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The 4 Most Common Project Pitfalls According to a Project Manager

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Written by

Managing Director of Infrastructure

You may have heard the word Kaizen before. It is a Japanese term meaning ‘change for the better’ or, put another way, continuous improvement. And it is something that is critical to success in the construction industry.
Projects that fail or encounter disruptions to the programme require lots of reflection on the problems that occurred, the source of the issues, and how to keep them from happening again in the future. But even successful projects offer opportunity for learning and reflection.

Debriefing to understand what made projects successful so that these practices can be continued and enhanced, identifying unproductive areas that can be improved or discarded, and identifying the pitfalls that inevitably occur are all key elements of continually improving your delivery of projects.

When you reflect back on your projects, what pitfalls come to mind? Here are four of the most common ones, and some tactics as to how they can be overcome.

1. Under managing the programme

Late finishing projects are the result of a complex mixture of reasons, from procurement issues and labour challenges to unforeseen conditions. These issues and their impacts on the programme are often exasperated by reactive programme management by the Project Manager (PM). Reactive programme management refers to addressing issues after they have impacted the programme. For example; when a monthly status update reveals that the concrete contractor is two weeks behind, a problem that must now be solved after the delay has already occurred.

There are a number of ways to overcome this problem. Having a solid programme from the start is foundational. While it is normally the responsibility of the contractor to produce the construction program, working collaboratively on it from the start will assist in developing a programme that is robust, and one that the PM fully understands.

It is also important that the programme be actively managed and consistently updated and statused. Construction projects move at a rapid pace, and small incidents such as the late delivery of key materials or subcontractors missing daily or weekly productivity marks have a way of slowly building up and causing an issue that would not be picked up unless the programme is being managed.

2. Budget mismanagement

While many project budgets are set prior to PMs becoming involved, the PM can still influence project budget outcomes. One way is through value management (VM). PMs need to act as the lynchpin amongst the architect, quantity surveyors, and other members of the design team, to ensure there is a strategy for achieving VM outcomes, a plan and most importantly making sure that the plan is followed.

The PM can also work closely with the project Quantity Surveyor and Contractor to develop a number of key budget metrics that can be updated regularly and monitored over time, so that trends or issues like contingency erosion or buyout losses are spotted early and can be addressed.

3. Workflow not focused on the client

One measure of a successful project is client satisfaction, which is an important factor in earning a nod on that next project. Lack of communication and failing to involve the client are surefire ways to not be invited back.

It is understood that PMs and the rest of the project team are hired for their expertise in building, but this often results in a tendency to want to keep the client in the background while the experts do what they were hired to do. This is shortsighted. The client has the vision for the project and is deeply invested in the end product. Thus, the PM should incorporate client involvement into the project workflow from the start and maintain continual involvement throughout the project. Communications should be ongoing and transparent.

These elements combined help to ensure that even as project issues occur, they can be solved as a team and any project adjustments like contingency spend or program adjustments, are made together.

4. Communication breakdown

Construction projects are all about meeting the needs of local people and broader communities, and wherever the needs of people are involved, communication is key. Amongst all the common project issues, poor communication is often the most prevalent and sometimes plays a role in the other project pitfalls related to programme, budget, and the like.

Poor communication leads to problems being raised too late, information not being shared to those who need it, and faltering relationships.

Good communication is where plans are hatched, problems solved, negotiations hashed out.

The PM is the key link between all members of the project team and needs to act as the facilitator at the top of a well oiled communication machine. Understanding the importance of good communication to a project and being diligent about it in practice is a good start. However, a PM can go further. Face-to-face or phone contact should be prioritised over electronic interactions. Meetings should be efficient, well managed, and outcomes based. Written communications should be practiced, sharp, and always on point.


Want to partner with a team of Project Managers that value Kaizen? →

The DCWC Project Management Team has experience managing everything from the common to the complex, and actively works to make each project more successful than the last. We draw from a national pool of resources, that brings together best practice processes to confidently collaborate with you to achieve outstanding project objectives.

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