Project challenges usually come with no prior warning. When the lead electrician came to me and said that someone was walking on the building roof in the rain with no safety gear, and no installed barriers, I knew it was going to be one of “those days.”
It was a two-story roof, pitched 4 in 12 with asphalt shingles, and the rain was coming down in buckets. When I caught up with the perpetrator, his sneakers were hydroplaning as he slid toward the abyss. If it hadn’t been for a vent pipe, he’d have landed in a dumpster full of old siding and discarded gas stoves.
People ignoring safety rules is the worst of project challenges. If you don’t address them head-on, you will always regret it. Besides safety violators, here are three other project challenges you can’t ignore.
Everybody makes assumptions. It’s a natural process we use to make sense of the world. Construction projects are breeding grounds for assumptions due to their complexity.
The biggest source of incorrect assumptions is optimism. You might assume that you’ll have fair weather for the upcoming project because you normally have fair weather at that time of the year. So, you push aside any planning for an early freeze or five days of snow.
The inability to recognize changes can also lead to assuming incorrectly. For instance, maybe last year, you could safely expect inspections would happen within three days. However, now, the local jurisdiction’s inspectors are operating three people short. Or, perhaps your usual lumber supplier changed sources and now sells lumber with more moisture. In both cases, change is creating new challenges for which you might not have prepared.
Construction projects are breeding grounds for assumptions due to their complexity.
When you take a little extra time to question your assumptions, you reveal weaknesses in your planning. While you cannot do everyone’s job, you can get some extra assurance if you also watch for glaring instances where other people assume incorrectly.
Unidentified Dispute Sources
According to the Arcadis Global Construction Disputes Report, issues with contracts became the chief cause of construction disputes in North America in 2019. Contractors and subcontractors not understanding or not complying with the contract was number one, followed by errors or omissions in the contract documents.
Let’s face it; contracts are boring. They’re also hard to read and understand. With all the risk transfer that happens in construction, you can find yourself on the losing end of a claim if you don’t understand some obscure filing requirement. You don’t need these project challenges.
But it’s not just you to be concerned about. It’s everyone who has anything to do with satisfying a contractual obligation. Look around at the next pre-construction meeting and count the faces that are totally tuned out as you cover the contract.
People need to understand the contract requirements. They also need to understand the “procedural aspects” of the contract. How many days do they have to file a claim? What is the change order process? What signatures need to be on the shop order approvals?
Construction projects depend on human relationships. Unfortunately, misunderstandings, poor listening, and weak collaboration frequently create project challenges.
Putting contractual ignorance aside, misunderstandings in construction projects often come from poor planning. If your work breakdowns aren’t accurate, people will have a hard time understanding not only how the pieces fit together but also why the method can’t absorb any shortcuts.
In another instance, a schedule that’s missing inspections or quality checks will lead to stacked trades and confusion. There’s one good way to reduce project challenges arising from misunderstandings: Be accurate, clear, and concise in work packages and crew instructions.
Poor collaboration starts with information silos that don’t share.
People are often too wrapped up thinking about their response even before the other person has finished talking. That’s at the core of poor listening. Listening is a skill you can learn, and there are just three steps to it: focus, listen, paraphrase.
When you train yourself to clear your mind and focus on what the other person is saying, you will also pick up on their nonverbal cues. When you listen without concentrating on things unrelated to the exchange, you can see the connection between what is communicated verbally and nonverbally. Finally, if you paraphrase back to the person what you think they said, you can confirm you understood them correctly. With understanding locked down, you are poised to improve collaboration.
Poor collaboration starts with information silos that don’t share. Low-quality documentation with outdated processes makes collaboration a chore nobody wants to tackle. However, there are solutions to fix that. Procore’s cloud-based project management tools used with mobile devices offer a more effective way to increase and improve collaboration.
When you get out in front of factors like these that create project challenges, you stand a good chance of stopping them in their tracks or at least minimizing their effects.