Stay on Schedule

Stay on Schedule: What to Do If A Project Falls Behind

Even the most experienced contracting firms make mistakes when estimating project durations, promising tighter deadlines than are realistic to secure the contract and make customers happy. On the other hand, even projects with forgiving deadlines can run into roadblocks when human error is involved.

When a project falls behind schedule, the implications can be severe for stakeholders. On a home renovation, project delays could mean unfinished work that interferes with the everyday lives of families. For government contracts, construction firms may have to pay liquidated damages when projects run long. Either way, late work creates inconvenience and hassle for everyone involved.

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If your construction project is falling behind schedule and you’re not sure how to fix it, you’ve come to the right place. This resource article offers some tips and advice for how to right the ship when you’ve gone off course on your latest construction job. Keep reading for the best tips and advice on what to do when your project falls behind.

Diagnostics – Understanding Why Your Project is Behind

When a project is behind schedule, the typical reaction is to spend more time, money and human resources to make it right as quickly as possible – don’t do that. Shuffling budgets and personnel to a struggling project is a lot like a doctor writing a prescription without doing an examination. If you don’t know what’s wrong, how will you know how to fix it? Accurately identifying the root cause of the delay before taking any corrective action will save you time and money in the long run. Here are some potential issues you should look for when you’re behind schedule:

Reworks – When requirements are not clearly communicated and understood, contractors can waste valuable time doing work that will need to be torn down and completed again. Reworks can also be a result of poor workmanship.

Weather – If weather delays are causing big problems in your construction project, you may just have to wait it out. Some construction jobs can only be done on sunny days with no precipitation, but if the rain is your biggest obstacle, consider accounting for weather delays more carefully when preparing project timelines for your clients.

Unexpected Changes – If your client is continuously requesting changes that seem to extend the duration of your project into perpetuity, you may find it difficult or impossible to close the project.

Poor Materials Handling – If materials aren’t getting where they need to be at the appropriate times, contractors find themselves unable to complete work on schedule and delays happen.

Construction Worker

Time Theft – Workers may be taking extra breaks, adding a few minutes on either side of their lunch hour and leaving a couple of minutes early. To them, it seems like no big deal, but your project is losing twenty or thirty minutes of productivity on each 8-hour shift.

Too Few Resources of a Particular Trade – If you have too many painters and not enough people installing drywall, your painters will be standing. It is important to recruit the right workers to shore up a delayed project team.

Contingency Plans – Do You Have Them?

The best project managers create contingency plans that they can quickly act on once a problem has been identified. Contingency plans help to avoid a scramble when things don’t go according to plan, and they also give the customer peace of mind that things are under control. Here are some ideas for how you can enhance your preparation for delays with some preemptive planning:

Keep a list of contractors and subcontractors that you can quickly call in if things are behind schedule. These should be folks that you can trust to come in and have an impact in a pinch.

Ensure access to labor for reworks – if a critical task needs to be re-completed, consider spending more labor on it to expedite it and keep the project on track.

Extend your project timeline to account for weather delays. Ensure that contractors who get rained out can return to the job site promptly to complete the work. Use a backup sub contractor if this is not possible.

Construction in rain

Keep a list of manufacturers you can reach out to if one of your suppliers lets you down. Supply chain issues are common and flexibility is paramount to ensure timely delivery of needed materials to the job site.

Process Repair – Make Sure It Doesn’t Happen Again!

Every construction delays should leave you with valuable lessons about how to better manage your construction firm. A wise project manager implements systems and solutions that prevent the same problems from reoccurring, both on the project at hand and with future endeavors.

Software that allows builders to access plans and share information with the project managers from the field can improve the clarity of communication and reduce the incidences of reworks. Problematic equipment, suppliers, subcontractors, and laborers can all be replaced.

Unexpected changes requested by clients can be avoided by determining a final date where changes can be submitted, ensuring that projects don’t go on forever, and firms can improve their processes for material delivery and time tracking to reduce theft. A wise project manager refines processes over time to ensure that costly mistakes aren’t repeated.


When your construction project gets delayed, it’s important to take a fact-based diagnostic approach when determining how to proceed. Use all your personal resources to determine the true cause of the delays and address them directly. Ensure that contingency plans are in place to reduce the impact of any mistakes that cause a delay, and continuously improve your business processes to reduce delays in the future. Clients aren’t always understanding when things run behind schedule, but showing that you’re prepared is a great indicator of experience and professionalism and will inspire confidence wherever you do business.