What Causes Construction Project Delays?

What Causes Construction Project Delays?

As construction projects become more and more complex, contractors are experiencing increasingly more common delays in project completion schedules. Despite construction being one of the oldest and most universal industries, time and cost overruns are still expected outcomes on any project. Though there have been major advancements in technology to help coordinate and schedule tasks, construction project delays are still widely accepted as a normal part of the industry.

This guide to avoiding construction project delays will help contractors understand some of the leading factors that contribute to the issue. We’ll also explain how renting heavy construction equipment can help prevent construction project delays and increase productivity.

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Top 10 Reasons for Construction Project Delays

As in any other industry, the larger the project, the more complex its needs, leading to more opportunities for delays. One of the most detrimental outcomes of construction project delays is their tendency to rack up financial costs, leading to budgetary constraints and reduced profit margins. This reality makes the role of the project manager or contractor that much more important when it comes to anticipating and predicting where the delays can and will occur.

Knowing where construction delays occur and how to avoid them is a crucial aspect of construction management. Below are the top 10 causes of construction delays for contractors to be aware of.

1. Improper Upfront Planning

Numerous construction management experts say that the upfront planning phase is the most important aspect of any construction project. It’s in the planning phase that many of the downstream delays can be avoided. Planning allows managers to set clear goals, predict obstacles, establish timelines and even plan for how to get back on schedule in the event of delays.

Project planning is a skill just like any other. Contractors and project managers looking to avoid construction project delays should invest time and effort into developing their project planning skills. Contractors with well-developed planning skills can allocate resources more efficiently and identify task dependencies with greater clarity. They also develop an ability to realistically assess risks, giving them foresight into handling challenging issues like labor shortages or supply chain constraints and greatly increasing the likelihood of a successful project outcome.

Upfront planning is also the perfect opportunity to communicate with key parties so that everyone understands their role and what’s required of them. A written plan gets everyone on the same page, increasing the likelihood that each milestone will be met on time.

2. Budget Miscalculations

Part of the upfront planning phase is developing a thorough and detailed budget. Cost miscalculations can delay construction projects because contractors need to spend time securing additional funding, renegotiating credit terms, or finding alternative materials or resources that better suit the budgetary reality. All of these actions can add up to significant project delays over time.

Budgetary miscalculations are particularly detrimental to project timelines when they involve labor negotiations. As projects fall farther behind in their timelines, labor costs increase both for subcontractors and employees. Subcontractors need to charge extra to cover their time, and if general contractors can’t reach an agreement right away, the project sees further delay.

Though all project budgets factor in a contingency to buffer the overall cost, delays can easily eat away at this financial padding. According to the Project Management Institute, organizations waste an average of $97 million for every $1 billion invested due to poor project productivity and management. Cost overruns compound over time and hinder a project’s success, causing bottlenecks in production. Like project planning, budgeting is another vital skill for contractors to develop to ensure project success.

3. Poor Communication and Coordination

A healthy project schedule is contingent on the ability of everyone to work as a team. To keep a project running smoothly and meeting its production milestones, there must be excellent coordination among all parties. Each step of the process, whether it’s during the design or build phase, needs to be thoroughly coordinated and communicated.

Coordinating a project schedule means arranging work activities in a logical order based on the sequence of work needed at any given time. By setting out the sequence of work, contractors and construction managers can ensure that each subcontractor is ready and available as needed. To coordinate all the various subcontractors, the construction manager needs to have a clear understanding of the scope of work that’s required at each phase. For this reason, good coordination requires upfront and ongoing communication.

While scheduling a project and coordinating work activities, managers should be in communication with subcontractors to ensure they have a solid technical understanding of each person’s role. The project schedule also acts as a way to keep everyone in constant communication, including monitoring progress and adjusting for delays. Modern project management software keeps all parties informed as to the project schedule, the expectations and the ongoing results.

4. Scope Creep

No matter the size or complexity, all construction projects need a well-defined project scope before the work begins. A project's scope defines the deliverables that must be ready at the end of the project. Not having a clear project scope leads to serious delays because workers will need constant corrections and clarifications on their personal scope of work. Over time, these delays add up to significant schedule overruns.

In addition to a poorly defined scope is the risk of scope creep. Scope creep occurs when owners or developers request additional or different work than what was contained in the original plan. Each time new or other work is requested, it needs to be estimated and approved, and new materials or additional labor must be procured in order to execute the scope change. 

Scope creep affects a project in many ways. First, it alters the course of the project timeline, delaying certain milestones and setting back the upcoming work activities. Second, it also contributes to budget overruns, as additional items end up costing more when they are requested part way through a project. Getting clear on project deliverables before the work begins can help prevent scope creep. Having policies on how to handle scope creep can also help prevent delays.

