Ready, Set... Why Construction Projects are Failing Before They Even Begin

If you fail to adequately prepare for the race, you can't expect to win.

There is no shortage of news headlines highlighting construction project failures. From poor safety performance to cost and schedule overruns, construction project teams are struggling to pull off big wins. Despite a plethora of best practices and industry innovations, the industry is still fighting to push the success meter forward.

If you have attended any recent industry conferences, you are no stranger to the frustrations of teams that are trying to maintain control of projects and programs. Attendees often complain about lack of predictability, tight margins, and lofty and unreasonable project expectations. There are no shortage of 'horror stories' that seasoned professionals will share with you at a networking reception or over a cocktail hour.

As an industry, we are well aware of the problem. Project performance and productivity improvement is not keeping pace with other industries. And with project sizes ballooning into billions of dollars, this is a problem that can't be ignored. Low productivity on a $15B USD project can cost a company in excess of $1B USD.

Many claim to have the silver bullet that will address the problem, whether it is a new process, new technology, or better trained workforce. But many innovations only scratch the surface of these deeply rooted issues, or address surface symptoms. If you aren't identifying and mitigating the root cause of the problems that we are facing, you can't reasonably expect to see drastic improvements.

The first step in resolving a problem is recognizing that there is one. At least we have reached that stage. Now let's work together to resolve it.

Running too Fast

Any architecture, engineering, procurement, or construction professional can tell you that running too fast in the front-end of a project is a recipe for failure. Yet, we continue to do it. We drive architects and engineers to produce as many documents, as quickly as possible, that will enable construction to mobilize and begin building. Concurrent engineering and construction activities are common on large projects; these days, rarely does construction go to the field 100% engineered.

From a scheduling standpoint, this approach looks great on paper. You can reduce the overall duration of the schedule, and therefore significantly drive down indirect expenses and incidentals. But if the architecture, engineering, and subsequent procurement, deliverables are not aligned with construction needs, one of two things will happen; you will see construction crews standing around waiting for something that they can work on, or crews will work in non-optimized sequences. Either way, it's going to cost you.

Beginning with the end in mind is key to driving project success. Figuring out what your completion strategy is, and driving that backward through the project to determine your optimal build sequence, will inform your architecture or engineering priorities. Planning activities based on the completions needs is the only way that you can ensure front-end activities support construction execution.

If you ask your team to assemble a car, and provide them the parts to build the panels before the frame, you will no doubt lengthen the assembly cycle, and produce one of the most expensive cars on the road. Pulling activity sequences, rather than pushing them, is key to ensuring task alignment throughout the project lifecycle. Only with this approach can you ensure that activities are optimized to produce maximum value with minimum waste.

Game of Cones

We are the masters of hitting roadblocks throughout construction execution, or running into traffic cones. We plan an activity out, only for the construction team to find out that it can't be completed. Sometimes the equipment isn't available, sometimes you don't have the material. But each time, someone has placed a series of cones in front of you, preventing you from moving forward.

As project teams, we must work to eliminate the cones rather than re-positioning them in the way of others. If I need a piece of steel, borrowing it from another crew only re-positions the roadblock in front of that team. This concept requires us to overcome the principles of game theory, or the 'for me to win, you must lose' approach. For the project to win, collaborative problem solving is key. Rather than re-positioning the cones, we need to work together to remove them altogether.

Turning Mountains into Molehills

Technology platforms help teams move from descriptive analytics to predictive insight, but project teams sometimes avoid investing in technology that can support this level of advanced project delivery. It doesn't help me to know that it rained the last three days. It helps to know that it will rain tomorrow, as I can take action to make the best of the situation and mitigate risk. We face this challenge on projects, generating mountains of descriptive data on what's already taken place; but too often, teams lack the technology to generate meaningful insight from that information. If you can't turn mountains into molehills, you will spend the project duration trying to decipher a plethora of reports to generate insights.

Not Sharing

Projects are often laden with silos. From contractor to contractor, teams often become hyper-focused on their own deliverables and success, sometimes to the detriment of the project. These silos are often enforced by contractual boundaries where teams are disincentivized from sharing information.

Even within organizations, teams can create silos. Engineering may disengage from construction. Construction may disengage from procurement. No matter the cause or the structure, a lack of collaboration does a disservice to the team and the project.

New technology platforms, like Pull Plan, enable teams to work collectively to break down silos and collaborate across team and contractor boundaries. By maintaining visibility into the overall project plan, stakeholders can see the impacts of their activities on the project task flow, and may take action to aid or assist others to improve overall project value. By sharing information and collaborating effectively, all project stakeholders improve their performance potential.

Not Caring

Playing the long game means playing to win. Those that play the long game are striving to develop sustainable programs that address root causes of project failure and create value for all project stakeholders. These industry leaders recognize that traditional construction delivery models are not sustainable, and they are working diligently to change how they do business. These organizations are driving the industry forward.

Unfortunately, these aforementioned groups are not always the norm. Some organizations weigh short-term profits higher than long-term growth, and therefore don't invest in the long game. By playing the short game, efficiency is foregone for profit, and industry advancements are overlooked for organizational wins. This is a great strategy for those looking to maximize profits on a single project, but not for those that want to land repeat work.

In a market where every stakeholder is out for their own benefit, no one wins. In fact the industry suffers, and we are seeing that in the plethora of news stories about trailing performance and productivity. Revolution, not evolution, is needed to drive industry growth, and this revolution begins with those who absolutely need better outcomes: project owners. When stakeholders are incentivized to act in ways that benefit the project over themselves, behavior will change and industry advancements will become more noticeable and achievable.


If you line up at the starting blocks with a long-term vision, the power of collaborative support, and proper preparation, you will outpace and outlast your competition.Your route to the finish line will be clear, unimpeded by roadblocks and traffic cones. That's every project leader's ideal scenario; it's absolutely achievable.

Driving forward requires early engagement and team collaboration, unhindered by silo based-planning and project execution. Breaking down those silos is easy with the right technology; democratizing data, software is providing teams with unfettered visibility into project plans, and performance, which in turn increases engagement, ownership, and accountability over project outcomes.

To learn how Pull Plan is helping project teams connect, collaborate, and perform better, reach out to us directly at

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