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6 Classic Mistakes in Project Management

How to avoid the most common design and construction errors

Mistakes in construction

The home is much more than a primary investment—it’s also a reflection of who we are and what we treasure in life. Most of us spend more money on our homes than on anything else. Whether our home is destined to become a showcase or a sanctuary, creating the ideal space is a project that takes time and skill. Once the early planning phase is complete, problems can (and will) arise that are beyond the homeowner’s purview. It takes experience and a “big picture” vision to be able to work through the issues without having them develop into conflicts and stress. What are the most common mistakes to avoid when getting a construction project going? 

Mistake # 1: Rushing through the planning phase

You’re in a hurry, right? You’ve got time constraints and you dream about moving into your perfect space. You’re tempted to barrel through planning and get right to it.


The early planning phase is where a project is imagined, designed and evaluated. If you want to avoid common mistakes in construction, this is your chance to head them off at the pass. Bring your team in early for multi-disciplined input on the developing plans and determining constructability. Be sure to share your thoughts about the future. Is it important to you to be able to add on if needed? Is reduced mobility a consideration, now or in the future? How about renewable energy and eco-friendliness? How many people will be making use of the space? Minimum? Maximum? Could you imagine ever renting your home, or part of it? Are you being careful not to over-build for your real estate market?

Solid, well-considered plans enable accurate bidding. Changing your mind mid-stream will impact your budget and cause delays—not to mention the frustration factor. Some experts estimate that every dollar spent in prudent planning saves three in construction. In our experience with large projects, savings are even greater than this. In any event, it’s a good principle to bear in mind.

Mistake # 2: Not doing your research

Before you retain your team, talk to as many professionals as possible. Interview architects, construction managers and designers. Review their portfolios and make sure they have experience with your particular blend of priorities and challenges, such as hillside development or water availability. Go see some of the houses they‘ve built and, when possible, talk to owners. Are they happy with how the overall experience went down?

When choosing a general contractor, tour two or three projects and check references. Look very closely at credentials. It may sound simplistic, but it’s amazing how many people could avoid the most common mistakes in project management just by doing their homework the old-fashioned way—by actually talking to others, for example—instead of counting on crowd-sourced online reviews. Don’t let yourself be smooth-talked—the people on the marketing side are usually very good at what they do, and what they do is sell. Not build. Hire a reputable construction manager and follow their advice—their reputation depends on their ability to connect you to reliable professionals.

Mistake #3: Overestimating your skill set

Okay, so when you were a kid you loved to play with Legos (maybe still do), you’re handy with a drill and you’ve never missed an episode of This Old House. You probably have a good idea about what it takes to build your dream home and can manage a lot of it yourself, right? Wrong. Because if you want to build it in time to actually be able to enjoy it, you’re also going to need at least some of the following: a permits & entitlements expeditor; architect; civil, geotechnical, structural, mechanical, electrical and/or plumbing engineers; specialty designers; energy experts; consultants and subcontractors.

That’s why you’re going to play it smart, retain a construction manager (CM) and hire the best people you can find—so they can build you that great home. Good construction management ensures that you have access to all the right information, options, professionals and materials. Your CM will make sure everything is going according to plan so you don’t have to. And if something goes wrong—and something inevitably will—it’s not your problem. It’s the CM’s problem, and they’re going to find solutions without having to kick down the Lego castle and start again from scratch.

Mistake # 4: Dilly-dallying with design decisions

One predictable reason for projects going over budget is when the design is modified mid-stream or details haven’t been clarified. Accurate budgeting and project efficiency depend on spot-on design decisions. Needless to say, the bigger the project, the more details need to be settled, and the earlier the better.

If you’re not an expert, it may be difficult for you to visualize what a set of drawings is going to look like once the project is built. BIM—Building Information Modeling—can be a great help. You can also ask your architect for mock-ups or models, photos and story boards for concepts and design ideas. Request samples of suggested materials and evaluate them yourself. You might bring in specialty designers such as kitchen consultants. Don’t weigh your options based on price alone, but do make sure the proposals jibe with your budget. Then go for it.

If you do find yourself needing to change after a design has been settled on, don’t tear your hair out—it happens. Talk with your CM so you can find the best solution together.

Mistake #5: Not expecting the unexpected

Expecting everything to go as planned is straight out of “Classic Mistakes in Product Management 101.” In construction, change is inevitable and owners have to expect the unexpected—everyone else on the team does! In fact, a good construction manager will encourage you to budget for it. Plan on a minimum of 10 to 15% contingency, and try not to be surprised if you spend all of it.

Every project—even the best-thought-out—can potentially be subject to all sorts of risks: delays and upsets, mistakes and conflict. Such as when the construction team finds omissions or errors that originate with the architects or engineers, and they (and you) all need to work it out together. Or when you discover that the proposed building site is actually home to a colony of endangered blue-nosed bats, and you’re going to have to take a time out and reconsider your options. You can either go ballistic, or you can take a deep breath and consult with your team. The sooner and more peaceably options are explored, the sooner and more peaceably things can pick up where they left off and begin to move forward once again.

Mistake # 6: Chewing out the team

That’s why you’ve got a construction manager: so they can manage the team. They know when members of your building team have gone above and beyond to stay on schedule and make sure you’re happy with the results. They also know when setbacks are due to circumstances beyond the team’s control. And when somebody’s slacking. And if that’s the case, the CM also has long experience in making sure things get done according to the owner’s vision—which is why you hired them in the first place. Do be sure to share your satisfaction or concerns with the CM; your feedback will help them as the project moves forward.

If you really need to let off steam—as in, if your health depends on it—chew out your CM. They’ve been there before, and you can send a nice card later and apologize.
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