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How to reduce construction delays with time contingencies

Even the fabulist Lafontaine understood an important principle for reducing construction delays on major projects.

Slow and steady wins the race.

This famous saying translates into a key point to remember: don’t rush into a project by skipping the planning stage.

Planning: a crucial step to reduce construction delays

This is Bent Flyvberg’s conclusion after analyzing hundreds of megaprojects. According to him, the lack of time devoted to the planning phase, before the project begins, is a direct cause of construction delays in megaprojects. For construction projects such as dams, the performance time is 45% longer on the average than was projected in the initial schedule.*

What are the real consequences of construction delays?

In many construction projects, it is often taken for granted that eventual delays will be absorbed by construction contingencies of 5%, or even 10%.

However, it is dangerous to think that the costs related to construction delays will simply be “erased” by contingencies. You must be able to evaluate the precise consequences of the delays from the beginning.

This is a complex task, because the direct and indirect effects are rapidly transformed into costs. For example:

  • inflation of financing costs
  • overtime to catch up with or limit delays
  • potential claims by the different stakeholders
  • delay in production or operations that cannot be recovered
  • fluctuation of costs of materials
  • storage costs of material ordered and not used
  • costs related to work performed in an unfavourable season
  • additional equipment mobilization costs

This list is not exhaustive, but shows the domino effect that can result that non-compliance with deadlines can have on construction costs.

In this context of uncertainty, not only construction costs explode. The risks soar when delays accumulate, making it difficult to assess their financial impacts precisely.

How can you reduce construction delays on a major project?

As mentioned previously, it may be difficult to use budget contingencies to absorb the additional costs related to delays.

A different approach is to integrate time contingencies, or buffer delays, into the project. This not only allows you to ensure compliance with the fixed schedule, but to reduce the project’s overall cost.

This approach is used by Strategia Conseil in different construction projects. According to our experience, there are three ways to integrate time contingencies in order to reduce construction delays.

Limit the delays related to approval activities

In projects that bring together several partners, or that are divided into stages, approval activities occur several times in the schedule. The approval activities are generally conducive to delaying the project. For some organizations, the approval processes are rigorous and necessarily include several steps. In other cases, approval by several persons will be necessary. It is therefore wise to add time contingencies to each approval activity.

Facilitate the transition between project phases

Some construction projects are carried out in subsequent phases. One phase must necessarily be completed before the next phase begins. In this case, it will be possible to limit the inconvenience of delays. For example, think of the personnel or the material that have to be relocated in each phase.

Ensure the delivery date

The addition of a buffer period at the end of any project is another simple way to integrate time contingencies. This type of time contingency is recommended in the event the project would have to be delivered before a fixed date, such as an official opening, the beginning of the tourist season, etc.