How to Identify and Manage Top Construction Project Delays

Published on 30th January 2023

Construction project delays disrupt the construction schedule and impact project completion. We can differentiate these delays based on category and the agent (contractor, owner, or an external factor) responsible for a delay event.


Furthermore, top causes of construction project delays include budget inaccuracies, labor shortages, lack of good communication, poor work scheduling, project approval delays, project financing challenges, and raw material shortage.


How can you handle project delays in construction and ensure your project team stays on top of key updates in the construction process? Read this post to learn more.


Types of Construction Project Delays by Category

Additional compensation. Additional cost. Additional time.


The above three symbolize the impact of construction project delays caused by contractors, owners, or external factors.


Construction delays broadly fall under the following categories:

Compensable and non-compensable delays

All compensable delays fall under excusable delays and entitle a contractor to time extension and cost compensation.


On the other hand, a non-compensable delay makes a contractor solely at fault for a delay event. Furthermore, non-compensable delays fall under critical, non-critical, excusable, or non-excusable categories.


Concurrent delays

A concurrent delay occurs in a situation where one delay event affects multiple activities simultaneously/independently. However, not all such events entitle a contractor to extensions of time and cost claims.


Critical and non-critical delays

While a critical delay is the cause of extended project duration, a non-critical delay affects a project’s cost estimates and scheduled completion.


Examples of critical delay include:

  • Extended field overhead
  • Idle labor and equipment cost
  • Labor and material cost escalation
  • Liquidated damage
  • Unabsorbed home office overhead


Excusable and non-excusable delays

Excusable delay

An excusable delay is caused due to an activity getting delayed beyond a contractor’s control. In this case, the contractor is entitled to compensation or extension of time or both, under the terms and conditions of the construction contract.


Causes of an excusable delay include:

  • Delay from client (approvals, decisions, etc.)
  • Force majeure clause
  • Natural calamities
  • Political/social unrest


Non-excusable delay

Non-excusable delays arise when a contractor is fully responsible for critical delays and, thereby, extending project duration. In this case, the contractor has to bear the risk of cost consequences.  


Causes of a non-excusable delay include:

  • Delayed mobilization
  • Delayed procurement
  • Delayed submission of important documents
  • Non-disclosure of critical events to a client 


Types of Construction Project Delays by Agent

Let us look at some examples of construction delays caused by contractors, owners, and external factors (listed alphabetically).

Delays caused by contractors

Delays caused by owners

Delays caused by external factors

Contractors’ financial difficulties

Change orders

Acts of God

Contractors’ inadequate site inspection

Deficiencies in coordination

Civil disturbances

Delays in subcontractors’ work

Delays in design information


Equipment allocation problems

Design quality/incomplete drawings

Economic conditions

Inadequate contractor experience


Government regulations


Inappropriate overall organizational structure

Inclement weather

Materials management problems

Lack of communication

Increase in material cost

Planning and scheduling problems

Long waiting time for approval

Price fluctuations


Slow decision-making

Shortage of construction materials

Site management and supervisions

Slow information flow

Slow permits by agencies

Slow mobilization

Unrealistic contract durations

Unforeseen site conditions

Source: Hendrik Prinsloo, PhD


Top Reasons for Construction Project Delays

There is no single delay factor responsible for a construction project going over budget, past the due date, or below contract specifications.


The International Journal of Education and Research quotes “asymmetric information, bid gaming, change order artistry, and post-contractual market power as the fundamental reasons for construction delays,” according to the economic historian Robert E. Wright.


Here are the top reasons for construction project delays (listed alphabetically):

Budget inaccuracies

Budget conflicts and inaccuracies constitute the main cause of project delays, with inaccurate budgets closely tied to inaccurate timelines.


Furthermore, mismanaged budget planning and underestimated budgets can defeat a project even before the construction takeoff.


Disparate system inefficiencies

Disparate systems between construction companies and different departments lead to project inefficiencies, which inhibit project completion.


For example, disparity arises due to one department using archaic spreadsheets and the other using an in-house or outdated system.


Inaccurate time estimates

Inaccurate time estimates can cripple a construction project timeline and impact successful project execution.


Labor shortages

Large-scale labor shortage is a result of various factors, such as older construction workers reaching retirement age or younger ones not taking up a career in construction.


Lack of good communication

A lack of communication or miscommunication related to important updates, such as change orders, job costs, and redesigns, can delay a project significantly and lead to project conflicts.


For instance, delay in obtaining construction drawings like floor plans from the designer inevitably halts construction progress.


Poor work scheduling

Construction teams are consistently plagued with crew-scheduling issues.


For example, inaccurate tracking of dependent tasks and a lack of visibility into worker location impede the progress of a construction project.


Project approval delays

Slow response to project changes causes unnecessary delays.


Streamlining the workflow process is essential to keeping up with the often-rapid pace of construction projects and managing events like change orders, while minimizing any major financial impact.


Project financing challenges

As construction loans are considered high-risk, the loan process takes a long time, including the preparation and organization of financial documents.


For instance, a commercial construction project loan pays for the upfront project costs, including labor, land development, and materials.


Raw material shortage

Construction suppliers find it difficult to fulfill orders when there is a shortage of raw materials due to a volatile global supply chain.


As a result, construction delays arise that affect the project completion date.


