Fail to plan. Plan to fail. How can you avoid construction delays?

Construction delays happen frequently, particularly on large, complex projects. Penalty clauses are now a common feature in construction contracts. If the finger is pointed at your firm for causing a build to overrun, it can inflict real financial pain.

A third of construction projects finished late in 2016.This is a big improvement on the previous year, when around 60% were delayed. But, it's clear that missed deadlines are still a problem for the construction industry.

Types of construction delays

Delays with the recent completion of Tottenham Hotspur’s state-of-the-art stadium, highlight the problems when projects overrun.

Issues caused by "critical safety systems" forced the club to switch home matches to Wembley stadium, as well as an NFL game it was due to host.2

Public buildings need certain certificates including a safety license to open their doors. Obstacles that prevent obtaining these are one of many problems that can derail a construction project.

Other common problems are:

  • Client changes
    Clients often change their minds about what they want, even late into the build.
  • Contractor changes
    Contractors may come across issues and recommend changes to the plans that can push back completion.
  • Lack of information
    Projects are often thrown off track because the drawings, designs or approvals aren’t available when needed.
  • Weather
    Mother Nature can be both friend and foe for construction companies.

Minimising construction delays

Construction projects are often expected to overrun as standard but little is being done to prevent this from happening.

Although delays are regarded as an everyday hazard, they can prove to be very costly. More than 25% of companies said delays added up to 20% of the original estimated project cost. While a further 10% said they increased the bill by as much as 40%.3

Part of this attitude comes from complacency and the assumption that many of these mistakes or problems can be covered by insurance.

While insurance cover can offer peace of mind and cover many types of delay, it isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card. Any claims made against a company could push the cost up of an insurance renewal. And, any fines and penalties incurred for overruns must come out of a company’s own pocket.

So, it’s important for your firm’s reputation and its bottom line to try to minimise the likelihood of any problems arising.

How to avoid construction delays

  • Keep it real
    Don’t be over-optimistic in calculating how long it will take to complete a build, in the hope of winning the bid. Remember that you’ll be held accountable for meeting those deadlines even if they are unrealistic.
  • Communicate clearly
    Use plain English, as clients may not understand construction jargon. They might think what they’re asking for is included in the agreed works because they misunderstood the original specification.
  • Know your key contacts
    Make sure you know who handles all the necessary approvals, plans and permits as confusion can lead to delays.
  • Plan for the “known unknowns”
    You might not be able to predict another “beast from the east” but rain in autumn or frost in winter could hamper a build. Where appropriate, factor weather delays into your plan.
  • Special features
    If a client wants special features, like Scandinavian eco-friendly windows or Italian marble, add extra time into the plan to cover delays in delivery.

Good project management can make all the difference in delivering a construction project on time. Are you managing your client’s expectations?


1. greenwoodconsultants.com/industry-performance-reports
2. tottenhamhotspur.com/urgent-stadium-update
3. cornerstoneprojects.co.uk/delays-in-construction-projects