12 Best Practices For Managing Construction Projects

Editorial Team

Construction project managers are often in charge of many projects at once. With budgeting, staff management, and time constraints, the life of a construction project manager can be hectic, with each project bringing unique challenges. There is no shortage of project management software on the market, yet some of the best advice for managing construction projects doesn’t have much to do with the tracking software.

Following these twelve practices can help ensure you finish the project on time, within budget, and without scope, walk occurring. The 12 Best Practices For Managing Construction Projects are:

1.     Set Up A Clear And Concise Project Scope

This includes a detailed timeline, interim goals, and a firm budget. The more in-depth your scope, goals, and budget are the less room for deviations. Try to foresee any obstacles that may arise, and plan for the additional time or expense they add up to. The more thorough your original documentation, the more detailed your bids and purchase orders can be. This will ensure that the budget is within acceptable limits and that you don’t require approval for a new project because you were so far from the budgeted amount that your project had to be scrapped. Be sure to spell out your suppliers and any contractors that will be performing work on the project, provide copies of any approved and unapproved bids, and include all of these items in your project approval package. Once you receive your approval, these items should be filed in the project management file for reference.

2.    Assign A Team Auditor. In Addition To A Project Manager

There should be a dedicated project team member that reviews all completed tasks, ensuring that they have been fully completed, on budget, and that milestones of the budget timeline can be closed and purchase orders assigned can be completed to attach to invoicing. By internally auditing each task during the project, you ensure that all minor deviations are caught and addressed early on, instead of waiting until the final weeks of the project and finding that the project can’t finish on time because of errors that now need to be corrected. Internal auditing catches issues early on that could ultimately result in problems down the road.

3.     Communication Should Be Team Wide, Every Time, Without Fail

 If all of the project information isn’t being relayed to every member of the team, you’re setting your team up for failure. Any bit of news about the project should be relayed to the entire team at one time, giving the chance for questions and ensuring the entire team is on the same page prior to moving forward. Project team meetings are a great way to get any concerns addressed before they turn into problems or delays, such as arranging for heavy equipment transport, creating contingency plans, and troubleshooting project mishaps. Furthermore, construction managers can use project management software with team communication features to access and monitor project progress and receive prompt alerts from members.

Project managers and auditors should take time to discuss important matters, such as obvious project loopholes, mistakes, and adjacent problems. In addition, don’t underestimate the importance of one-on-one coaching to remind each team member of the project goals and help improve their productivity and morale. Remember that if your entire project staff isn’t on the same page, you cannot be a cohesive team. Open lines of communication are the best way to have a tightly meshed team that accomplishes tasks on time and on budget.

4.     Changes To The Project Need To Be Tightly Controlled

Introduce a management of change flow, with a key staff member designated to handle all change requests and forward them to the team for discussion, approval, and assignment. This ensures that people requesting changes aren’t going to any member of the project team with changes, asking for documentation to be drawn up from multiple team members, and tying up the project staff with change requests that haven’t been addressed by the team yet. By having one designated staff member handle all of the project changes, this ensures that the change flow moves in one direction and doesn’t get approved or denied without the knowledge of the entire project team.

5.     Set And Assign Individual Project Tasks To Team Members, Along With Firm ETAs

Assign a back up team member to assist them if you discover that their ETA cannot be met due to actions of the task holder. By allowing the task to be split between the two, you can keep the entire project on track to be completed on time, and the member of the team that is at fault for the lack of completion can be addressed once the task is back on track to be completed. The middle of the project isn’t the time to address the incompetence of that team member. Once the task is completed, you can handle the staff member that dropped the ball, and it will no longer have the opportunity to derail the project.

6.    Have Regular Project Team Meetings

Discuss the current project status, the completed tasks, outstanding tasks, the budget, the timeline, any change orders, and the forecast for the timeline. This is also an opportunity for the staff to discuss any questions or issues that they have, and for everyone to ensure that they are on the same page with all aspects of the project. Encourage everyone to bring any issues to the table during these meetings, and to openly discuss any shortcomings they feel they’re noticing, and any issues with change orders or scope creep they are having. By regularly having the entire team get together and discuss the project openly, you prevent surprises from popping up at the end of your timeline, preventing you from finishing on time and on budget. It’s better to have any issues or questions addressed as they arise than having your date of completion pushed back because of a lack of communication among your project team.