Subcontractor compliance and schedules

If a contractor is non-compliant with a sub-contractor’s bonding, licensing, or other contractual obligation, it makes a project vulnerable to legal conflicts or challenges and increases project risks.


Moreover, being unaware of a larger project’s timeline or spreading too thin causes a progressive delay in the project schedule.


Furthermore, a general contractor needs to stay on top of compliance with entities like EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), OFCCP (Office of Federal Contract Compliance), and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health administration) to avoid fines and construction delays.


Other significant causes of construction project delays include:

  • Change in project scope
  • Construction defects due to design errors or design variations
  • Environmental issues like poor weather conditions (drought, excessive rain, flood, snow, etc.)
  • Geopolitical conflicts
  • Higher interest rates and materials costs
  • Inefficient equipment and material management
  • Labor strikes
  • Missing or incorrect data
  • Supply chain disruptions
  • Other factors beyond control (such as a pandemic-related shutdown)


How to Mitigate Construction Project Delays

Under project management processes, project monitoring and control include identification and study of delays.


Although weather-induced delays are beyond our control, it is possible to avoid most construction project delays.


Generally, we can minimize delays by adopting the following:

  • Careful scheduling
  • Collaborative and effective coordination
  • Detailed investigations
  • Effective management
  • Regular monitoring and meetings


Compared to spreadsheets or quickly assembled in-house solutions, construction management solutions are designed to support construction teams in managing various project delays, such as (listed alphabetically):

Automate compliance-related tasks

Robust project management software provides access to calendars and makes it easier to automate compliance-related tasks, such as:

  • Scheduling for planned audits and inspections
  • Tracking and recording incidents like on-site injuries
  • Using a mobile device to upload documentation to a cloud workspace


Collaborate better and faster

Construction project management software’s robust file-sharing features aid in storing and sharing documents with sensitive accounting and bank information.


Additionally, project management software can handle collaboration and file sharing for PDFs, CAD, DWG, and RVT files to register real-time document changes and speed up document access on mobile devices.


Ensure secure data backups

Using cloud-based construction software helps complete construction deliverables on time and within budget by providing crucial insights into project progress, worker status visibility, and more.


Moreover, investing in a machine learning program is a great way to use existing data to spot trends and make accurate predictions.


Furthermore, operating in the cloud allows for complete, secure data backups for uninterrupted business functioning.


Make educated decisions

Construction project management solutions help project managers chart project paths and create timelines from customizable templates or copy timelines from previous projects.


Consequently, construction project teams can make educated decisions based on an objective, realistic look at project history.


For example, Microsoft Project assists a project management professional in developing a plan, allocating resources, tracking progress, managing the budget, and analyzing workloads.


Manage budget and resources efficiently

Project management software aids in tracking prices of materials against the project budget as well as keeping an eye on available and used resources.   


Prevent cost overruns

Construction firms can prevent avoidable cost overruns with purpose-built construction project management solutions.


Proactively solve problems

Communication and collaboration audit trails help provide accurate information and resolve issues before they turn into project problems.


Schedule automatic notifications

A construction management solution enables organizations to schedule automatic notifications for task completion, track dependent tasks, and stay on the critical path so that tasks are completed by a specific date or in a particular order.


In addition, automatically updating dependent tasks removes much of the manual component and effectively minimizes delays.


Delay Analysis in Construction Projects

Construction delay analysis is a vital component of construction project management. The delay analysis method consists of the following steps:


Identify delays

The first step involves identifying delay causes like equipment failures and issues with the project design.


Such identification is necessary to collect as much information as possible on daily reports, project schedules, and documentation of any changes or disruptions to the project.


Assess the impact of delays

This step involves assessing the impact of delays on the project budget, quality, and schedule.


Furthermore, the assessment includes the impact on the project stakeholders, including the contractor, owner, and subcontractors.  


Implement strategies to mitigate delays

A construction company can develop mitigation strategies based on sound data and analysis when the analysis is conducted in an objective and unbiased manner.


Mitigation strategies include adjusting the budget, implementing a new project schedule, or implementing new processes or procedures to improve team communication and collaboration.


A comprehensive, objective, and timely delay analysis enables construction companies to minimize the impact of delays on projects and ensures project completion on time and within budget.


Delay Analysis Techniques in Construction

Contractors use forensic delay analysis to determine the impact of the project schedule by one or more events as well as the causes responsible for the events.


In addition, the delay analysis report identifies specific activities, which result in schedule delay.


Here are the five most commonly used methods for performing schedule delay analyses:


Impacted as-planned: In this method, impact activities are inserted into the original baseline (as-planned) schedule to create a projected schedule of events that includes the delays and the original plan.


Collapsed as-built (“but-for”): This method analyzes the as-built schedule and determines what the completion date would have been “but-for” identified impacts.


As-planned vs. As-built: A sequential comparison between individual planned and actual activities identifies the causes of variances to quantify associated delay.


Time impact analysis (TIA): This is a modeled approach that quantifies each impact event based on the most recently accepted schedule update before and after inserting a delay event.


Windows analysis: This method divides the entire project duration into shorter analysis periods or windows and quantifies delay within each period.


Wrapping Up

A construction project delay not only causes project mistakes but also results in disruption of the entire project schedule.


Costly delays are detrimental to project progress. However, deploying construction project management software improves efficiency and mitigates the effects of construction project delays.


Construction project delays are ubiquitous in the construction industry. However, you can identify and mitigate project delays to keep your construction projects on track.

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