5. Weather Events

The weather is one of the few causes of construction project delays that’s outside of anyone’s control. The longer projects take, the more at risk they are of experiencing extreme weather events that cause delays. 

Projects that take a year or longer experience a full cycle of seasonal changes, potentially delaying projects due to a variety of different weather concerns. Extreme heat can create unbearable and unsafe conditions for workers, delaying projects until a heatwave has passed. Blizzards and rainstorms can create health and safety hazards on the job site and require special protocols to keep projects running safely.

Though weather is not something you can clearly predict well into the future, let alone control, it’s something that construction managers can work around as best as possible. Looking at historical records and understanding the average length of delays due to weather concerns can help contractors factor weather into their schedules during the planning stage.

 Contractors know that certain work activities, like pouring concrete or installing roofing and siding, can’t be done when it’s raining, snowing or windy. Therefore, lining up these phases of projects during seasons with optimal weather conditions can be helpful in preventing weather-related delays or costly rework.

6. Fluctuating Economy

The health of the construction industry is highly dependent on the local, state, national and international economies. In a thriving economy, the construction industry experiences rapid growth, but a slowing economy can lead to a recession.

In an economic downturn, contractors face increased competition, meaning that many bids are won based on the lowest cost. When profit margins are tighter, projects often get delayed due to a variety of financial constraints. One of the main budgetary limitations that occurs during difficult economic times arises due to the high cost of labor. Contractors may limit overtime work, meaning that certain milestones take longer to complete.

In a thriving economy, however, businesses are busier and have many more projects to manage at once. Consequently, it can take longer to get projects designed and approved because there are only so many technical experts available. In a booming economy, delays can also happen due to supply or labor shortages or a lack of available equipment. Many of these factors are not within a contractor’s control, but they can be accounted for when planning a project schedule.

7. Labor Shortages

Many industries face the challenge of labor shortages, but construction is one sector that consistently experiences this obstacle. A skilled labor shortage means workers are both harder to find and more expensive to hire. Without a consistent and reliable workforce, construction projects will continue to face setbacks as managers spend more time recruiting workers.

According to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), 81% of contracting businesses are facing a skilled labor shortage in both salaried and hourly tradespeople, with 72% of respondents anticipating that labor shortages will continue to pose the biggest challenge to their businesses. Construction projects will continue to face unpredictable delays if they cannot find tradespeople and afford to pay their increasingly competitive wages. 

In order to prevent delays due to a limited labor supply, contractors and managers must become experts at allocating human resources. When contractors manage multiple overlapping projects, it becomes even more crucial to optimize project schedules and make laborers available at the optimal time for specific project phases. Some companies are compensating by using scheduling software to help take the guesswork out of human resources, using data to intelligently allocate labor to projects and strategically optimize productivity.

8. Supply Chain Issues

Building material represents a significant portion of any construction project’s overhead budget, making it an expense that must be carefully managed in order to maintain profitability. Unfortunately, construction materials are highly dependent on international economic factors, with many businesses in the U.S. cooperating with international suppliers. In such a highly interconnected world, any disruption to the supply chain can have a global ripple effect, eventually impacting even small local construction businesses.

A review of construction industry studies found that the largest external contributor to construction project delays was a shortage of construction materials. The year 2021 has seen a particularly significant impact on materials and supplies. An ongoing lumber shortage has forced the price of single-family home construction to increase. However, steady demand for new home construction is causing contractors to see delays in their project timelines.

According to the National Association of Home Builders, it isn’t just lumber that’s in short supply. A May 2021 survey found that over 90% of builders were experiencing at least one materials shortage of some variety. For example, 95% of builders reported a lack of available appliances, while 87% reported a shortage in windows and doors. As a result, contractors are experiencing supply-related delays throughout the building process, from framing to finishing.

9. Inefficient Equipment

To keep complex and dynamic construction projects on time and on budget, contractors don’t just need the most productive workers for the job. They also need the most efficient tools and equipment. Finding the right heavy construction equipment is essential in maintaining continuous productivity and meeting tight timelines.

Heavy construction equipment, whether it’s excavators, loaders or their compatible work tools, must be well suited for the type and scale of project in question. Heavy equipment that’s too small for your project results in wasted time where operators work longer than necessary at digging, grading or hauling. On the other hand, heavy construction equipment that’s too big for the job also limits productivity. Full-size heavy equipment costs more to operate and has more complex training requirements, meaning it can take longer to instruct operators in its use. 

Finding the most suitable size of construction equipment for the job is vital in maintaining a streamlined operation and mitigating the risk of construction delays. Before you rent or buy, make sure your construction equipment is the right size for your project’s demands. Using the most efficient equipment for the job will bring you one step closer to meeting your production goals on time.

