How Project Managers Address Their Top 3 Challenges
Project managers have often said each project is unique. However, there are some constants from job site to job site. Project managers consistently rank staying on schedule, staying on budget, and managing as-builts as three of their top project management challenges.
Improve your project management skills by learning these tips for staying on schedule, staying on budget, and managing as-builts.
How to stay on schedule
According to a McKinsey & Company study, 77 percent of all construction sites experience significant delays. And almost all projects that go over schedule also go over budget.
Here are the top five actions project managers take to stay on schedule.
- Identify risks
- Create flexible schedules
- Front-load when possible
- Encourage their team
- Track progress
There are numerous variables on a construction site. And anything (such as missing materials, equipment problems, labor shortages, cash flow problems, the weather, and safety incidents) can potentially threaten your schedule.
A good project manager will identify those risks, decide which ones are the most critical, and devise contingency plans for them.
Many delays result from the construction company either not identifying a risk or not addressing it. Sometimes this is due to negligence. And sometimes it’s due to poor data collection. Sometimes plans are even based on false information. Customers sometimes knowingly or unknowingly relate incorrect property details, such as the location of underground pipes. So, there’s a risk that your data is inaccurate, and you need to create contingency plans for inaccurate data.
Communicate essential contingency plans to workers before an event may go wrong. If you do this, your team will be more confident and productive when implementing a contingency plan. And it’s much easier than trying to pivot one or more teams if people know what to expect.
Plan for bad things to happen
Project managers must plan for the best but expect the worst when planning construction projects.
You create a schedule based on a number of assumptions.
- Estimates are accurate
- X amount of labor productivity
- Equipment and building materials will be available when you need them
- Weather will allow for work to proceed most days.
However, estimates contain errors, people don’t show up for work, supply chains and equipment break down, and the weather can be unpredictable.
Once you’re behind schedule, it can be very difficult to catch up. By creating flexibility, one or two extra weeks on one section of the construction project doesn’t threaten your overall schedule. A flexible schedule will keep options open when you need to change the project’s overall schedule or scope.
One way to help build flexibility into your schedule is to front-load work. Draft all your plans, set up all your suppliers and subcontractors during the pre-construction phase. Then, aim to complete a disproportionate amount of work at the start, so you will have some wiggle room when there’s rework or downtime. Plan an aggressive schedule before the winter season limits your operations. Or aim to pave a disproportionate amount of highway at the start of the project. Planning your work breakdown structure will also help you minimize risk.
Be a people person
Project managers not only need to communicate plans to their team but they motivate them with positive reinforcement. Team members who feel valued are more likely to stay on task, work productively and efficiently, and care about the quality of their contributions.
With Linarc’s software, you can quickly send people a message complimenting their work and making them feel valued. Communicate expectations and treat team members well to avoid people becoming one of your top project management challenges.
Compare job site data to the master plan
Finally, good project managers track their progress and regularly compare it to the original plans and estimates.
Construction projects are dynamic, and project managers will significantly benefit from a dynamic system for tracking them.
Standard spreadsheets require too much manual data entry, result in too many errors, and can’t produce job site progress reports. A project management software, on the other hand, can create all sorts of reports and decrease errors and manual data entry.
With a project management software, it becomes easy to compare projected schedules to actual schedules, so you know where to make changes to the original plans to stay ahead. The Linarc project management and collaboration software is easy to use, and when something is easy, you’re more likely to do it. Since Linarc can produce these reports in seconds, you will spend less time identifying issues and more time addressing them.
How to stay on budget
Most large construction projects go over budget. Here are the top five actions project managers take to ensure their budget doesn’t become one of their top project management challenges.
- Create accurate estimates
- Create accurate work plans
- Create a cashflow timeline
- Identify risks
- Track financials
The first step to staying on budget is calculating accurate estimates. If your estimate isn’t accurate, you must make some profound changes to stay on budget. Your estimate is the first driver on a project that determines its financial success or failure, so ensure you’re setting yourself up for success right out of the gate.
Bottom-up estimates use the specific costs of materials, labor, equipment, etc., and then adds up individual costs to forecast project needs. Top-down estimates value the evaluation of a project (or budget) as a whole and then separate it into smaller components. Use whichever method—or both methods—to get the most accurate results.
For the most error-free estimates, use an estimation software; it will eliminate manual data entry, which creates the potential for human errors. Automation within the software eliminates time looking up information and entering it, saving time and increasing accuracy. You can easily export data from an estimating software to another software, such as bidding software and project management software, which saves time entering data and boosts accuracy.
Plan the work
Similar to creating accurate estimates is creating accurate plans. Increase the accuracy of your plans by breaking down the project into smaller components. Assign material, equipment, labor, timeframes, and cash values to each part of the project.
Understanding the scope of the work is crucial to coming up with accurate plans. If the scope of work isn’t well defined—the project owner provides the contractor with incomplete plans, for example—you can’t design accurate estimates, schedules, or budgets. Ensure there are plans to cover the costs when project details aren’t clearly defined.
