Strategies to Overcome Project Management Issues in Construction & Field Services

January 19, 2024

The Nitty Gritty

  • Learn about the different project management issues in construction
  • Understand how to recognize the issues you’re facing in project management
  • Discover effective solutions for avoiding issues and risks in project management
Two men in hardhats looking at project plan

When project management issues occur in construction, projects can, and will, fall down around you. After all, managing large construction jobs requires coordination: scheduling employees and contractors, logistics and shipping, vehicle and machine maintenance, working with engineers and designers and so much more. And above all, you have to keep everyone on-site safe.

It's a tall order, and good project management keeps everything working as it should. To help you overcome some of the more common project management issues in construction and field services, and set you up to handle anything that comes your way, let's go over some strategies to keep you and your team moving forward.

Introduction to Project Management Issues in Construction

Construction project management is a job like no other. It can be incredibly interesting to navigate the challenges of putting jobs together and getting them to the finish line. But the risks are also high, and failures — even small ones — can carry high costs.

The unique challenges of managing field service projects

Construction and field service projects have a lot of moving parts. As a project manager, you have to consider all sides of the project. From the original customer request, to the employees working the job and the consumers who will be using the systems and building once they're completed. Construction project management requires a multi-faceted viewpoint.

Certain hurdles to completing "regular" projects also impact field service and construction projects. Scope creep, poor communication, conflicting timelines, not phasing projects and budgeting issues are just a few. All this means construction and field service projects quickly get more complicated and have higher repercussions for failure than projects in other industries.

Impact of blockers on construction project success

To help you better understand how some of these blockers can impact your projects, let's go over the ones we mentioned above:

Scope creep

"Just one more thing." A phrase that drives every project manager mental. It was fun during the Apple conferences with Steve Jobs to see what else he had up his sleeve, but with customers, you want bare arms. Letting scope creep happen, where new milestones and goals are placed — or new tasks or phases of projects are added — means the job is never truly done. This is part of the reason why initial statements of work, estimates, quotes and pre-planning are so important.

Project management issues statistic

Poor communication

While it's certainly frustrating not to have everyone on the same page, poor communication costs you more than just pulled-out hair. It costs you money. A PlanRadar survey found that 60% of contractors feel like they don't have the full picture of what happens on-site, and four in five have experienced communication breakdowns. The resulting confusion leads to mismanaged work (which may need to be redone), delays on, and off-site, missed deadlines and a potential for discrepancies between what should have been done and what actually was done.

Conflicting timelines

Job sites can get crowded. And different phases of a project have to be done in a certain order. When project management issues in construction occur, and you have field staff showing up on overlapping days to do conflicting tasks, chaos ensues. And just like with the other blockers on this list, you and the business carry the cost of those mistakes. Expensive reworks, rescheduling, delays and, of course, the dreaded call to the customer to explain what went wrong.

Not phasing projects

Large projects need to be broken up into smaller chunks. If you try to do too much at once, things quickly get confusing, and mistakes are bound to happen. Besides following the five phases of project management from the global standards of project management, your projects should have multiple tasks and timelines going with intermittent milestones along the way. This gives you and your team concrete points at which you can celebrate success, clear your heads of the previous work and move onto the next stage with confidence.

Budgeting issues

There's no question that materials for field service and construction projects can be expensive. But as long as your pricing is on point and you maintain a healthy profit margin, you're good, right? Unfortunately, especially with larger and more intensive projects, budgeting issues can easily rear their ugly heads. Especially if you've had any of the other project management issues we've discussed, having to go back and ask for more money or take a reduced profit is an experience no project manager needs.

Identifying & Addressing Common Issues in Construction Project Management

Luckily, you're not alone in having to solve these project management issues. Many project managers have had the same challenges you have, and many more after you will, as well. The key to success is quickly recognizing when something has gone awry and then fixing it as soon as possible.

global leader logo

Need more tips on project management?

Check our our Ultimate Guide

Need more tips on project management?

Check our our Ultimate Guide

Learn More

Overview of field service project pain points

Mismatched skills

Assigning the wrong field staff, employee or contractor to a job is a recipe for disaster. And it's a problem in any job of any size, not just large multi-phased projects. Send field staff to perform maintenance on a system with which they're not familiar, and you'll probably have to send someone else out afterward. But of course, the larger the project, the more ripples that can occur.

So, if your first-time fix rate is low or if your staff are taking longer on jobs than they should, it's time to look at how you're assigning projects out.

One way to prevent mismatched skills on jobs is to use project management software that contains all your employees, and their skills to help you properly assign staff to jobs. Some tools will even suggest who to assign based on past jobs, the customer or project type.

Lack of stakeholder buy-in

If you've ever had to do rework or heard the dreaded phrase, "I didn't agree to that", you know that getting the customer on your side is no small feat. Regardless, a job's not really done unless the customer says so, so getting their buy-in is crucial.

When you first submit proposals or estimates for a job, one of the most important things to do is have a clear description of what work is to be done and when. The next most important thing is a signature line that your customer signs to show they approve of your proposal or estimate. This starting point sets the tone for the whole project.

However, you can't expect a job to go well if you only get that approval once. Even if everything is going to plan, you have to keep the appropriate stakeholders in the loop throughout the project: your customer, the engineers and designers in your support team, etc. As you're planning projects and managing them, ensure you have multiple check-in points to keep your stakeholders informed and happy with the work being completed.