10. Equipment Breakdowns

A final reason for construction project delays has to do with the quality and maintenance of construction equipment. Improperly maintained equipment is far more likely to break down at inopportune moments compared to equipment that undergoes routine preventive maintenance. Sudden and unexpected equipment breakdowns can significantly impact businesses, as downtime can push back project timelines and cause contractors to miss important production milestones. 

Equipment breakdowns don’t just impact productivity for the day — they can also set back other scheduled subcontractors, who then need to rearrange their schedules to accommodate the delay. Repairing malfunctioning equipment is also more expensive and time-consuming than planned and preventive maintenance appointments.

Having high-quality, well-maintained and reliable equipment is a crucial defense against construction project delays. Renting construction equipment from a reputable partner can help ensure that your fleet is up for the job every time. Additionally, a rental dealer can supply you with reliable equipment to supplement your needs should your project fall behind, or if you need to ramp up production to meet certain goals.

By keeping track of equipment downtime, contractors can plan ahead for potential delays, creating a more realistic project schedule. By being aware of how equipment downtime impacts your business, you can plan for ways to mitigate and control equipment breakdowns and prevent lost productivity.

How to Avoid Delays in Construction Projects With Equipment Rentals

Construction project delays are a normal part of the industry. However, many of the common delays that contractors experience can be mitigated with construction equipment rentals. By renting equipment, contractors are able to access high-quality machines that suit specific jobs. With flexible contract terms, contractors can get equipment when they need it to keep productivity high.

Below are four ways that equipment rentals can help your business avoid construction project delays.

Book Equipment Rentals Ahead of Time

Renting equipment is one of the most effective ways to take the guesswork out of project scheduling. By choosing to rent, you can secure the right equipment and work tools for the job well ahead of time. This practice gives you peace of mind in knowing that the most efficient equipment is available when you need it and for the amount of time you need it for. 

Oftentimes, contractors find themselves in a holding pattern, waiting for one project to wrap up before they can move their equipment to another site. This downtime causes delays in the next project’s start time, delaying other phases of the project before it even begins. During these project overlaps, contractors can turn to their local reputable rental provider to get the equipment they need without delay.

Secure the Right Equipment for the Job

With one of the top causes of construction project delays being inefficient equipment, it’s crucial that contractors use machinery that can meet all the project’s needs. Essential factors to consider include:

  • Ground conditions: Choose equipment with either tracks or wheels, depending on the terrain. Tracks give machines flotation over soft and uneven terrain, while wheels are suitable for flat and stable ground.
  • Space constraints: For smaller residential lots, compact equipment is highly maneuverable and safer to operate. Larger sites can comfortably accommodate full-size equipment.
  • Job volume: Compact equipment, although easier to maneuver, is not as efficient at moving high volumes of material. Choosing larger equipment can increase productivity.

Consult an experienced rental equipment dealer to get professional advice on choosing construction equipment for your project.

Get Well-Maintained Construction Equipment

Avoid costly unplanned downtime with reliable rental equipment. Improperly maintained construction equipment is one of the leading causes of construction delays and lost profitability. For machinery to be high-performing and efficient, it needs to be serviced at regular intervals to prevent avoidable breakdowns.

Renting construction equipment from a reliable provider ensures that you’re getting high-performing machines and work tools that won’t cause unplanned downtime. However, not all rental providers treat their fleets to the highest standards. When you rent construction equipment, be sure to ask about the dealer's maintenance routines and service records. Check recent reviews to make sure the provider has a history of satisfied customers who are happy with their rental equipment quality.

Benefit From Flexible Contracts

A significant contributor to construction project delays is the fact that contractors often find themselves in a position in which they are waiting for one project to finish before they can begin the next one. This is primarily due to limited labor and equipment resources. Rather than waiting to complete one job before moving on to the next, fill in the gaps with rental equipment.

One of the most significant benefits of rental equipment is the flexibility contractors get in their rental terms. Whether you need a daily, weekly or monthly equipment rental, your local provider can accommodate with a rental period that fits your needs. Rather than delaying your next project's start date, find a reliable rental provider to equip you with the right construction equipment today.

Avoid Construction Delays With Equipment Rentals From The Cat® Rental Store

In order to maintain high productivity and deliver construction projects on time, contractors need reliable equipment for the job. At The Cat® Rental Store, you'll find well-maintained, reliable equipment that’s ready to be put to use. Find the equipment you need to stay productive and profitable at The Cat Rental Store near you.

Browse our selection of construction equipment rentals and work tools to find the right equipment for the job. With over 1,300 locations around the world, The Cat Rental Store is available to help you with all your rental needs. Find a location near you today or call 1-800-RENT-CAT for more information on renting heavy construction equipment. 

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