Create a cash flow timeline to see when you need funds, so that a lack of funds never becomes a reason for delaying a project. Cash flow is the fifth dimension in construction; (the first three are the physical dimensions, and the fourth dimension is time). Advise management of cash flow needs, because they’re responsible for ensuring cash is available for a project.
The next step to staying on budget is to identify risks to your plan, rate them, and develop contingency plans for the most critical ones. From damaged materials to labor shortages to rework, etc., so many aspects of a project could change or go wrong. And each change has the potential to increase the costs of the project. Fortunately, numerous activities benefit both your budget and your schedule, and since identifying risk was mentioned up top, we won’t go into it again.
Secure the most crucial project materials with suppliers. Order them early, if you must, especially when supply chains aren’t running smoothly and items are on backorder. A delay in a material shipment could result in project delays, which will likely incur greater costs.
Finally, track all money coming in, going out, items over budget, new expenses, change orders, etc. The sooner you realize your project is occurring extra expenditures, the sooner you can deal with it, which increases the number of options available for getting back on budget, but also allows you to catch the problem when they’re still small and easier to solve.
Use a dynamic solution
There are numerous project management softwares with features designed to help you mitigate your top project management challenges.
With Linarc, you can keep track of estimates, cost revisions, and change order impacts on a centralized budget manager. You can also establish project budgets and controls from the start and foster transparency by publishing workflows for all financial processes. Integrate the technology with standard digital accounting systems and save time and money by eliminating double-entry and decreasing errors,
Linarc allows you to manage budgets and exposure securely collaboratively, load bid values for the entire project, link to subcontractor’s estimates for tighter control, track contractor budget exposure based on work progress, and stay on top of the budget. Keep track of sub-contractor exposure and understand the cash flow impact as the project advances. As you update contractor task progress, Linarc updates the exposure reports.
How to deal with as-builts
Throughout any construction project, the work scope changes. Changes can result from design modifications, changing site conditions, material availability, contractor requests, value engineering, impacts from third parties, and more.
Construction as-builts are documents used to show the finished condition of work. It reflects the structure as it was built and not as it was designed (blueprint). These are one-stop repositories of all directed changes, allowing all parties to work on the same set of documents. Then the contractor must produce these documents for the property owner at the project’s close.
Monitoring as-builts can be a time-consuming and complicated process or simplify and optimize them with these top five actions project managers take to address as-builts.
- Create an as-built process during pre-construction
- Use the cloud
- Inform partners where to communicate project changes
- Document a.s.a.p.
Plan the process
Tracking as-builts shouldn’t be an ad hoc job. You should methodically plan out how you’re going to document as-builts. Create as-built checklists, identify where the information will be stored, and decide who is authorized and responsible for creating as-builts.
Managing your as-built process from the pre-construction phase improves communication, saves time, and reduces costs for all parties involved. An efficient as-built management strategy can help you keep the project on schedule and budget.
Cloud storage works best
The best way to communicate changes is digitally. Digital communication is much faster than the standard practice of using paper. Paper requires printing and the physical distribution of ideas; it also allows for multiple copies of the same documentation to exist at the same time, which can cause conflicts, confusion, delays, and rework.
Uploading a photo of the completed work and typing in a few notes, such as dimensions, can save a lot of time and produce more accurate descriptions then traditional as-built practices. Drawings or written notes aren’t always enough to clearly identify issues. Use an as-built management system that allows you to include photos and link them to specific plans.
Digital communication can be stored in the cloud (or on a server) that is easily accessible by all parties, whether working in the office or the field; cloud-based technology boosts productivity among office, field, and remote workers.
A project management and collaboration software provides real-time project data and communications, organizes the information, and creates reports.
Linarc’s easy-to-use, all-in-one cloud-based construction management software features customizable dashboards that highlight critical data points to guide your decisions, provide active alerts to help key stakeholders stay on top of action items, and actionable analytics on which team members can make better decisions.
Subcontractors need to document as-builts as well as the general contractor. However, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the general contractor to collect all project closeout documentation, so it’s in the best interest of the general contractor to ensure the subcontractors are on board with the general contractor’s as-built guidelines.
Standardized paper forms are too difficult to monitor, and by the time the general contractor receives the as-built documentation from the subcontractor, it could be weeks later. Changes to one part of a structure, such as moving the location of an entryway, could affect other teams, such as electrical, who were expecting to install wires where the doors are now located. Communicating changes right away eliminates these types of scenarios from happening.
If you use a project management and collaboration software, you could contract subcontractors to use it. You may need to train them on it, but the time used for training saves time, especially when it comes to gathering closeout documentation.
Plan for changes or accept delays
Deal with as-builts as they happen and you will always be working with the most accurate and up-to-date project details. As well, finding issues becomes more straightforward and you will simplify your closeout process.
Dealing with the change itself is already time-consuming. When there’s so much to do to complete a project–and a schedule and a budget is hanging over their heads–it’s understandable why people don’t want to deal with the documentation when the changes occur.
Also, teams and individuals don’t schedule time for documentation during the construction period. It’s the result of a change, and when and where a change will take place is unpredictable. However, if you’ve built flexibility into your schedule and planned for the unexpected (and even the bad), you should be able to find the time to document as-builts when they happen.