Inadequate risk management

No job is without risk. Something will always go wrong. But it's not worth it to simply sit there and worry. You'll know something's happened as soon as you get a "Boss..." message, or you hear that tone from an employee that prickles the hair on your neck.

As the project manager, your job is to make mistakes and mishaps as inconsequential as possible. Build buffers in your timelines and deadlines. Overstaff slightly so illnesses or other unforeseen circumstances don't hinder progress. Perform early maintenance on machines and tools to ensure they don't break down in the middle of the job.

Half of the battle against risks is simply being proactive. The other half is having contingency plans when something does go wrong. Inform your workers of standard operating procedures (SOPs) if an issue pops up during their part of the job. Construction is one of the most dangerous professions out there, and risks — besides the project- and revenue-based risks we've discussed so far — can mean more than the end of a job.

Outdated software

Project management software is a huge benefit to those who use it. But while something is often better than nothing, outdated or legacy software can quickly become a burden. If you're usually waiting for your project management software to load or if it "forgets" assignments and is glitchy, it's time to look elsewhere.

Modern project management software, especially those built for the field service and construction industries, has a whole host of stuff that makes project management easy. Suggested worker assignments, workload balancing and management, easy Gantt charts (no more filling in spreadsheet cells!), streamlined customer communications and even automation. Good project management software takes your current operations and supercharges them.

Limited on- vs. off-site support

Sometimes, it can feel like there's a wall between what happens on- and off-site. (And lots of times, there actually are physical walls.) If you're constantly fielding questions from your customer, or even your engineers, field staff and site managers, it's a clear sign there's a disconnect that needs to be fixed.

New technology, such as augmented reality, is breaking down the silos between your on-site crews and in-office staff. Project management software can help, by centralizing project information into one spot, where everyone can keep up with what's going on. Most even offer mobile apps to eliminate the need to be on-site or in the office to update project progress.

Field service and construction teams don't have to be limited by who is physically on-site anymore. If you're experiencing miscommunication between different teams or even between your contractors and your site managers, it's time to bring on something that can help you bridge the on- vs. off-site gap.

Examples of typical issues in construction projects

Misunderstanding your workflow

When you don’t have a clear understanding of your workflow, miscommunication between teams or staff members is inevitable. To get a better understanding of how your workflow should operate, map out the key players in your business and their specific roles and goals. Match each person or team to their dedicated part in a standard workflow, and you’ll start to get a better idea of how your operations should run or where you may be falling short. You’ll also be able to pinpoint where there may be gaps in communication.

Poor budgeting

If you haven’t budgeted your projects properly, you’re at a higher risk of losing track of your cash flow. Track your project budgets by estimating the cash flow in and out of the business before, during, and after a project is complete. Once budgeting is complete, you’ll also want to make sure you have an established structure for receiving and processing payments to help increase your cash flow.

Misallocating labor

You can’t get the most out of the resources you have if you aren’t allocating your labor efficiently. To properly allocate labor, take a careful look at your budget and your talent to get a better understanding of which technicians should work on which projects and for how long. You also want to make sure you have an understanding of project dependencies: those tasks that can’t be started until other tasks are complete.

Lack of reporting

Reporting is a key part of project management. Why? When you don’t have reporting tools, you lose vital visibility into projects and even business status. Don’t just look at reports as a way of viewing projects that are already complete. Reports are also a way of looking into the future and understanding how you can improve processes to be more efficient the next time around. Additionally, if you keep up with reporting during a project, you can keep your customers better informed and catch potential gaps or errors before a project has the opportunity to fail.

The majority of the pain points we've discussed can be solved with modern project management software — especially one that's been built for the trades. As jobs change, whether it's things in or out of your control, you need a robust system to properly manage all the moving parts.

Effective Solutions for Common Blockers in Construction Projects

Clearly, there are a few project management issues that can plague construction and field service teams. But don't worry, we have your back. After working with hundreds of trade businesses, we've seen it all.

How to alleviate pain points in field services

The majority of the pain points we've discussed can be solved with modern project management software — especially one that's been built for the trades. As jobs change, whether it's things in or out of your control, you need a robust system to properly manage all the moving parts.

Good project management software has tons of features to streamline communication both on- and off-site, set standard workflows and processes in place, properly balance workloads across the team, schedule and assign work based on skills and availability, track project progress at both the macro and micro level, monitor budgets and so much more.

Best practices for mitigating risks in construction projects

Once you have project management software in place, one of the best things you can do to mitigate risks in construction projects is to be proactive. It's easy for errors and mistakes to happen when you're letting things happen to you and your team while on the job. If you plan ahead for something to go wrong, you're helping "future you." That way, if a crisis ever happens, you have the necessary tools and processes to fix the problem before it gets unmanageable.

That said, it's not possible to pre-empt every potential mishap. Having skilled workers, ways to quickly shut down work — for instance, if a mechanical failure happens — and a good support team around can help reduce the consequences when something unexpected happens. One of the best methods for correcting problems is the people around you, so hiring and retaining good workers helps mitigate risks from the start and fix things when challenges arise.

The Future of Project Management in Construction & Field Services

A successful future for construction and field service is one that's tech-enabled. There is so much available now that can boost your business's productivity and streamline operations, so many of your current project management issues become a thing of the past. Modern project management (or field service management) software, augmented reality and artificial intelligence (AI).

The first step to that future is getting your business all on the same page, working together and being proactive. Simpro's field service management platform can help. See what's possible with a robust platform in your tool belt. Request a demo today.