The Effects of Bad Communication in Construction

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), poor communication is the primary reason why projects fail one-third of the time. Even if the project isn’t a failure, the effects of poor communication is still a detriment. Consider this. In projects with minimally effective communications, only 37% of the projects were completed on time, only 48% were completed within budget and just 52% met their original goals. 

How does that compare to projects which had highly effective communication? Seventy-one percent of these projects finished on time, 76% were completed within budget and 80% of them met their original goals.

Here are several ways poor communication can impact daily reports or a project.

Creating confusion

Lack of communication in construction is a problem. But miscommunications can also have a negative impact on a project by creating confusion for everyone from major stakeholders to construction professionals and workers in the field. Inconsistent reporting, incomplete reporting, unclear reporting, delayed reporting — all of these can lead to mistakes that cause project delays and cost overruns on the job site and in the office. 

Clear, concise messages help to avoid confusion. Keep messages short, simple and to the point. If you are simultaneously working on several projects for a client, focus each message on a single project. Tailor your messages to the recipient’s knowledge level. For stakeholders, you may have to go into more detail to explain the importance and implications of the information you have relayed. Additionally, try to avoid jargon and terminology they might not understand. Your project manager, on the other hand, shouldn’t need that much detail. Written communication is important and should be focused on to keep things running smoothly for the project team.

Real-time communication is always preferable when it comes to keeping everyone involved in the loop. If everyone is on the same page, mistakes can often be avoided in construction organizations. 

Unnecessary delays

Poor communication in the construction industry is a major contributor to project delays. It can take several forms, such as delays in the flow of information, directing communication to the wrong person or area, and unclear communication leading to confusion or wrong interpretation. 

Any of these components of ineffective communication can result in mistakes and lead to delays. Ordering an incorrect material, missing a step in the construction process, misappropriating workers — all these scenarios can result in delays on the project. 

The worst-case scenario is a dispute. Poor communication is one of the main causes of disputes in construction projects. That’s why it’s so important to keep stakeholders regularly apprised and up-to-date on the project to avoid miscommunication.

It’s also important to report through the proper channels. If your communication was misdirected you may think you’ve received the proper authorization, but if the correct person didn’t sign off on your proposal, you could be headed for a dispute. As a result, a delay occurs while everything gets sorted out. 

Budget/cost overruns

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI) more than half of all project budget risk is due to ineffective communications and improper time management of project communications.

Poor communication or miscommunication often results in increased costs. An additional zero on a material amount can wreak havoc with a budget. There are many other ways in which communication can break down. For example, if a change in building material is not communicated in a timely fashion, you may have to eat the cost of the material ordered in error. Sometimes, the terminology can be the culprit. For example, the designer’s name for a material may not be what you call it. 

Misunderstandings can also lead to tasks not being executed properly. When that happens, revisions can cause budget overruns as well as time delays. 

Injuries and Safety Issues

The construction industry is a high-risk work environment, and these risks are reflected in the statistics. In the U.S. more than 200,000 non-fatal construction injuries and more than 900 fatal incidents are reported each year. The fatality rate for the construction industry is higher than the national average for all industries. 

Why is that? Many opportunities for injuries exist within the construction industry such as falls and trips, the collapse of scaffolds and trenches, electrical shocks, and wearing inappropriate protective equipment.

But one of the most common reasons for many job site injuries is poor safety communication. So, how can communication be improved? Poor safety communication often comes down to three common causes:

Workers aren’t familiar with the terminology used for safety training. This is especially true when they are new to safety training. It’s easier for them to disengage at this point.

Workers are afraid to speak out when they discover a safety hazard. They may fear criticism if they point out a potential hazard to a peer or a supervisor. It’s easier to play it safe.

Workers often view communication about safety as negative. Only bad situations are talked about or pointed out, while the things they are doing right are typically disregarded. 

When workers are involved in a work-related injury, it can result in loss of productivity, additional costs, project delays, and decreased morale for the team. Much of this could be avoided if the safety communications got all workers on the same page and speaking the same language. 

Issues with Stakeholders

Every construction project involves multiple stakeholders, such as owners, designers, investors, general contractors, project managers, subcontractors, and workers. Much of a project’s success depends on the effective and extensive exchange of information among its stakeholders. 

For example, rework is the bane of a construction project. It can increase project costs, cause delays, and even lead to disputes among stakeholders. Poor project data and miscommunications among project stakeholders are responsible for 48% of all the rework on a project.

Creating a stakeholder communication plan for the major stakeholders you most often interact with can help the construction project progress smoothly. Find out what type of communications works best for each one. Do they prefer phone conversations or emails? How often do they want to receive updates? Creating a communication plan at the beginning of the project can avoid big problems later on.

In Summary

The quality of communication can be the difference between a profitable project and a so-so project. Communication can be greatly enhanced by using software such as eSUB project management software. It provides real-time access to project information to improve communication between stakeholders. If all stakeholders are on the same page, the better chance everyone is set up for a successful project.

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