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‘Golden goose’ of project delays is unforeseen site conditions: WeirFoulds

Angela Gismondi
‘Golden goose’ of project delays is unforeseen site conditions: WeirFoulds

The most important thing for preventing and mitigating delays on a construction project is planning.

“Plan, plan, plan and figure out a way to manage issues you know are going to create risk going forward in the project,” said Krista Chaytor, partner at WeirFoulds LLP during a webinar on Delays on Construction Projects. “Identifying those risks, coming up with a risk register, knowing what’s going to happen or what could happen so that you’re ready for it. You’re proactive, not reactive. This is really probably the number one thing you can do. Just be ready because there are going to be hiccups obviously and the issue is how do you handle them, did you anticipate them and were you ready for them.”

The number one thing that causes delays is poor planning and poor management of projects, said Chaytor.

“Sometimes it’s a lack of clarity about project scope as well that can lead to these things,” said Chaytor. “Any of you who have had project delays will say well everything was going fine until there was some kind of change that threw everything off the rails. Changes are going to happen and then really the question is how do you approach them with good planning and project management.”

Other causes of delays include extreme weather conditions, labour shortages and material delays, supply chain problems, permitting regulatory and safety issues, communication breakdowns and problems with construction equipment.

“The golden goose of delay is the unforeseen site conditions,” said Chaytor. “That’s obviously going to cause delay because it’s something unaccounted for. While you don’t necessarily account for a particular thing happening you can sort of account for the fact that something might happen.”

Robert Garven, director for Central Canada with Revay, said some of the biggest issues are the plans and specifications.

“When this happens it places a huge burden on the construction projects and these are a major cause, if not the major cause, of disputes that we see,” he said. “These just need to be communicated as soon as they are discovered, as early in the project as possible so that both sides can resolve these as quickly as possible.”

Chaytor offered a few tips to prevent little problems from turning into big problems.

“Planning timelines and schedules and being realistic, making sure that everything is ready whether those are labour resources or other resources, and then the materials you need are all ready to go when you hit that point in the schedule,” she said.

Other tips include having that reasonable float or contingencies and then keeping track and updating it as necessary; schedule monitoring which allows for identifying issues and reallocating resources; and regular schedule updates.

Jeff Scorgie, partner at WeirFoulds, said something else to consider is transparent communication and establishing clear roles and responsibilities.

“You want to do that at the outset,” Scorgie said. “It includes being clear who the contact person is for each party involved, who is the key representative and ensuring all stakeholders are aware of project plans timelines and progress.”

Contingency plans are also important.

“A few examples I’ve seen are something like a contingency plan for adverse weather, so that might include rescheduling work or temporary shelter for workers and their equipment,” said Scorgie. “A material shortage contingency plan. That might involve a plan to identify alternative sources of materials. A site access contingency plan. That might be important if you’re working in the city. All of a sudden there is restricted access because there is a road closure or there is an accident.

“Try to create those things upfront and think about them.”

Another thing that can help mitigate delays are alternative construction measures such as offsite construction, prefabrication, modular construction. Good change management processes are also critical.

“The starting point is definitely making sure you have a clear process for documenting changes,” said Scorgie. “You want…some sort of change request tracking, what are all the changes that have been requested, description of the reason for the changes, potential impacts of them and what’s the status of them.”

Chaytor also talked about how companies can protect their position and preserve rights.

“Negotiating your contract right up front is probably the best thing you can do,” said Chaytor. “So many disputes are avoided with a good contract and so many are created with a bad contract.”

Follow the author on Twitter @DCN_Angela

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