues and procurement challenges will emerge mid-flight, at which point it is too late to go back and rethink the details. Other side effects of poor planning and mismanagement include:
- Inefficient resource allocation that causes either a shortage of materials onsite or unused inventories that go to waste.
- Poor inventory tracking due to which there is no update on construction equipment, materials, vehicles, and other assets onsite.
- Ineffective task allocation where you fail to recognize and delegate team skills in the best interests of the project.
With all of the above flaws, your project’s value and quality will be quickly compromised, leading to expensive reworks, zero productivity, under-utilized resources, and poor project visibility in general. The result is as expected: a failed construction project that cannot be saved.
The next major people-related cause of construction project failures is an incompetent crew. Usually, time constraints and a lack of industry professionalism can lead to issues in recruitment, which is why firms end up hiring unqualified workers who do not have the right training or credentials for the job.
Without certified experts onsite, you simply have a recipe for disaster because the main ingredient – your workforce – is as good as missing. Training is an equally important consideration, and good construction firms make sure that their new hires receive relevant training to bridge skills gaps while the existing employees keep updating their knowledge. This ensures a reliable workforce that knows construction safety rules and all the required responsibilities for completing a project successfully and on time. So, if your firm lacks commitment in the human resource department, it is only paying wages for projects to fail.
In the construction world, communication is key, more so than in any other sector because of how interrelated everything is on a jobsite. Poor communication is perhaps the most fatal people-related mistake that causes construction project failures. There should be a clear, real-time channel of communication between ALL the members involved in the project such as the client, engineer, architect, vendor, inspector, technician, and designer. This is best achieved through a construction management app that streamlines communication on one platform for everyone to use, keeping all chats and updates synchronized and allowing you to document progress via images, videos, audio, and annotations. Without a single platform for everyone, there can be a lot of miscommunication, delays, and confusion regarding what work is done and how much is left – which creates a general lack of clarity and transparency that every construction project needs. Poor communication could take the form of:
- Unclear project specifications from the client because you did not ask for details.
- Stakeholders having varying interpretations of the work to be done because there is no real-time communication to keep each other updated.
- Project delays and reworks due to misaligned schedules.
- Failure to report and update changes made to original plans and schedules.
- A lack of documentation and transparency via emails, weekly reports, follow-up meetings, RFIs, invoices, etc. which makes it difficult to resolve disputes as there is no communication evidence to track.
- A lack of teamwork and effective collaboration, where everyone does what they think is right for the project.
Different forms of delays can slow down a construction project to the point that it fails to recover and get back on track. In this case, it is deemed a failure, and it is back to square one for the construction team. Some examples of delays that occur within a project include:
- Labor and material shortages due to which the project or a part of it cannot begin on time.
- Construction downtimes due to absenteeism.
- Team conflicts and differing opinions that prevent workers from doing their job.
- Equipment failure that brings construction to a halt.
- Communication gaps that turn into massive construction blind spots.
- Prolonged permit and approval delays that were not accounted for in the original schedule.
- Change orders that require an extended timeline.
All of the above directly impact a project schedule and push it further away from the original deadline, so unless you come up with a timely backup plan, your project has failed already.
Poor planning and execution are both responsible for construction reworks. Anything that has to be repeated will eat into your project’s valuable time, demand rescheduling, and often end up exceeding the deadline. So, now you have a project that could potentially be living on borrowed time if it has not collapsed already. Inefficient resource allocation, lack of skills, failed deliveries, and poor quality control all lead to project rescheduling in an attempt to realign the milestones and save the day – while, in fact, poorly managed rescheduling never makes it too far before the project reaches a complete shutdown.
Some issues like challenging weather and natural disasters are out of human control, and they can have devastating impacts on construction projects that have already taken off.
Delayed/canceled procurement, damage to the work done so far, asset failure, blocked roads, and labor unavailability are part of the aftermath and can lead to abandoned projects if nothing can be done soon to save them.
The COVID-19 pandemic is another unforeseen event that caused many construction project failures in its wake – mainly out of inflated prices, labor/material shortages, import bans, and social-distancing rules. If construction firms do not plan backups in advance and brace for surprises, they will suffer the biggest blow from such events. So, it is important to leave some room to accommodate surprises in the main schedule and build a more resilient project plan that can bounce back quickly.
Inaccurate estimations and faulty budgets top the charts for money-related causes of construction project failure. Project oversights, miscalculations, inaccurate take-offs, insufficient financing, and forgetting to account for permit fees can lead to significant financial losses in construction. Estimation and take-off tools are important because they use updated pricing and automate most of the work for you. Construction companies that do not use such tools or rely too much on manual figures tend to suffer costly overruns in their projects – which eventually ends up as a failed mission.
Reworks And Change Orders
Factors like inaccurate estimates and poor quality controls demand reworks, and these can be quite expensive to incur because repeating everything would mean stripping down the work that has been done so far, making a new schedule, and allocating new resources. You are basically gearing up again to do the same task differently while the rest of the project waits for its turn – which can be very taxing in terms of both time and money.
If there is a change of plan that takes things completely outside the original scope, this involves proper change order management and documentation to ensure a smooth detour. Change orders do not cause project failures on their own, but it is the failure to document them that creates trouble.
Without a well-documented change order, the additions or removals to the main plan will remain obscure, with no clarity on who requested and conducted them. Not only will this further add to the change order expenses, but it will also cause unnecessary delays in tracking the progress.
In construction projects, if the scope is not defined clearly and accurately, it can gather a series of alterations down the road until the original specifications are no longer recognizable. This uncontrolled change in a project’s scope is known as scope creep and is a result of communication gaps, a lack of change order management, and inconsistent goals. Scope creep can waste a lot of money and is one of the major causes of construction project failure because of the magnitude of chaos and uncertainty it adds to your work.
All The King’s Horses And All The King’s Men
Every construction project is made up of people, time, and money. If any of these factors starts acting up, the project usually begins a downward descent and will continue to fall unless you have a backup plan to save the day. No construction project is entirely risk-free, and there is always an element of loss involved, but that is what makes these projects real. It is important to work around core areas, use effective management software, connect with the right people, and leverage the resources you have at hand in order to minimize the risks involved. Even if you cannot break the fall completely, you can avoid a total failure through good construction management and leadership – without which nothing can put a broken project together again!