“Not good enough; do it again!”
… is no one’s favorite sentence to hear on the job. As humans, we like to move forward, not backward, and nothing frustrates us like having to retrace our steps and complete a task we thought we’d already checked off the list.
Nonetheless, when the work at hand is a multi-million project or even a multi-billion dollar megaproject, the fallout of construction rework can be more than simply frustrating–it can be downright devastating to the schedule and budget of a project.
Nowhere is this truer than in construction, where rework plagues owners, managers, and trade contractors. It also is a productivity killer, stealing hours, days, and even months from projects. In some cases, it causes such severe missed deadlines and budget overruns that builders fail to meet contracts and face legal consequences, or at the very least, loss of good name and potential future business.
If that sounds like a professional nightmare to you, as it does to most people in construction, you’ll be glad to hear that there is an answer. In fact, a lot of rework can be avoided if only you understand the most common causes and how to prevent them.
First and foremost, it pays to understand why rework crops up in the first place. By that, we mean it literally pays to know the root of rework. Who is responsible? What processes aren’t up to standard? Why is information lost in translation, and how does decision-making play in?
Here are a few of the most common reasons for rework in construction:
However, the most significant factor to rework in construction is design changes, errors, and omissions. According to quality.org, “Up to 70% of total rework experienced in construction and engineering products are a result of design-induced rework.”
According to a meta-study conducted by the Islamic University of Gaza in collaboration with the Berlin School of Technology, “almost 80% of costs of deviations were related to design and 17% were construction related.”
Communication and data also play a significant role here. According to a report from Autodesk and FMI, miscommunication and poor project data account for 48% of all rework on US construction jobsites. On average, professionals spend four hours a week dealing with rework-related activities, such as managing the mistakes on a project that result in rework, assessing the associated costs, and determining why the mistakes happened.
Furthermore, this lack of information and bad data results in poor decision-making. In another study from Autodesk and FMI, decisions made using “bad data” are estimated to have cost the global industry $88.69 billion in rework alone, accounting for 14% of all rework performed in 2020.
The takeaway? Designers and contractors sow the seeds of rework in the very earliest stages of a project. When data is incorrect, or there are miscommunications, this further increases the likelihood of rework on a project. Understanding what causes rework, however, isn’t enough to ensure you avoid it in the future. You must also have the right approach to effectively mitigate the potential of rework.
First, for the motivation part: understanding what happens if you choose not to address rework is a critical place to begin. Whereas the consequences of spotty dishes are minuscule–a lost half hour at most–the consequences of construction rework can significantly undercut your bottom line or even bankrupt you if the owner or other major project stakeholder is unhappy enough to litigate.
Even if the worst doesn’t happen, though, rework still results in:
According to some estimates, between 4-6% of the total project cost is rework-related, and that’s only counting direct costs or reported rework. This estimate fails to capture all the little side projects and do-overs that suck up extra worker hours, materials, and other financial resources. When considering both direct and indirect factors combined, the cost is closer to 9%.
Staying on deadline is just as important as staying on budget. Productivity is one of the biggest challenges to meeting final project deadlines and intermediate markers. Smooth workflow results in a much better chance of meeting projected deadlines, yet this is more of a distant dream than a reality for most companies.
Unfortunately, rework is one of the biggest productivity sucks. It can sometimes negatively impact productivity by up to 300%. The result is that a full 30% of all work performed by construction companies ends up being reworked. Ouch.
Losing time and money, much like hearing “do it again,” is a source of serious malcontent for everyone on a project. Construction rework takes a toll on morale, with workers and contractors having to tear down work they thought they had already checked off and start over.
In turn, worker frustration can negatively impact productivity and motivation. That kickstarts a new cycle of lost time and money, and so it goes.
As we know from exploring the causes of construction rework above, most of it results from missteps in the early stages of a project or from systemic problems that plague a project throughout its lifetime. Below, we’ve identified eight intelligent ways to reduce rework.
As mentioned, bad data and missing information add to significant construction rework annually. Paper and outdated systems like Excel spreadsheets and lengthy email chains often contribute to the problem. They do not reflect changes in real-time, and workers are forced to trek long distances into an office to find the information they need–by which time it’s often too late to make good use of it.
