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Common Construction Management Issues and How to Navigate Them

Tom Jodeit
Published Nov 7, 2023

A McKinsey study found that 98% of construction projects go over budget, and 77% of them experience delays. Every project I’ve ever been on has had its share of issues. Every job is different, and a single problem can often have several root causes.

Good project management can turn even the most at-risk job around and can be the biggest factor in a profit or loss for your company.. But instead of making you learn (and suffer) from experience, let’s explore some of the most common construction management issues and how to successfully navigate them. In this quick guide, I’ll talk through scheduling, cost management, resource allocation, and more.

Key Takeaways

  • With so many moving parts in every job, it’s easy for construction management issues to pop up. Being able to track them down to the root cause is the first step in solving them.
  • A lot of issues can be traced back to misaligned incentives, or misalignments around a job’s cost, scope, or schedule.
  • One of the most powerful tools you can have under your construction management belt is good relationship-building skills. Do right by people and they’ll do right by you.

Common Construction Management Challenges and the Impact of Effective Communication and Culture

Generally speaking, some of the most common construction management issues you’ll encounter on the jobsite include:

  • Delays or shortages in materials or labor
  • Lack of proper planning and scheduling
  • Failure to align on expectations or communications
  • Safety issues
  • Budget constraints

Many of these relate back to the iron triangle of project management. This triangle represents cost, scope, and schedule. Any changes made to one often requires adjustments to the others.

construction project management triangle

👉🏻 Read our in-depth guide to the foundations of construction management.   

What’s more, you can draw a clear line between many construction management issues and how teams communicate and build culture. I like how Brené Brown phrases it when she says, “clear is kind, unclear is unkind”. Instead of trying to be a people pleaser, don’t be afraid to be assertive and give ‘bad’ information. For example, if you’re a GC keeping detailed weather logs and know you just had four inches of rain, alert the owner of any delays that rain will cause. It’s better to potentially annoy someone than charge ahead when you know it will be detrimental to the project.

The kind of culture you cultivate is everything in construction. Taking care of your people can go a long way in building trust, improving safety, and boosting quality of work. It might sound silly, but something as simple as having enough port-a-johns on the jobsite can be a game changer. Key takeaway here: don’t neglect the human element of project management.

How to Identify the Root Cause of Construction Management Issues

Sometimes, it might not immediately be clear why a particular issue is popping up. That’s why it’s important to be able to follow everything back to the root cause. For example, if you find you’re having to rewrite a job’s schedule every week, the issue likely leads back to poor planning at the outset.

When an issue pops up, it’s important to identify the root cause of the issue, beyond just the symptom you’re currently dealing with. There’s more than one strategy you can use for this, but one I often come back to is the “Five Whys”. It’s a simple approach that involves asking why five times to drill down to the root cause. For example:

five whys root cause analysis

  • Why was the project delayed? The concrete pour was late.
  • Why was the concrete pour late? The mixture didn’t arrive on time.
  • Why didn’t the mixture arrive on time? The supplier delivered it to the wrong site.
  • Why was it delivered to the wrong site? The order had the incorrect address.
  • Why did the order have the incorrect address? The project manager entered the wrong information.

The final why leads to a root cause that can be acted upon. In this case that might be improving the information verification process in ordering supplies.

Now that you’ve got an overview of why construction management issues pop up, let’s talk about how you can navigate and address common issues around scheduling, cost management, resource allocation, and risk.

Scheduling and time management solutions

Sometimes, there’s no getting around delays. Bad weather and material shortages can throw a wrench in your plans, but they don’t have to ruin everything. Instead of trying to schedule everything down to the hour, make your schedule knowing there will be inevitable changes or delays. Scheduling by milestone is an easy way to do this, and allows you and your team some extra flexibility and wiggle room if and when things do come up. Scheduling by milestone doesn’t just mean building in extra days, it also gives you the flexibility to resequence things if needed.

At the end of the day, the most successful schedules are the ones that have buy-in from the people actually doing the work. Successful scheduling is a team effort and that means it’s not always possible to do it all upfront. Instead of trying to plan for the whole job, schedule by milestone and rely on a 2-3 week look-ahead to make sure you’re making progress towards those milestones on time.

Budget control and cost management

One of the hardest issues to control and manage is budget. It comes back down to the iron triangle — any adjustments made to a job’s scope or schedule will influence the budget as well. Weekly forecasting is a good tool to use here, and can help you plan ahead by giving you visibility on what’s just around the corner.

Remember, a project’s financial issues are also often symptoms of larger problems – that’s why keeping good records and data is a must. Don’t be afraid to dig into your data. Let’s say you’ve noticed invoices aren’t getting paid on time. Dig deep enough, and you’ll realize there’s probably a bigger problem at play. It could be something outside of your control, like the owner not having funding, or something as simple as making your invoices easier to read.

Another question to ask when it comes to financials: Where are you cutting or changing the budget? If you cut something last minute to make your budget, was it worth the side effects? Even seemingly innocuous things – like investments into your team’s morale – can have a huge effect on how smooth a job goes, so it pays to be mindful of where you’re making cuts.

Another strategy for combating budget issues is building in contingencies and allowances. If anything is unclear in your construction documents, or you have historic data showing you might have trouble in a certain area, allowances can help cover some costs. If you’re ever unsure whether or not an allowance might have merit, just take a look back at your past budgets.

One last word of advice here: try to solve as many problems as you can upfront. A lot of this comes down to writing good contracts — ones that are inclusive of a job’s full scope and are clear on any inclusions/exclusions and even define the allowances or contingencies and their related risk as much as possible.

Resource optimization and allocation

You can have a good plan and a good budget, but without the resources to execute on them, your project can’t get off the ground. Of course, in construction, your most important resource is your people. Getting the right team together and scheduling them accordingly can go a long way in any job.

If you want to avoid labor issues, be intentional when building your team. If you want to avoid issues around materials, always plan ahead. It wasn’t too long ago that seemingly everything was in short supply. Keeping a long lead items list for bespoke products, equipment, and any items you expect to have to wait for will help you stay organized and schedule work accordingly. On the equipment side, proper planning here means making sure any rented equipment is available, and any owned equipment is maintained and not already scheduled for another job.

Risk mitigation and contingency planning

Some risks you just can’t plan for. From natural disasters to labor strikes, there’s always a small chance that something unpredictable will impact your schedule. Because of that, having a flexible contingency in place can make sure your bases are covered when disasters do strike. Just remember to always plan for the unexpected, even if you think you have all your bases covered.

On a day to day basis, smart risk management can simply look like doing good by your teams and subcontractors. Doing your best to maintain relationships can quickly grow your network, and help you rack up IOUs that can help you get out of a bind. It’s easy to call in a favor for someone who has treated you well, so if you ever do find yourself in a tricky situation, don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask for help.

Tom Jodeit

Tom is a seasoned innovator dedicated to leveling up the construction industry. With a robust background in project management at Turner and Skanska, and experience in owner’s representation, he now focuses on developing software tools to address the industry’s most pressing challenges.

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