Construction projects have so many moving parts they can’t survive without the rules of the contract and rules of project management. Project managers who break them usually pay a high price of a bad reputation, job loss, or both. These are the five construction project management rules you should never break.
Absent without backup
A construction project manager manages a lot of information, and they have a lot of information in their heads that relates to their analyses of problems and obscure facts only they know. However, keep in mind that at the heart of successful construction project management lies effective communication. So should you be absent, another suitably trained person should always back up your absence, or communications protocols should make you reachable when needed.
But there is another critical reason for not being AWOB. If things go wrong, and there’s an even a slight chance they will, all the explaining in the world won’t save the hit to your reputation or prevent you from losing a client or even your job.
Ignoring warning signs
In a perfect world, every project runs smoothly. You show up, check on things, have lunch, do some more checking, and then go home. It’s an eight-hour day, including the lunch break, and your stress level is nonexistent. Unfortunately, this is not a perfect world, even less so in assembling one-off structures with multiple partners advancing their own self interests.
Fortunately, you can tune into little alerts we call warning signs in project management. For instance, a warning sign of an impending accident is a scaffolding not properly decked or a trench without the proper shoring. A warning sign of your schedule hitting a wall is a resource bottleneck on a critical path activity.
There are worse harbingers of problems, though. Unacceptable behavior, people conflicts, disputes, and poor performance might not have immediate consequences, but they tend to snowball if not dealt with right away. Ignore the early warning at your peril and the project’s health.
Putting off planning
When you do any kind of planning for the project, it focuses your attention on the project’s details. Once there, you notice risks and advantages you wouldn’t have seen or expected. How come the timeline for the window delivery is off by a day? Why do you have a machine scheduled for two different activities at the same time? Why is a portion of the project mired in work-stopping mud after a recent rain?
In most cases, analyzing the schedule and the budget with a critical eye will net many potential problems that are easily preventable. While your plans will always change, don’t neglect to plan. It is through the planning process you come to know the project. When you know the project so well that you start every day fully aware of what’s supposed to happen, you’re in the zone.
Forgetting the stakeholders
Projects always fail when you don’t deliver what the stakeholders want. You might have executed everything beautifully, followed the scope exactly, finished on time, and done it all within budget. And yet, if the result doesn’t absolutely thrill the client, or the client’s backers, you’ve failed. In order to avoid this, you must know your client so well that you can expect when something will displease them. That also means handling expectations and knowing what those expectations are.
You can learn a lot about client expectations by asking them. Whether in scoping meetings or at lunch, ask clients about why they wanted to do the build. Get the background, come to understand their motivations, and learn all you can about their goals for the project, both short and long term.
Risks are all the project aspects that threaten life or limb or the project’s successful completion. That’s a sizable group of items. Fortunately, though, many get dealt with through insurance, bonding, thorough planning, and contract terms. The group that’s left is no less intimidating and often hard to detect.
Changing weather tops the list, but what about changes in the local code enforcement authority? Or what extra risks will the project face when the mumblings of one subcontractor’s workers come true, and they walk off the job? For some of these risks, you get no forewarning. But for many, there are signs. By staying tuned in, you’ll detect when risks are on the rise. The longer you wait to respond to these risks, the more likely you’ll have fresh problems to solve.
Whether you’re a project manager or an independent general contractor, you’ve got plenty of project management challenges. But if you can avoid breaking these rules, you’ll corral an entire herd of challenges before they break free and run all over you.