Construction Leadership Insights

How To Break Project Failure Cycles

Project Failure Cycles

In this economy, most construction companies are so busy, they neglect to make time to do a post-job evaluation of each project so they can stop this vicious cycle.

Do you get sick of making the same mistakes over and over again when you are building a project?

Yesterday, I met with a client’s leadership team. They are an aggressive, competitive, and successful sub-contractor that makes healthy margins on 90% of the projects they build. The session combined team building, problem-solving and strategic planning.

During the problem-solving part of the workshop, we focused on a recent job which had fallen short of their profit expectations. To help them identify areas of improvement I taught them how to use a simple, one-page, post-job evaluation framework (adapted from Dan Sullivan): The Construction Project Transformer

It consists of four question and an action plan:

  • Bid, plan, build, bill – Briefly describe the overall job experience
  • What worked?
  • What didn’t work?
  • If you could build the project again, knowing what you now know, what would you do differently?
  • Create a system of actions that will produce a better project in the future

Using the framework we identified three major areas that caused their difficulties.

  1. Project handoff. The estimating team met with the superintendent and foreman at the beginning of the project to communicate schedule and scope. Unfortunately, the project had a number of phases to it and it would have been helpful if they had met at the beginning of each phase to make sure the project was on track.
  2. Owner issues. A good project is a combination of the right project, in the right location for the right owner. In this case, the project and location were fine, but the owner was a bit of a challenge. My client was never able to get on the same page with the owner in terms of schedule and procurement processes, and this had a negative impact on relationships, production, and profit.
  3. Field leadership. Business is booming, and quality field leadership is stretched thin. The foreman assigned to the project allowed the general contractor to dictate schedule and scope and got trapped in a vicious cycle of over-promising and under delivering. Compounding the foreman’s struggles, the General Superintendent, a highly-skilled, experienced leader, wasn’t able to exercise as much oversight as he would have liked, because of the volume of work he was responsible for.

The action items for improving project performance in the future flowed from these difficulties:

  • Implement handoff meetings for each phase of the project
  • Make room in the budget of the next project they do for the owner to account for the hassles and headaches
  • Work with the foreman to ensure he doesn’t allow the general contractor to push him around on the next project.

Incremental change is possible if you are willing to spend time identifying areas of challenge and make concerted efforts to improve.