7 reasons that cause construction project delays

Written by LetsBuild

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Regardless of your role in construction, you’ll have noticed that almost all the construction projects don’t finish in their contractual finish date.

In fact, a delayed project has become a very normal thing to witness and at a certain point, it almost feels like it’s an unavoidable outcome. However, delays in most construction projects delay could actually be avoided if a proper project study was conducted.

So, here are the most common reasons for construction project delays:

1. Inefficient management

The construction knowledge we have today enables us to conduct proper management for construction projects to ensure the delivery of the desired quality within the required time. Without this management, the above-mentioned requirements cannot be achieved. On the contrary, a more severe outcome might wait just around the corner if your construction management process wasn’t up to speed.

In a project that took place in Cairo, Egypt, a university was being constructed and although a construction plan was being executed, the project suffered enormous delays.

Accordingly, the management team started analyzing the reasons and surprisingly a very simple factor appeared to be the main cause of the delay. It was the tendering phase, due to poor management the pricing of the project was conducted in a very short period of time which led to many mistakes. The budgeted cost was improperly calculated in many of the BOQ Items which resulted in an inaccurate Cash Flow.

For example, the contractor’s monthly cost plan said that May 2016 work volume shall be around 20 Million EGP, while in fact, it should have been 35! A poorly executed management plan led to an inefficient period of time to execute the project pricing which by default led to many pricing mistakes.

These mistakes not only caused a cash flow problem and made the contractor unable to finish the planned target, but it also caused a big delay in the project finish date and pushed the project status to a limit where a recovery plan is almost impossible.

Eventually, a construction project management plan includes a lot more than just the pricing phase and the failure may appear in any of the other phases of a project unless it’s properly executed and every phase has an accurate implementation time.

2. Construction implementation failure

Executing a construction project requires the full knowledge of the method statements made for each construction item/element; that’s why it’s essential for any contractor to submit these method statements before the start of the project to ensure they are approved and that they will enable the engineers to execute the construction works properly to meet the required quality and specifications.

However, not taking this matter seriously can cause a lot of unexpected failures even in the simplest construction activities.

Thus, one of the common causes of construction project delays is the contractor’s failure to execute certain items properly which results in re-doing the whole process again after discovering what went wrong in the execution.
Each item must be studied accurately to reach the specific construction method by which it can be constructed.

3. Environmental catastrophes/Unavoidable events

Each construction project that lasts more than a year will definitely be exposed to some unavoidable environmental events due to the change of seasons throughout the year.

For example, in the winter there are some heavy rainy days that make it absolutely impossible for workers to execute any construction activity (especially concrete).

When such circumstances take place, all the safety measures can do is protect the workers’ lives. Nevertheless, safety cannot enable them to overpass these conditions and continue the execution phase.

Find also: Construction reports and reporting: An in-depth guide

All work must be put on hold until further notice when the climate is suitable for working.

However, environmental catastrophes can be a lot of things other than rain. Here are a few examples of the possible Force Majeure events: storms, hurricanes, earthquakes, extreme temperature status, etc.
Accordingly, a delay will definitely occur to the project if these circumstances affected the project’s critical activities.

4. Design issues

Each construction project can be summed up in 3 phases that represent all the activities required to finish the project from day one until the very last day of the project. In short, these phases are:

  1. Design
  2. Execution
  3. Post-construction maintenance and operation

Here we will talk mainly about the very first stage (Design). This stage can be a real threat to the timeline of the project as its problems mostly get discovered in the execution phase. No matter how well the design is revised or reviewed, the execution phase shows you exactly what’s wrong with the design. It might actually be discovered in a very harsh way where you, for example, construct a concrete element and then see it collapse or deform within days from its construction.

The design issues are various and their number is so big that it can delay a project for months once it’s discovered.
Now we can understand the importance of the engineering work (Shop-drawing) required before and within the execution phase. It does not only help the execution team to implement the project properly, but it also helps to find the problems in the design in the early stages of the project, giving us time to solve the problem before the corrupted element execution time.

5. Scope increase

As we all know, any project’s main parties are:

  1. The owner (client)
  2. The engineer (consultant)
  3. The contractor

Of course, there can be more parties but these are the most important of them.

However, the owners usually start the projects without knowing the full details of what or how they want it to be in the future. For instance, the owner decides that the project is going to consist of 4 buildings, 3 of them are designed but the 4th one is yet to be determined/designed. So they start the project until they decide what to do with the rest of the project that the contractor is not aware of, in this case, the owner tells the contractor that there is going to be an increase in their scope, which by default means an increase in the project duration.

This increase can be in the form of a small item added to the B.O.Q. or it can be a whole new B.O.Q.
Eventually, every owner is advised to be fully aware of the project scope before it’s assigned to a contractor, and that is to avoid any unnecessary delays in the project’s duration.

6. Economical changes

We all know that construction is after all an industry that gets affected by the economic conditions of the country just like any other industry.

Thus, if any country was subjected to an economic collapse or its currency value has changed, all the construction projects will be affected in so many ways, one of them is “delay”.

Due to the surprising change in the price of everything, the project cash flow becomes dull and no longer represents the true valued/budgeted cost per time. This immediately drops a massive effect on the project’s timeline making it double or triple the original duration (maybe put the project on hold or even exterminate it) unless both the contractor and the owner can find/afford a financial solution to the catastrophe.

If such a solution is unreachable, the owner must commit to a change in the project’s duration and grant the contractor an extension of time.

7. Failure in coordination between time schedule and execution

One of the common mistakes made by contracting companies is neglecting the importance of a time schedule for the project. A proper time schedule enables the project to be executed smoothly and according to the required time frame.

Moreover, it helps in restoring the track of the project if by any means the project deviated from its original plan. It also alarms the project team of any upcoming obstacles and provides solutions to overcome them.

Read more: Construction blueprints 101: What you should know

Not to mention the positive effect of the delay analysis (if a delay occurs) by creating a revised plan that enables the project’s team to recover the current delays and avoid future delays.

A time schedule is the project manager’s best friend and main weapon. Now, imagine implementing a project without a time schedule, the result cannot be anything else than failure, as massive delays will eventually occur.


Delays happen, some events are avoidable and some aren’t, but the good news is that they can always be recovered or compensated. The most important thing is to always have a good management framework over the project, good coordination between all the project’s parties and between the execution teams.

Try to work according to the plan, be flexible and fast in dealing with any delaying events, maximize the usage of the labour and non-labour resources at hand, and finally have the decision-making skills that enable you to avoid the delay or – in the worst cases – to recover them.

About the author: Vivien Goldstrong is a project consultant and author at Project Schedule Pro.

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