Is your client delaying your construction project?


Is your client delaying your construction project?

Is your client delaying your construction project?

Many projects are completed late. The reasons for this can be complex and depend on many factors. Often it’s the fault of the contractor and their poor project management. Late completion is costly to both the contractor and the customer. It also damages the contractor’s reputation. 

Planning the project properly before work starts and managing the project during construction is essential and goes a long way to avoiding delays. Equally important is to have a well prepared construction schedule (programme) which considers the construction methodology and the known constraints. This schedule needs to be regularly updated and the results assessed to ensure the project is on-track to be completed on time. With this knowledge the project team can take timely action to rectify schedule slippage. If slippage isn’t corrected as soon as possible it invariably becomes worse, and the time remaining to catch-up the lost time becomes less, making it harder to make up the delay. It will eventually become impossible to catch up and finish on the due date.  Unfortunately many contractors don’t investigate why their project is falling behind and simply add more resources in an effort to catch-up. This is expensive and doesn’t always help. By the time they find out that more resources aren’t working, more time has slipped by and there’s less chance of catching up.

In a previous post I discussed some reasons why contractors cause themselves to fall behind schedule. Many of these reasons can be easily rectified. However, in some case it’s not the contractor’s fault, rather the customer or their team that’s causing delays to construction. In some cases these delays should have been allowed for in the construction schedule as they were spelled out clearly in the contract document. However, it’s often the case that the customer is causing delays which weren’t foreseen in the contract document. Why should the contractor then be responsible for these delays? It’s important for the contractor to highlight these delays to the customer and the team so they can take steps to rectify the situation. Also, the contractor needs to submit an extension of time claim for these delays, so that they aren’t penalised for finishing the project late when it’s not their fault. They also must recoup costs they have incurred due to the delays.

Is your customer, or their team, delaying your construction project?

There are many reasons to consider when analysing why your construction project is falling behind schedule. We previously discussed reasons due to the contractor. Now let’s discuss the reasons customers delay the project:

  1. The customer provides construction information late. I’m sure we’ve all been on construction projects where the client’s drawings have been issued late. This delays the project and frustrates the contractor’s team. If the customer has an agreed contract construction schedule they should know when the construction information is required so there’s no excuse. Providing an information required schedule which links back to the construction schedule is a valuable aid. 

The customer often has to be regularly reminded of the forthcoming project information requirements. Immediately notify the customer (or their project manager) when information is late, and where necessary lodge a delay or variation claim.

  1. Late access. Often contractors are dependent on the customer providing access in accordance with the agreed construction schedule. The project will be delayed if these dates aren’t met and the contractor is entitled to claim for these delays.
  2. Changes in specification. This is something that contractors don’t always detect until it’s too late. Change in specifications often increases the price of items, but they could also have longer manufacturing lead times. In some cases specifications are changed after items have been ordered which means that the original order has to be cancelled and new orders placed, which can significantly delay projects. 

Sometimes customers and their designers aren’t aware of the implications to the project of these changes. If they are immediately made aware they may revert back to the original specifications to avoid delays and additional costs.

  1. Scope increases. One mega project we were constructing was priced on a re-measurable bill of quantities. During construction our construction team was struggling to stay on schedule and was continually asking for more resources. Eventually we had much more equipment and people than we had allowed when we priced the project, and consequently were showing major losses on our cost reports. When the team eventually caught up with re-measuring the quantities they found that some items had increased in quantity by more than 25%. Unbeknown to the construction team they had been accelerating the works at our cost – doing more work in the same period of time. Many projects increase in scope and contractors need to continually compare the actual scope with the scope they priced. 

Increased scope usually means we need more time to complete the project or additional resources to complete it in the original time. 

Contractors need to timeously notify their customer of scope increases as these usually add to the project cost, which is detrimental to the customer’s budget, as well as requiring additional time to complete.

  1. The client’s activities cause delays. Sometimes the contract document includes customer activities and constraints that the contractor has to work around and accept. In these cases the contractor’s construction schedule should have taken account of them. However, often during the course of construction the customer introduces new constraints. 

On some projects we have had to shut down the work several times a week to allow our customer to carry out blasting activities. In other cases our work hours have been limited. 

Some existing facilities may have particularly rigorous security arrangements which impacts and delays the movement of people and materials onto the project.

  1. Additional quality tests and inspections. Customer’s quality managers at times can introduce additional tests or quality inspections which are not only costly but can cause delays. Some clients add in additional ‘hold’ or inspection points, or require 24 hour or even 48 hour notice periods for inspection. It’s important the customer is immediately notified so they can reassess these requirements to ensure the additional costs are worth the benefit.
  2. Late drawing or design approval. The project schedule and document should stipulate the maximum turn-around time to approve the contractor’s drawings and designs. Some customers aren’t good at keeping to these times. However, in some cases contractors cause further delays because their drawings aren’t correct, are not submitted through the correct channels, or aren’t in the correct format.
  3. The customer’s team doesn’t immediately respond to request for information and drawing queries. Unfortunately I’m sure we’ve all received drawings with missing or conflicting information. On occasion querying and receiving the corrected information can be a tedious and time consuming process which delays the project. These delays need to be brought to the customer’s attention. We always include a list of all outstanding queries in our project meetings. 
  4. Customers’ not providing facilities and utilities in the required quantities and in the time they were obligated to supply them. On one of our earthmoving projects the customer undertook in the contract document to supply water at a specified point and in the quantities we required. Unfortunately, the designated water point wasn’t ready until we were several months into the project. The alternative supply was 3 miles further away, it was used by other contractors and it couldn’t deliver the quantity of water we required every day. We not only needed more water tankers to haul the water a longer distance, but they had to queue behind other contractors to refill. As we know water is required for compaction so the limited water supply reduced the amount of material we could compact each day. This reduced our production, which increased our costs and caused major delays. Ensure that the customer has provided the utilities and facilities where the contract document says they should, and that the quantities are in accordance with the agreed contract.
  5. The customer’s other contractors impact and delay your work. They may restrict access to your work areas, damage your completed work or hold-up your work where you are required to interface with them. 


By being aware of the customer’s obligations in the contract document and the project construction schedule contractors can take active steps to ensure their customer fulfils them. Customers are quick to blame the contractor for delays to the project and fail to understand how their own actions are damaging progress. 

Don’t allow your customer to delay your project. Ensure you have an agreed project construction schedule which specifies information and access required dates. Regularly monitor construction progress and understand where and why delays are occurring and then take swift action to correct slippage.

Are you managing your customers or are they delaying your project? What are you doing to ensure your client doesn’t delay your project?

Paul Netscher is the author of the popular books ‘Successful Construction Project Management: The Practical Guide’ and ‘Building a Successful Construction Company: The Practical Guide’.A picture containing website
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‘Construction Claims: A Short Guide for Contractors’  is an easy to read book explaining when and how to submit variation claims and change orders. These books are available on Amazon and other online bookstores. Paul publishes articles regularly on LinkedIn and his website. Visit www.pn-projectmanagement.com to read other similar helpful articles.

Paul writes regular articles for other websites, gives lectures, mentors, and is available for podcasts and interviews.

© 2021 This article is not to be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission from the author.

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