5 Tips to Avoid Schedule Overruns

When a project’s end date moves forward, the project’s schedule is overrun.

Managing a construction project and schedule seems straightforward and simple. Estimate the job, bid on the job, win the job, and do the job. Most importantly, finish the job by bringing it in on time and budget. Yet construction projects tend to be anything but simple.

Highly litigious and often fraught with delays and disputes, schedule overruns are not uncommon in the industry. In fact, construction schedule overruns are now a global phenomenon. One study cites that the vast majority of construction projects completed in 20 countries over a 70-year period experienced overruns. Another found that 9 out of 10 projects, or 86%, experienced schedule overruns as well.

Moreover, the longer the duration of the project and the larger the project, the more vulnerable it is to risk. Managing project schedules is quite tricky, if not excessively complex. Construction projects involve an abundance of moving parts and the largest ones extend for years.

Thus, in the remainder of this post, we’ll detail how to avoid these overruns using a trusted tool: the schedule.


What are Schedule Overruns?


A broad definition of schedule overruns is the extra time required to finish a given construction project beyond its original planned duration.

To be more specific, when a project’s end date moves forward, the project’s schedule is overrun. Schedule or time overruns are then the late completion or delivery of a project.

Alternatively, cost overruns occur when a project completes at a higher cost than budgeted. One or both can occur when managing a project schedule, and often both occur at the same time, with one (cost overrun) usually being the direct result of the other.

Now that we know what schedule overruns are, how do we avoid them?


1. Hire Expert Designers to Limit or Eliminate Defective Designs Early on


What happens at the genesis of the project can cause a world of pain later on down the ‘schedule line.’

A critical factor in identifying cost overrun is breaking ground and executing incomplete project designs. Incomplete or deficient designs always result in substandard work. More importantly, errors made during the design process can have an exponential impact later on. The longer errors go on undetected, the greater the chance for rework.

To avoid design deficiencies or errors, employ an experienced and qualified designer to draft highly accurate and detailed designs from the start.


2. Check and Manage Your Project Schedule Quality


It’s all about that project schedule.

Starting with a good high-quality schedule is key to project success and managing schedule overruns. To avoid delays, you want to check and ensure that your initial project estimates, task durations, critical path, planned costs vs. actual, and resources in the project schedule are all within best practices guidelines and acceptable levels before you begin your project.

Start off on the right foot and make sure to assess the quality of your schedule by checking it against the DCMA 14-Point Schedule Quality Assessment or by running it through project schedule analytic software such as SmartPM.


3. Proactively Manage Rework


Rework is one of the biggest reasons for schedule overruns. It can emerge from both project design issues or project problems.

As Kitchell Progress states, “Rework is the single largest biggest contributor to delays, and the time/cost is not recoverable.” eSub also illustrates how rework impacts a project’s bottom line in the form of time and cost overruns.

“Rework in construction typically costs about 5% of the overall contract value. And the time or schedule overruns are worse, at roughly 7.1% of total work hours.”

To avoid this project pitfall and practice quality control, it’s best to take a proactive approach to build by diligently inspecting, recording, and correcting non-conformances as the work is placed.


4. Anticipate and Minimize Schedule Change Disruptions


There’s no accounting for… change orders.

Changes to the project scope and schedule are right up there, with some of the biggest reasons for project schedule overruns both in time and costs.

A primary change occurs when an owner or contractor introduces new specs, fixes, or requirements after project documents have been finalized and the schedule is completed.

This, of course, results in additional costs to cover the new expenditures and will send budgets soaring.

Brigit details two excellent ways to avoid and account for change orders. New technology now allows modeling and simulation of various scope changes during the pre-construction phase, which can greatly prepare project managers and schedulers for these risks.

Additionally, project schedulers should anticipate and prepare for change allowance. Buffer your construction project schedule against overruns early in the project cycle by allocating adequate resources both in time and cost to compensate for these adjustments.


5. Unforeseen and Extreme Events Out of Your Control


From record-breaking inflation and extreme weather to untenable site conditions and supply chain disruptions, every construction project has been hit with ‘unforeseen conditions’ and ‘extreme event’ surprises adversely impacting their construction project schedules.

While it behooves every project management team to perform a risk assessment for unforeseen conditions and events, modeling can’t possibly forecast every extenuating circumstance, such as an unprecedented inflation rate increasing materials costs; or a viral pandemic and war introducing schedule overruns largely out of their control.

Just as in life, even with the best-laid plans, problems and surprises happen to the most seasoned project schedulers and on the most high-profile construction projects. The question is not whether you will face project crises that cause schedule overruns. You will.  But how prepared you are to respond to them when they do?

As the expression goes: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With these 5 tips to manage your project schedule, you will be on your way to successfully avoiding future schedule overruns.

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