Unrealistic Expectations or Poor Project Management? 

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How do you know when expectations are unrealistic when managing a construction project?

Construction sites are collaborative by nature, and each party has their own agenda. The customer wants something; management outlines policies and procedures; subcontractors predominantly work independently. And the construction team needs to be encouraged and motivated to perform their work effectively. 

The responsibility of making all parties happy falls on the shoulders of the project manager. The project manager not only has to satisfy every party, they’re also the key person through which every other party is connected. 

A project’s scope, timeline, material needs, labor needs, and costs are the result of several people putting in their expertise and opinion, but the responsibility for its successful completion generally falls onto just one person (who may or may not have much input into the project’s inputs). 

When a project begins to miss deadlines and suffer cost overruns, whose fault is it?

Everyone has a different point of view, and everyone believes they’re right. And no one wants to take responsibility if they can avoid it. But, project managers can never avoid these issues, so project managers need to take steps to not only document issues that cost delays and cost overruns but identify responsibility for them and then document evidence for that as well.

Calling out unrealistic project management expectations

If any of those items exceeds the estimated number, then the project manager must investigate and document why. Was it due to poor calculations? Or a failure to understand the material needs of the project? If so, this problem is the result of unrealistic expectations. Did you purchase more of an item due to it getting damaged or installed incorrectly? If so, this is an operational problem. Did you need to order a different (and more costly) item because the estimated item couldn’t be shipped on time? This could be a supply issue, an operations issue, or the result of unrealistic expectations. 

Construction companies draft plans by using these estimations, other job site data, and experience. They draw up schedules, line up suppliers, assign equipment, and determine labor needs.

Problems during pre-construction planning

Construction companies perform many estimations when pre-construction planning. They collect job site data, consider the final project, and then estimate how much of each material is required to transform a property from its current state into the form desired by the client. They estimate the amount of wood, steel, concrete, windows, doors, nails, etc. Large construction projects will have hundreds of columns of estimated items. 

Project managers have a lot of influence over many aspects of these plans, but not over the scope of the project, and they may need to accept a lot of opinions and wishes they believe are not the best decisions for the project. For this reason, project managers should always state any objections or hesitations during the pre-construction phase. By calling out potential issues before they happen, if the issue does occur, other parties will be more willing to accept these issues are a result of poor planning and not poor management.

pre construction planning whitepaper

Collaborative construction management requires quality communications

A third way unrealistic expectations show up on projects is through poor communication. 

Construction projects require a lot of communication. The customer has to communicate what they want to an architect. The architect communicates the end product to the engineer. The engineer communicates job site restrictions to the general contractor. The general contractor communicates directions to the trades. The trades must daily communicate work instructions to their employees. And the project manager has to communicate with all of these parties through directives and reports, read all RFIs (requests for information) and change orders, and communicate with suppliers, delivery people, inspectors, government representatives, and more. 

Unrealistic expectations creep in when people don’t communicate proactively, effectively, or via the expected communication channels. It’s unfair to expect someone to do something when you don’t clearly communicate what you want. For this reason, project managers must be proactive with their communication and document it. And this begins with creating a communication plan and communicating it to all parties during the pre-construction phase.

Assess your job site management skills

It is fair to say how one understands a project evolves as the project unfolds, but project managers need to have the experience and foresight to plan the process and execute it.  

Here are some examples of poor project management:

1. Overly optimistic assumptions. Project managers can also err on the side of optimism when forecasting future work and project needs, so always have contingency plans and a flexible schedule; otherwise, you will be setting your own unrealistic expectations.

“I try to employ estimation technology when performing estimates to reduce errors and time spent on manual data entry,” says Victor Jamieson, a project manager of an New York-based general construction company with an annual revenue between $15-$50 million who participated in a survey organized by Linarc—the fastest growing collaborative project management platform in the construction industry. “Producing accurate estimates comes with experience.”

2. Ineffective risk assessment. A construction project has many moving parts, and any one of those variables could cause delays and extra costs. This complexity creates many risks. Project managers need to identify all risks and assign importance to them based on their threat level and chances of occurring. Then play out in your mind what would happen if each of the most critical threats played out. What would be the result? How would you deal with it? How can you avoid some of these things from happening in the first place? 

3. Poor partner selection. Project managers have to rely on numerous other parties. When a subcontractor fails to perform, or a supplier fails to deliver, it can negatively impact construction project schedules and budgets. Work with suppliers and subcontractors you trust to complete their part of the project and whose values are in line with the values of your company. Choose partners with whom you’ve previously worked or whom you’ve vetted. 

4. Stubborn work preferences. Project managers are sometimes partial to particular technologies and processes for completing projects. However, sometimes those technologies or procedures may not align well with other company systems, so continually using the preferred way can negatively impact one’s understanding of the project, schedules, workload, and communications.

5. Insufficient data collection. Most companies expect project managers to report regularly to management and the client. Even when companies have standardized daily reporting sheets, if the project manager doesn’t daily report on each field, it may compromise the value of these reports. Data shows patterns and helps project managers find solutions to problems, so a project manager who doesn’t consistently report on construction progress can’t perform as well as one who does.

Use software to eliminate conflicts and enhance performance

Project management software can help project managers perform better and better identify unrealistic expectations.

For example, when walking the project (to monitor work performance and evaluate as-builts), you can easily gather job site data by taking pictures with your phone, uploading them to your project management software, and entering notes. The photo can even be geo-tagged and time-stamped to included even greater data while saving manual data entry.  

Linarc allows project managers to create construction workflows and incorporate job site reporting into those workflows, so a report about a broken pipe becomes work orders to the plumbers. 

“The platform you use for project management and collaboration should be able to be used by everyone on the team, so they can stay informed of job site changes and expectations,” says Jamieson. 

Linarc’s native mobile apps allow foremen, field supervisors, and construction managers to track and complete planned fieldwork efficiently. Field crews can daily receive detailed work assignments with documents, photos, and visual cues to keep them on task, productive, and safe.

By thoroughly documenting all job site progress, issues are found earlier and solved more easily. Also, the factors that created the issue become more evident and easier to prove.

Embrace cloud construction management

Cloud-based construction software connects key stakeholders, eliminates conflicts and confusion, and makes team members more efficient. 

“By using project management software, I can ensure everyone is informed of the process, what needs to be done and when they need to do it,” says Jamieson. “Since everyone starts each work each day knowing what to do, it has improved our team’s productivity and efficiency.”

Linarc’s field-to-office connectivity keeps everyone on the same page, so project managers no longer need to travel between the field and the office to get the latest data. Storing all data in the cloud means job site data and communications are always at your fingertips.

With a project management software like Linarc, you can eliminate manual and duplicate data entry across all your processes, pull weekly field tasks, and push progress updates, so you can make changes that will enhance field productivity.