7.    Use The 40% Scope Change Formula

If any change order results in a change to the scope, budget, or timeline that is greater than 40% of the initial figures, scrap the project. A change greater than 40% needs to be newly approved, as the scope is now so far off of the initial target, the project isn’t the same. Any change that deviates from the project in any area to the tune of 40% or more needs to be rewritten, reapproved, and rebid. Also, this is a scope change formula that should be conveyed to management and clients at the onset of the project. Once they know that they have a certain threshold that will scrap the project, they actively try to avoid hitting that threshold with their change order requests. Stand firm on your scope change formula. Even 41% is unacceptable and should lead to the immediate scrap of the current project in order to draft another project for approval with the new numbers.

8.    Perform Weekly Audits

Audits aim to identify best practices and areas for improvement. Hence, internal audits in the management of construction projects shouldn’t be confrontational. Instead, audits must be professional and well-organized. Construction managers should conduct objective and impartial audits in compliance with industry-standard operating procedures. They should collect the facts and assess the level of metric attainment. 

Weekly audits are crucial in any construction project. These should be handled by the project manager and internal auditor, with the results presented to the team for discussion. Weekly internal audits ensure that any issues with the project are found and corrected early. All corrective actions should be assigned to a team member, along with a timeline to complete the task. You should never allow your team to fall behind in corrective action tasks, as they will quickly compound and lead to delays and the possible target completion date being missed.

9.    Double Check Your Timeline After Every Completed Task

It only takes a delay in one task to throw the entire timeline off, and this could have serious consequences. Once a task has been completed, verify that everything for the remainder of the project is still slated to be completed per the original timeline, or adjust the timeline accordingly. You should have built a level of cushion into your project timeline to allow for unforeseen emergencies, such as supply line issues, employee illness, and COD or credit card orders to be processed. However, as your budget becomes closer to the completion date, don’t be surprised when you start to feel the push from your clients and shareholders. Everyone wants to see the result of their capital funds and the time and employee hours they’ve accrued. Near the completion date, you’ll find yourself answering to a much stiffer crowd if you need to ask for more time to complete the project.

10.    Update The Budget Every Time A Purchase Order Is Issued Against The Project

This ensures that the expenses don’t get out of control because nobody is paying attention to the amount of checks being issued against the project. By updating the budget every time a new purchase order is written, the budget is constantly current and everyone is aware of exactly what is left to spend on the project.

Project construction managers can use spreadsheets, budget apps, or software programs to make this task much easier. Most cloud-based budget management systems can be integrated with project management systems to automatically compute the budget for every order or purchase made. This tool provides real-time information about the expenses, to whom, or the date the money has been disbursed. 

11.    Own The Responsibility

Ultimately, no matter who it is that falls short of goal on your team, as the project manager, you are responsible. That should never become a question. You can be a successful project manager by ensuring that every member of your team succeeds at every task they are assigned. However, if they fall short of goal, in the end, you own the responsibility of the success or failure of your team. Like any manager, you’ll find strengths and weaknesses with your team as time moves forward, and you may need to rearrange some of your key team members in order to better manage the project. The idea is to put each member of your team into the role where they will best contribute to the team. Your strengths as a manager will be reflected in the fluid operation of your team and the delivery of your completed project within the time constraints.

12.    Tightly Control All Changes To Prevent Scope Creep

Remember that anything over the 40% results in a scrapped project, and as the project manager, you should ensure that the project stays as close to the original scope and budget as possible. Every project will suffer some level of scope creep, however, by tightly controlling the change orders, you can ensure that the project and budget stay very close to the original approvals. You will be the person that ultimately must explain every deadline that wasn’t met, and every dollar that is over the allotted budget. Don’t allow scope creep to cause you to worry about your own job security. Run a very tight ship when it comes to change approvals, and ensure that no member of staff or client is allowed to circumvent the process. This ensures that you are fully abreast of every aspect of the project, and can answer any question that needs to be addressed, because all of the approvals were run through you and your staff prior to any change orders being issued against the project budget or timeline.

There is absolutely no doubt that an unwatched project will quickly get away from the manager, leaving much to be accounted for and many mistakes to be owned. However, if you follow the best practices that have been suggested here, you can keep your project from becoming a costly, overdue mess that looks nothing like your original project submission packet.

In addition, don’t forget to assemble your project management team based upon the proven strengths of your team members. Now isn’t the time to test a staff member’s new training, or their latest internship skills. You want to put your project team in the roles you know they will best perform and assist you with your project in the maximum capacity. There is a common thread in failed construction projects, and it is staff dropping the ball when it absolutely matters the most.

At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure that all of the tasks are completed to satisfaction, all budgets are within scope, and that the original project goals are achieved at the final date of completion. You will be the person explaining to staff and the client where the failure occurred, why goals are unmet, and exactly why capital resources that were allocated have been thrown mindlessly at a project that didn’t accomplish any of the goals outlined in the project scope. Protect your integrity and follow these practices for managing your construction projects. This will ensure that nothing at all is left to chance.