Planning for the Unplanned: Leveraging Software, Data, & AI for a Proactive Strategy

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By Greg Warman, Strategic Solutions Engineer, STACK Construction Technologies 

The construction industry consistently faces various unplanned changes, costs, and delays at different stages of a project. According to a report by McKinsey & Company, approximately 98% of large construction projects incur cost overruns of more than 30%, and 77% are at least 40% late compared to their original schedules. Whether at the inception, execution, or completion phases, construction projects are susceptible to an array of unforeseen circumstances that demand agile responses and innovative solutions to ensure successful outcomes. 

Technology leaders at major construction firms must address these unplanned changes and delays to stay relevant and profitable in a demanding market. Let’s look at the challenges that can occur and how to most effectively address them.

Preconstruction

Design Changes: Often, the owner or architect may make changes to the design after initial planning, leading to revisions in cost estimates and potentially impacting the project timeline. 

Permitting Issues: Delays or issues in obtaining necessary permits can stall projects before they even start. 

Inaccurate Estimates: Inaccurate cost estimations can result from incomplete design information, market fluctuations, or missed project scope elements. 

Site Conditions: Discovering unexpected site conditions such as contaminated soil, archaeological findings, or unsuitable soil conditions. 

Financing Delays: Any delay in securing financing or changes in the budget can delay the initiation of the project. 

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Construction

Weather-Related Delays: Rain, snow, extreme temperatures, and other weather events can halt construction activities, especially for projects with significant outdoor components. 

Labor Issues: Strikes, shortages, or turnover can impede progress. Unforeseen training needs can also slow things down. 

Material Delays: Delays in the delivery of critical materials, or receiving damaged or incorrect materials, can stall progress. 

Equipment Failures: Breakdowns of essential equipment can cause significant delays, especially if replacements or repairs aren’t quickly available. 

Design Flaws or Changes: Discovering issues in the design during construction, or making changes to the design mid-construction, can lead to rework and delays. 

Subcontractor Issues: Delays or quality issues from subcontractors can have cascading effects on the project timeline. 

Site Accidents: Any accidents or safety incidents on the job site can halt work and may result in investigations, further adding to delays. 

Closeout

Punch List Delays: A longer-than-expected list of final tweaks and fixes (punch list) can delay the project closeout. 

Incomplete Documentation: Missing or incomplete documentation can slow down the handover process. This includes as-built drawings, warranties, manuals, and more. 

Non-compliance Issues: Discovering that some part of the construction doesn’t meet codes or regulations can necessitate expensive and time-consuming fixes. 

Financial Discrepancies: Final payments, liens, or unresolved financial disputes can impede the closeout process. 

Final Inspections: Delays in scheduling or issues discovered during final inspections can delay project completion. 

Client Modifications: Near the end of a project, a client may request modifications or additions, extending the closeout phase.

Addressing the Challenges

In all these phases, effective communication, meticulous planning, and proactive risk management are crucial to mitigate these unplanned changes, costs, and delays. Even with the best planning, however, the unpredictable nature of construction means that challenges will arise, making adaptability a crucial trait in the industry.  

As a technology leader at a global construction firm, addressing these unplanned changes and delays should be at the forefront of your agenda. Here’s a step-by-step guide leveraging software, historical data, and AI. 

Digital Transformation Strategy:

Step 1: Establish a clear digital vision aligned with the company’s business goals. Prioritize pain points identified from the list of unplanned changes and delays. 

Step 2: Allocate resources, including a dedicated team for digital implementation and AI-driven solutions. 

Data Collection & Centralization:

Step 3: Implement construction management software that allows real-time data collection from sites, including work progress, equipment usage, and labor performance. 

Step 4: Centralize historical project data, creating a unified database that’s accessible and standardized across the organization. 

Advanced Predictive Analytics:

Step 5: Utilize AI algorithms to analyze historical data, identifying patterns and correlations between different unplanned changes and project variables. 

Step 6: Develop predictive models to forecast potential risks and delays based on current project parameters. For instance, predicting weather-related delays by analyzing local climate data or predicting labor shortages based on past trends. 

Optimization of Design & Planning:

Step 7: Implement Building Information Modeling (BIM) software that can integrate with AI tools, offering optimized design solutions, detecting clashes, and facilitating virtual simulations. 

Step 8: Leverage AI to enhance cost estimation accuracy, ensuring that budgets are more aligned with actual expenses.

Proactive Resource Allocation:

Step 9: Using AI-driven insights, allocate resources more efficiently, such as optimizing the supply chain to prevent material delays or reallocating labor to address shortages. 

Safety & Compliance Enhancement:

Step 10: Deploy AI-powered safety solutions, like wearables that monitor worker fatigue or cameras that identify potential safety violations in real-time. 

Step 11: Use AI to review compliance regulations, ensuring that designs and construction processes adhere to the latest standards and codes. 

Continuous Feedback Loop:

Step 12: Ensure real-time feedback mechanisms through the software to continuously refine AI models, improving their predictive accuracy over time. 

Step 13: Implement a user-friendly dashboard or interface where stakeholders can easily view AI-driven insights, predictions, and recommendations.

Training & Skill Development:

Step 14: Offer training sessions and workshops for employees to familiarize them with the new digital tools and AI-driven solutions. The human element is vital, and they need to trust and understand the technology. 

Step 15: Create a culture of continuous learning, encouraging employees to upskill in areas like data analytics, AI, and other tech fields. 

Post-Project Analysis:

Step 16: After project completion, use AI to perform a detailed post-mortem, identifying areas of success and those needing improvement. 

Step 17: Store this analysis in the centralized database, ensuring it becomes part of the historical data for future projects. 

Stakeholder Engagement:

Step 18: Ensure transparent communication with all stakeholders, including clients, using AI-driven visual tools, AR/VR simulations, and real-time data insights. This can help in managing expectations and reducing last-minute changes.

Regular Tech Audits & Updates:

Step 19: Periodically review the technology stack, ensuring the tools remain updated and relevant. The tech world evolves rapidly, and staying current is crucial. 

Step 20: Reinvest some of the savings and efficiencies gained from these tech implementations back into R&D, ensuring the firm remains on the cutting edge of construction technology.

The construction industry’s resilience is tested by the constant flux of unplanned changes, costs, and delays. However, by acknowledging the inevitability of these challenges and adopting proactive measures, stakeholders can minimize their adverse effects and optimize project performance.  

Embracing flexible approaches, leveraging technology for real-time monitoring and decision-making, fostering open communication among project teams, and cultivating a culture of adaptability are essential steps toward navigating the complexities of construction projects successfully. By implementing these strategies, companies can enhance their ability to deliver projects on time, within budget, and to the satisfaction of all involved parties, ultimately paving the way for sustainable growth and development in the built environment.

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