Understanding the early signs of project distress & what you can do to fix it
by William S. Spragins and Brian L. Dwyer
September 6, 2017

both achievable and worthy of their commitment. If the project team continues to operate in damage-control mode, the reactive behaviors that inevitably follow will cause the project to revert to its previous dysfunction. If the expectations and objectives set forth at the beginning of the project were inherently flawed, they must be re-baselined in order for the project team to have realistic goals. Keeping the morale of the project team intact is critical during this time period.

If downstream communication leading up to this point has been that “failure is not an option,” the tacit message becomes that schedule slippage and cost overruns are allowed. In this case, getting people to fully commit to the new objectives becomes a much tougher mountain to climb.

3. Removing Prior Disputes

The individuals most directly responsible for driving progress must be willing and able to focus their efforts exclusively on getting the project completed, and not on contractual posturing. This is not to suggest that the terms of the contract should be relaxed or ignored, but, rather, the unresolved issues and disputes of the past must be taken out of the stakeholders’ purview so that all team members are able to work together cooperatively and collaboratively. Project participants must think and act in the best interest of the project, rather than focusing on their individual organizations. For this to occur, stakeholders at the executive level must bear the burden of bringing disputes surrounding cost and schedule to timely resolution. Because individuals at the project manager level usually have the most intimate and pertinent knowledge surrounding these issues, this process requires greater time commitment from project executives.

4. Looking Ahead

Avoiding project disasters requires a disciplined strategic approach from owners, architects, engineers and contractors/design-builders before new project initiation. However, many things can derail a construction project. The operative questions become:

  • How soon did project executives first realize that the project was stressed?
  • How did they take measures to right the ship?
  • How much time was left in the schedule to get back on course once the issue was corrected?

It takes a focused effort by executives of all key parties to set the path forward to project completion. While the outcome may not be what everyone set out to achieve from the beginning of the project onward, the process of getting there can be greatly enhanced and will leave everyone feeling better about what he/she accomplished.