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Avoiding the Common Pitfalls

It is easy to have a construction project derailed. Without a good architect, engineers, and a competent contractor who speak regularly to the project manager assigned to the project by the business owner, a construction project can become everybody's worst nightmare. Much project failure during the design phase can be avoided by dealing with these five factors: Constituent Alignment, Schedule and Budget Management, Performance Measurement, Project Scope Definition and Management, and Critical Project Communication.

Each is discussed below, along with suggestions on avoiding the classic pitfalls during the design phases and later with the construction phase.

Constituent Alignment

Successful construction projects require time, effort, and expertise. It does not matter if it's a new office building, an addition to a medical center, or a new school. Whatever the type of construction project, it requires an engaged set of stakeholders. This means that all participants from the owner of the business to the architect and contractor have to be committed to spending time and thinking about the project. Key players must develop a cohesive project strategy and make sure that the resulting plans are really what the company or business wants. This means direct engagement with the architect in the beginning and later with the contractor. It is essential that the person assigned to the project is the person that can most contribute to its successful outcome and is available for meetings and not traveling all the time. It is important that the person assigned to the project is familiar with the way the business or company works and its day-to-day operations.

Pitfall Avoidance: One of the best practices is to establish a clear set of goals and objectives for the construction project at the very beginning. The progress of the plans should be gauged against the initial goals and objectives. If these are not laid out in the beginning, and the program, goals, and objectives are constantly changing, the architect will grow frustrated and nothing will be accomplished. A project manager who represents the business owner or the owner himself should be the direct link with the architect. The architect will then communicate with his engineering consultants. Consistent communication in a written format should be established from the beginning of the design project.

Schedule and Budget Management

If the schedule and budget are critical to the construction, then a proper schedule should be adopted at the beginning of the project. A consulting estimator should be part of the design team. As the plans progress, the estimator and the project scheduler can keep the construction team apprised of where the project stands.

Pitfall Avoidance: Make sure that during the design phase, a project estimator is part of the team. Make sure that the last estimate done is near the time the project is to be bid. If the project plans sit around for two years before the project is bid, it is very unlikely that the project budget will be accurate. Prices for materials generally only go up. But projects bid during a down economy will more likely bid at a lower price due to competition among construction firm. In addition, labor costs are likely to be lower.

Once bids are taken and the general contractor is selected, make sure that the contractor chooses a good computer program for project scheduling. But not only must he have the right program, he must have people on staff who know how to use it or he must have a consultant that generates update of the schedule at least once every two weeks. I have known contractors who have tried to save money by saying that they have the program, but when their staff does not know how to use the program, they refuse to pay a consultant to generate updates.

Performance Measurement

It is important that regular client meetings are conducted between the architect and project manager and/or the owner. Anyone whose opinion counts should be at these meetings.

Pitfall Avoidance: Allowing departments to have a voice and vote and not to be present at the meetings is a recipe for disaster and for slowing down the progress of the work. This cannot be stressed enough!

Project Scope Definition and Management

The project scope must be clear, concise, and unambiguous. The program or distribution of the spaces or rooms must be spelled out in the beginning. This written scope must be clearly and commonly understood by the architect, the project stakeholders, and team members. Everyone must agree on this program before any designing is done!

Pitfall Avoidance: Make sure that everyone is clear on the program and the necessary relationship between particular spaces. For example, if the owner wants his office next to the warehouse, for whatever reason, this should be stated in the program. Changes to the program once the design is underway will cause a request for additional fees from the architect and engineers and delays will be caused to the completion of the plans. On the other hand, a clearly defined scope of work and program will almost always result in a successful outcome, where everyone will be pleased with the results.

Critical Project Communication

It is important that all departments be notified of upcoming meetings with the architect.

Pitfall Avoidance: At the project kickoff and every subsequent meeting, all interested parties should be present. If all the parties are not present at the meeting, and later they want to make changes to the plans, there will be impacts on the costs and delivery schedule.

What about the Expectation of Failure?

Although everyone has heard horror stories of construction projects, executing the above steps will go a long way to assuring a solid start and solid plans from which to build a successful project.


Businesses require extensive capital to build a headquarters, subsidiary, or expand the ones they have. In order to avoid a disastrous outcome, it would be wise to follow the above steps with clear objectives and goals, and clear communication between appropriate parties, without back and forth changes off-schedule that are non-productive.

The project will have a better chance of success if the pitfalls described above are avoided. Having a seasoned architect with knowledge of construction systems and code requirements, will also help you to navigate the challenges, and position you well for a successful project.

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