Cost-Effective Time Management for General Contractors

Published February 17, 2016 by Whirlwind Team

construction time management

Construction cost overruns can be a huge expense for your customer. Certainly, there are times when it just can’t be helped, like the blizzard conditions plaguing the northeastern U.S. right now. You can’t control the weather.

More often than not, however, it is simply poor time management that prevents a project from completing on time and on budget. Take a little time to learn some of the basics of time management, where the pitfalls are, and how you can successfully tackle complex projects, like construction, in an organized manner.

The basics of time management

Time management means you need to understand:

  • Critical path scheduling techniques that include any associated specifications
  • How to use scheduling software
  • What causes delays and how they occur
  • What the pros and cons are of various schedule and delay mitigation methods used by others on the project
  • The principles behind successful schedule and delay analysis methods

The biggest concern for time management is the identification and management of delays. Time factor administration and management methods include scheduling techniques that can demonstrate the impact of any delay that occurs as a result of unforeseen problems and unplanned events. Once identified, delays can be isolated, measured, and placed in a group with other delays for resolution.

Documenting these details does more than help you manage them. It provides legal support anytime you need to allocate or apportion damages. In other words, it protects your rights as a contractor and the rights of your customer.

Customers have the basic right to:

  • Establish how long construction should take
  • Expect timely performance
  • Liquidate damages for late performance
  • And may be able to limit contractor remedies

You, as the General Contractor, have these rights:

  • Reasonable access to work areas
  • Timely approvals
  • Timely delivery of owner furnished materials and equipment
  • Prompt payment
  • Right to finish early
  • Extra time and money for owner-caused delays

Why is time management so important?

When a project runs off schedule it negatively impacts a large group of people, including the lender, the owner (obviously), the architect or engineer, you (the General Contractor), and your subs. Poor time management causes problems with bonds and insurance, too.

Good time management eliminates or minimizes expensive time and cost overruns. Plus, if you have a reputation for bringing projects in on time word will spread that you run a quality GC business.

Causes of poor time management

Unfortunately, there are so many ways schedules can be overturned. The biggest problem occurs when the owner and the General Contractor don’t do the proper planning from the start. Nothing is put into place to resolve delays quickly.

Keeping the schedule updated is another neglected activity. It’s hard to tell where you are when you don’t really know where you’ve been. Or, in this case, what is done and what isn’t. You need to able to tell at a glance whether your project is running on time and what delays have occurred.  

How do things get in such a mess? The GC or owner creates unnecessarily complicated schedules or doesn’t put in enough detail. Other ways time is wasted include:

  • Construction brokering by the contractor
  • Errors and omissions in the schedule or plans
  • Differing site conditions from the expected
  • Time is not extended enough to fix a problem
  • Accidents occur
  • The crew lacks motivation
  • The GC  or the owner procrastinates, putting off until tomorrow what should be done today

What else can happen? The schedule can fail to take into account cumulative impacts from previous delays or ignore completion date waivers.

You and the owner need to define acceptable standards of proof for excusable delay so you know when to blow a gasket and when to just shrug and say, “It will get done.”

Time management tools and methods

Proof and/or defense of delay

This is like having a day in court. First, you need to get the attention of the owner or owner’s representative ASAP. Make your argument as clear and concise as possible. You want to persuade this person to look at things your way.

You need to have your facts straight so check that you are following the contract requirements precisely. The owner or representative may require you to use a specific method of delay analysis such as Time Impact Analysis, or TIA. It would strengthen your case to know a little about the legal ramifications involved in scheduling problems, too.

Finally, determine and document any other issues there may be with the completion date and implement a process that requires factual data and impact costs to resolve the delay.

Establishment of necessary controls and procedures

Time management starts with developing processes and putting controls into place. These should all become part of the contract you make with your customer to eliminate misunderstandings. There should be processes and controls in place for planning, implementing, and controlling the project.

Procedures should also be put in place for risk management, particularly claims avoidance and mitigation as well as dispute resolution. You want to discover and resolve potential schedule or cost overruns as early as you can.

  • Review the contract before implementing it to identify potential areas of risk and determine the best way to manage it. Make certain that critical claims prevention provisions and procedures are part of the contract before you sign.
  • Train your staff and crew on established procedures and how to respond to claims.
  • Develop an early warning system for quick and consistent responses.

Implement a program for claims surveillance to monitor how well mitigation and dispute resolution procedures are working. In addition, create a regular report to keep everyone informed and on the same page regarding the resolution taken, the timetable to implement the resolution, and the results.

A regular management briefing can address issues on an exception basis if needed.

Time impact analysis (TIA)

Time Impact Analysis originated with the Apollo Space Program and uses a networking technique to demonstrate the effect of specific delays on a project schedule as they occur. It’s sort of a real-time problem analyzer capable of finding and measuring the time impact of a specific problem. It can then relate it to past problems or current delays. Current activities can be quickly noted and fixed while past problems can be investigated more thoroughly. TIA helps owners and contractors identify which activities or critical pathways are, or were, impacted. If the problems are current, TIA assists with rescheduling.

Aside from TIA, another way to keep an eye on progress is to keep an updated timeline visible and check progress on a regular basis.

A few miscellaneous tips

  1. Use your smartphone and other technology wisely. Fix it so you only respond to important stuff right away.
  2. Use special apps to streamline operations like generating quotes.
  3. Control the paperwork, don’t let it control you. (Consider scanning printed documents into your computer to save desk space.)
  4. Delegate! You don’t have to do everything yourself.
  5. Prioritize: focus on right tasks that move you closer to long-term goals.

Building construction projects are complex endeavors. Changing direction is like trying to turn the Titanic. Don’t sink your ship because you didn’t prepare; make scheduling and delay mitigation part of every contract you take.

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