We’ve all been there: you’re in the middle of a construction project, and something invariably goes wrong with one of the components. Often, it boils down to a design problem or conflict that went undetected during the very early stages – and now, as you scramble to find a solution, you’re officially running behind.
As a knock-on effect, scheduling delays usually lead to budget overages: it costs money to fix mistakes on the fly, and the longer sub-trades stay on the job site, the more they’ll need to be paid.
The good news is, there are lots of tried-and-true ways to avoid job site delays – it’s simply a matter of knowing how to start your project on the right foot.
Scheduling issues: how do they happen?
For a typical design-bid-build project, there is little collaboration between sub-trades and designers during the design phase. It’s only once the drawings are completed that sub-trades step in to identify conflicts and missing information. Next come the change orders and RFI’s, which hold up the construction process.
A lack of transparency makes it challenging to consider factors like constructability, material lead times, or alternative approaches (like using prefabricated or modular parts) that could accelerate the project timeline. Clearly, when sub-trades and designers don’t coordinate, you end up with a “typical” project schedule that is longer than anticipated.
How to make sure your schedule runs on time
Involve sub-trades before pen hits paper. Sub-trades have an incredible amount of know-how and experience to offer, including helping contractors decide what “type” of construction is best for a given project.
Let’s say you were working on a pre-engineered rigid frame building in late 2020 or 2021. Due to market changes, lead times for this type of project increased from 16 to 50 weeks during that period. Sub-trades would have known about this, and would have therefore been able to suggest a different approach to avoid significant delays. If you want to stay on target, detecting problems early on is essential, and sub-trades can help you get there.
Reduce on-site labour with modular and prefabricated design. By assembling components in a controlled, efficient shop setting and minimizing the time spent constructing parts on-site, contractors can realize significant time savings. In recent years, there have been major innovations in this space, such as Canam’s Murox and Hambro offerings: in addition to providing prefabricated building solutions, these business units also focus on early collaboration between builders, owners, and designers, therefore tackling schedule savings from two key angles.
Consult with a design-build sub-trade. Pulling in a design-build firm to execute drawings and subcontracting work can significantly shorten the design phase, since their expertise reduces the amount of detail that must be included in the drawings. They can also speed up the procurement and fabrication process for certain components, since design-build sub-trades have experience in every project stage – including installation.
Early sub-trade involvement is a key aspect of most design-build projects: this approach allows the construction and design processes to unfold in a concurrent and staggered way. For example, to maximize efficiency, designers may still be refining a building’s architectural design while the structural steel is being erected.
Optimize the tender and award process. By collaborating with sub-trades, contractors can develop a uniquely in-depth understanding of a construction project. This knowledge comes in especially handy when it comes to determining an overall price for the project. When it is time to tender or submit the final pricing, sub-trades that have been engaged early require much less time than a typical tender, and the owner or general contractor can have even more confidence in their proposal.
Order long lead deliverables early.
Long lead deliverables, like mechanical units and recently structural steel, can often be procured through early engagement with a sub-trade. Rather than wait for a complete set of drawings before going through the process of tender, award, and shop drawings, the sub-trade and consultants can determine which product should be used. They can then place their order well before the “post” shop drawing stage.
Emphasis on collaboration.
During the execution phase, it’s critical to involve sub-trades when building the project schedule. Popular planning and scheduling techniques from the “lean” philosophy – the Last Planner System, Pull Planning, and the War Room – all require extensive early engagement with sub-trades.
These strategies, which often go hand-in-hand with design-build construction, are largely viewed as the most effective way to keep projects on budget and on schedule. The collaboration process also fosters a feeling of cooperation, partnership, and accountability, which reduces the risk of schedule-killing issues like RFI’s and change orders.
Schedule delays are commonplace on job sites all over the world. However, if you kick off your project with all hands on deck, you’ll have all the expertise you need to plan ahead, identify potential issues, and avoid common pitfalls related to a lack of communication.