On-Time Completion of Construction Projects: Myth to Reality


The key to any project lies in the three constraints, scope-time-cost. The interactions among the three constraints are the focus of an estimator and a planner.  Two important issues of a construction project are the duration of a project for the constructor and the cost for the sponsor. Heuristic values and historical data are often used to determine both cost and project duration. The values are carried over by the stakeholders even after the scope of work is normalized and few details are signed off. One needs to keep in mind various factors while determining the ‘project duration’.

Stakeholders who initiate the projects, are responsible for the finance, appointing designers and other approvals. They are responsible for determining project duration; factors influencing the decision are the market survey, economic, situation, project finances, end user demands, historical data and expert judgment.  During execution of new project team members often reinforce previously determined data on completion time. However new vendors join the project in between and questions the project duration as the time line may not be realistic for their work. Thus, the basis of project completion time is debatable.

The current situation

Who decides the project duration? Out of various forms of project sponsors, we intend to look at sponsors with position, power and information and their determinant approach towards project duration and its impact.

  • Project stakeholders with power, influence the team to complete the project on time. On time completion adds value to their political, social and official status. Performance requirements are not defined, and short performances are generally acceptable. Hence completed projects in this category are high on maintenance and low on usage due to satisfaction levels.
  • Projects which are based on market demand and economic situations have critical focus on project duration. On time completion is closely monitored due to fear of losing the market share. The interactions of cost, time and scope plus resource and energy are very exhaustive. These interactions leading to plenty of changes in the project scope and design, lags in meeting the satisfaction levels thanks to overly stretched resources, incomplete documentation.
  • Duration for projects, which originate due to technological changes, advancements, and requirements are meticulously planned, well executed and deliverables show visible signs of customer acceptance and satisfaction. The duration of the project is reigned by stakeholders who are involved in the project from implementation till closeout. Personalities as project stakeholder, with strong hold on information, are industry stalwarts, and are champions in their field of service apply lesson learnt to the best of its usage to projects.

Few illustrations

Case 1

Myth 1: Heuristic approach can be applied to construction project’s timelines

Here is a case where the project completion time was already decided by the project sponsor and the neighbors before the project could go to designs. his situation happened twice, a hospitality project and an office complex. Both were stretched beyond initial estimated time and had severe cost and scope overruns.

The heuristic approach means the project completion time will be decided by the project sponsor and the neighbors before it goes for designing. During the discussion with consultants the sponsors were informed of the uncertainties of the project. of work, the uncertainties unfolded. The foundations had to go deeper than planned for, there was a rock outcrop was encountered when excavation was in progress, etc. Both the projects were stretched beyond initial project estimated time and had severe cost and scope overruns.

Case 2

Myth 2: Due to extensive project portfolio available with the sponsor, they can best determine the project timelines

While working on a commercial mall project in an up market area of a metropolis, the project sponsor gave the project teams straight orders to complete the project in 30 months. The team was a mix of in-house and outsourced professionals. As the management of sponsor organization had already finalized on the project duration, which in turn were based on the demands by multinational tenants, the project timelines were passed on the suppliers and constructors. When the project was in construction phase, the rear side of the project had habitation with inferior living conditions, the occupants of which were ever ready to create disturbance and disruption to the work. Pilferage was very high; project materials assets were often damaged and stolen. At almost about 60% completion, the project went through few design changes due to additional requirements by government and by tenants. Project team had a facilitated workshop with the sponsor with real facts and data. This enabled the sponsor to retract and revise the project scheduled completion time along with the cost overrun.

A Realistic Approach

Factors influencing the project duration are the availability of technology, environmental factors, contracting strategy and selection of appropriate vendor or suppliers and appropriate analysis of all of these elements affecting the desired outcome. Application of techniques such as critical path and chain, determining the optimum contingency on time, application of these contingencies judiciously will result in realistic project duration. Risks need to be identified, responses to the risks to be created, and the impacts need to be quantified.


Envisioning a project collectively by all stakeholders in a project with adequate information would result in an effective determination of optimized completion time. A facilitated approach will have clarity on uncertainties, role requirements, and buying-in of completion time by all stakeholders.

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July 14, 2016 / Construction