The "Whys" of Project Failure

Project failure is inevitable for at least 70%

-of all construction works

Statistics cite chronic and epidemic delay and overspend project failure in the building industry is only getting worse over time. Naturally, the bigger the headache, the bigger the pill, and the Olympic Games are a horse pill. As the Games must go on, they make deadline, but average about 167% overspend.  Alternatively, infrastructure projects delays seem to require a timeline measurement in light-years to complete.

The chief reason that things don’t seems to improve over time is the inability of project teams to incorporate more efficient models of project delivery, and the ignorance of wiser counsel from lessons learned. Another factor that inhibits improvement is the lack of focus on the planning and administrative that facilitate large projects.

Once we begin to draw our attention to the process, we will then discover the weak foundations that exist at executive and stakeholder levels, and a culture of unaccountability. These weak foundations make for unstable and inefficient project planning, administration, and management structures, because they trickle-down the chain of command and manifest into a cynical project ethos, where nothing can get done without enormous effort.

The building industry is historically conservative in every sense, but overcoming that encumbrance is elementary compared to tackling problems at the executive levels. That’s because of the relative impunity stakeholders and public agencies enjoy under present antiquated guidelines. In order to change that, standard contractual language would have to change, as would the regulations that stipulate the guidelines that project teams must adhere to.

Because time and budget are the highest priorities, project controlling estimating and scheduling teams must be given more consideration toward executive decision making processes. In other words, what is the purpose of having project controls for estimate and schedule, when they are used merely as an adjunct, rather than a dynamic tool used in real time?

“It’s funny how project controls meetings always focus on either the past, or the forward-pass – never the present. In this subtle way, present conditions are never really assessed.

Naturally, the biggest nut to crack would be the revamping of the existing regulations and guidelines that stifle process, and do nothing to facilitate progress. Firstly, there simply isn’t any constituency driving such progress for change. Even if there was, endless political hurdles would have to be cleared before an atmosphere of genuine negotiation and willingness to adopt new policies could be arrived at.

“progress is only defined by a given entity’s agenda.

Secondly, is the corrosive culture evident in the way project teams plan, design, build, interact, negotiate, and prosecute large projects. Despite pie in the sky BIM, IPD, P3 panaceas that were supposed to have changed everything, project teams couldn’t be more adversarial: there is simply far too much uncoordinated design and planning taking place for projects to move forward, pitting builder against designer as to who is blamed for delays and patent errors and omissions.

Lastly, insurance and contractual laws and guidelines would have to be redeveloped to reflect updated standard operating procedures (SOPs). Many that work in these industries will resist any changes made to existing guidelines and laws that might affect their livelihood. Not to say some  in the building industry will object to revamped guidelines, as they too may benefit from the current culture that allows ample opportunity for graft, embezzlement, and fraud.

Any proposed new project delivery system must necessarily address each shortcoming, encumbrance, and idiosyncrasy, by order of magnitude, which means top-down reorganization, beginning with Federal regulatory agencies, down to the state and municipal levels. It should include mandates for projects over certain scope or budget to be planned and built more responsibly, and with more accountability by interested parties. Only in this way can global construction project failure be attenuated.

Washington does little to drive such innovation nad more to perpetuate project failure. Even with a Federal BIM mandate, only 10% of all construction in 2014 was BIM driven (per BLS and US Census) – and most of that design dollars. If Washington really wanted to be impactful, they could reassess current inefficient agencies and personnel, and consider more modern and efficient rules and regulations. But if DHS St. Elizabeth Campus is any indication of the integrity design/build acumen in Washington, we’re in for a long ride to nowhere.