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Construction Project Management: Overcoming Four Common Roadblocks

by: Smith and Howard

May 17, 2016

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Construction project management, as a discipline, is evolving. What was once a step-by-step process handled largely through experience and traditional approaches is now virtually a science. Today’s project managers need to be able to oversee not only the execution of a job, but the economics as well.

As your construction business endeavors to complete its jobs, you may encounter a number of common roadblocks. Here are a few to watch out for, with a particular eye toward overcoming them through a contemporary approach to project management.

1. Rushing to the Job Site

Sometimes the obstruction to a successful job appears right at the beginning. And it can often be blamed on a distinct lack of formal preconstruction planning. Engaging in detailed discussions about a project before work begins will help you get a better read on whether a job is even viable. For example, you might identify environmental hazards or discover a financially dubious owner.

When a project is viable, a formal preconstruction process should strengthen your odds of reducing costly, unexpected changes. The specifics of such a process will vary depending on company and project type. But contractors and their project management teams should first anticipate all job costs. These include supply, equipment and labor expenses.

In addition, if you’re a general contractor, identify and touch base with subcontractors and vendors. Make sure the job’s scope and schedule are clear. Also, name the team members involved, define their responsibilities and establish clear channels of communication.

2. Complicating Things Into Oblivion

Many construction companies have “field systems” they use to perform job tasks. For instance, a concrete subcontractor will have standard approaches for forming the footings and slabs, installing bolts, testing for moisture, etc. But project management can go awry when these field systems are subverted or improvised upon.

Make a simple and concise list of your top 10 systems and clearly express — in writing — how they should be carried out. You want to develop standards that will be easily understood and can be verified with minimal dispute. Now you’ve got something to use not only when training new employees, but also when evaluating the performances of your project managers.

3. Falling Behind the Times

Historically, project managers have had to focus on traditional duties such as scheduling, contract and change management, and company-specific field systems — with some relatively basic financial management tasks thrown in. But, as mentioned, expectations have grown.

Project managers at best-in-class companies are now much more involved in customer service. In addition, they’re expected to weigh in on strategic business decisions and have a wider grasp of financial metrics and trends. To do so, using project reports and systems to track job progress is critical.

In other words, today’s best project managers aren’t just focused on getting the job done. They’re intent on fitting the job into your company’s strategic objectives and guarding against outside risks (financial and otherwise). For them to be able to do all this effectively, you need to keep them properly trained.

4. Lacking in Leadership

The word “accountability” must hold meaning when applied to your project managers. Start with their job descriptions, ensuring that the language is clear, current and constructive. Rewrite anything vague or unrealistic.

Also, look back at your company’s recent history and pinpoint where accountability failures have occurred. Ask questions such as:

  • Did cost discrepancies occur because of a failure to weigh budgeted vs. actual job costs?
  • Were field production results ignored?
  • Did materials and equipment deliveries fall behind schedule or come up short?
  • Were safety protocols not checked or followed?

Pinpoint danger areas for each project manager that they and you can double-check as jobs go along. For newer managers, make sure they understand the totality of their responsibilities.

Learning New Things

No matter how long you’ve been in business, there are always new things to learn about construction project management. Make it a mission priority to continually educate yourself and your managers on the latest improvements.

For more information about Smith & Howard’s Construction Advisory Services, please contact Marvin Willis at 404.874.6244 or simply fill out our contact form below.

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