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What makes a construction project successful?

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What makes a construction project successful?

A construction project’s success is frequently judged on whether it’s finished on time and came in under budget. But are these the only criteria for judging a project’s success? 

Many construction projects are finished late and they’re over budget. But even when projects are finished within budget and on time are they a success? Well that answer often depends on your association to the project!

Let’ ask these questions

  • What happens when a project is finished on time and within the client’s budget? Certainly the customer may regard the project as being a success. But what if the contractor lost money – obviously the project isn’t a success for the contractor.
  • What if the project is completed on time, within budget and the general contractor made money, but some subcontractors lost money? Well of course the project wasn’t successful for the subcontractors! What if the subcontractors weren’t paid – well then the project definitely wasn’t a success for them.
  • What about if a worker was killed while working on the project? The project certainly was a disaster for the worker and their relatives and probably has ramifications for the contractor that employed the worker. Can we regard a project with a poor safety record and injuries as a success?
  • What if a project is delivered on time and within budget but it doesn’t deliver value for money? Politicians often force through projects that are clearly unsuitable for the environment, the neighbourhood, or simply are projects that can’t deliver what they are supposed to deliver or are unaffordable. The world is cluttered with white elephants. Again I would label these construction projects as unsuccessful, no matter how successful the construction phase was.
  • What if the construction of a new apartment complex is completed successfully, but the developer cannot sell the apartments because the apartment market is oversupplied, or the quality, style, or size of the apartments doesn’t suit what buyers are looking for? Obviously the developer is going to be unhappy.
  • What about a project that’s finished on time and within budget, but then the client or owner has quality problems after construction is completed? This means that they have to spend money fixing the issues and are inconvenienced while they’re fixed. In fact the quality problems may result in other problems, like when a structure leaks and water causes further damages to furniture, ceilings and carpets.

Indeed there is the opposite, where some of the most disastrous construction projects have turned out to be hugely successful. Consider the Sydney Opera House – named in the Hall of Shame of landmark building projects with major cost blowouts (the project was completed 14 times over budget and 10 years late), yet today the Sydney Opera House now stands as a city icon (even a national icon) recognised worldwide, a mega tourist attraction and a successful venue.

Project stakeholders

Every project has many stakeholders which include:

  • The client or customer.
  • The contractor.
  • The design team.
  • Neighbours.
  • Those who will directly benefit from the project.
  • The community.
  • The environment.
  • The customer’s operations staff.
  • Subcontractors.
  • Investors.
  • Shareholders.
  • Workers.

Each of these stakeholders often has competing demands that can jeopardise the success of a project. We want a win-win for all stakeholders. Is this possible?

Does the client have to get the project delivered under-budget at the expense of the contractor? Does the contractor only make a profit at the expense of their subcontractors and their workers?

Does the community want a cheap project that is a blight on the neighbourhood?

Is the design team interested in the long-term maintenance of the facility and the operating and running costs which the client will incur?

Dealing with project stakeholders

Unfortunately often all stakeholders aren’t considered, while in other cases some stakeholders are allowed to dominate the project processes at the expense of others. In some instances personal interests and egos are allowed to dictate the project. Running through all of this is money – everyone wants the cheapest price and the most profit.

There needs to be honest dialogue with the various stakeholders to ensure the best outcomes for all parties and the project. They might not be the desired outcomes at the start of the process, but the outcome should be best result for all parties after due compromises have been made.

What defines project success?

A successful construction project is one which:

  • Is finished on time.
  • Is completed within budget.
  • Is of good quality.
  • The facility achieves what it is supposed to.
  • Adds value to the community.
  • Resulted in profits for the contractors.
  • Is completed safely.
  • Makes efficient use of resources
  • Benefited the workers – through wages, learnings and promotions.
  • Doesn’t damage the environment.
  • Doesn’t have major disputes – labour, legal or contractual.
  • Results in long term success for the project achieving:
    • Commercial success.
    • Process efficiency.
    • Minimal ongoing maintenance over the life of the project.
    • Operational safety.
    • Sustainable operations.

Indeed a Win-Win for all parties. 

Is it possible for a project to tick all the boxes and be successful in every respect? Good project management with open and honest dialogue and a team that is focussed on the project and not on individuals and companies is surely a good start. One stakeholder’s success shouldn’t depend on another’s failure.

What do you think?

Have you delivered a truly successful project?

What disastrous projects have you been involved with?

Paul Netscher has written several acclaimed easy to read construction management books for owners, contractors, construction managers, construction supervisors and foremen. Titles include ‘Successful Construction Management: The Practical Guide’, and ‘Building a Successful Construction Company: The Practical Guide’, and ‘Construction Management: From Project Concept to Completion’. The books are available in paper and ebook from most online stores including Amazon. Paul Netscher is also available to help your construction project or company. Visit www.pn-projectmanagement.com for more info. 

© 2020 This article is not to be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission from the author.

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