Instead, digital solutions, particularly cloud-powered construction platforms, help automate tedious and typically error-ridden administrative processes like submittals. Big bonus, they help create a single source of truth for all project data, communications, and documents, ensuring everyone has the correct info at the right time.
Consider this: a typical $100 million project takes an average of 30 months in design and preconstruction. A lot can happen during this time, particularly from a design standpoint. If design creep isn’t managed and addressed early on, it can lead to significant rework during actual construction.
Integrated design is critical to addressing changes early because it connects the design phase with downstream tasks like scoping, estimating, and buyout. It ensures data flows smoothly into these various processes and through to construction. This, in turn, leads to improved accuracy in project estimates, proactive risk management, and more effective resource allocation.
Integrated design also keeps field teams in the loop, improving collaboration on-site. When field stakeholders have the latest design specs, it reduces surprises and rework.
Consider investing in preconstruction planning your defensive strategy. You’re more likely to mitigate the risk of rework and other cost-related challenges in preconstruction than in later project stages.
For example, consider estimation. When project estimates are more accurate, finances and resources can be better managed during a project.
The right technology is an essential part of your preconstruction investment. Like integrated design solutions, good preconstruction technology streamlines connected activities and workflows like estimations, design, and document management. Connected workflows also allow real-time adjustments, resulting in quicker and better builds and reduced costs.
The construction labor shortage is a threat to the industry—and even if you already have a strong network of subcontractor relationships, it’s critical to stay prepared. Working with overstretched or underqualified specialty contractors opens projects up to risk projects cannot afford to take on, including poor quality, mistakes, rework, schedule overruns, and more.
That’s why it’s essential to have a subcontractor prequalification process in place–one that focuses on loss prevention and helps you proactively reduce the scale of defaults when risks become realized. The best and easiest way to do this is to deploy prequalification software to mitigate risk. It makes it easy to create, save, and track subcontractor risk mitigation plans on your projects.
Failure to visualize and coordinate designs derails many projects, even before they are built. If you want to reduce construction rework due to design errors, employing the visual power of building information modeling (BIM) is critical. It allows everyone to see the plans, deploy clash detection, and update and collaborate on designs in real-time.
Today, most large projects use BIM as a vital tool in the design and preconstruction phases. But these powerful visuals are often not accessible or at least easily viewable during construction when work is installed. Nonetheless, putting effective BIM tools in your field teams' hands creates more visibility and reduces the chances of errors and rework. Poor collaboration, rework, and safety issues can be addressed with the right BIM tools.
Looking for strategies to bring more BIM to the field? Read our helpful guide, 4 Ways to Empower the Site Team with BIM.
Communicating in the field is hampered by many roadblocks: often paper designs, a central office that doesn’t always mesh with on-site needs, and more. Instead, you can solve much of that using cloud-based technology and field collaboration software. The cloud will provide instant access to your project documents, on and offline, and collaboration software will keep communications seamless and centralized. In fact, according to a McGraw-Hill study, 76% of contractors using cloud technology reported improved team collaboration.
A laissez-faire approach might sound like a good idea in principle, but in reality, it is nothing of the sort in construction. Instead of hoping for the best, adopt systematic standards for processes, workflows, tools, and equipment. Institute a system of checks and balances to ensure quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) is met to reduce the potential of construction rework.
Research indicates that the more money you spend on training, the less the rework cost will be. Contractors who have conducted training programs regularly reduce rework costs between 11-22%, according to the same Islamic University of Gaza/Berlin School of Technology report.
Furthermore, the industry needs skills development overall, with 77% of US construction firms reporting difficulty finding candidates with the right skills for open roles. While training is an upfront cost that can seem high for cost-conscious constructors, the right training will reduce your costs over time by decreasing the likelihood of mistakes and errors while mitigating the impact of the labor shortage overall.
At the end of the day, like anything else in life or construction, rework is mostly a matter of understanding and effort–and it starts with early action. If you comprehend the most common causes and take immediate steps to alleviate the potential and problem, you’re far less likely to suffer big time at its hands. Keep the above tips in mind, and prepare to avoid cost overruns, missed deadlines, and ticked-off owners and investors.
As an added bonus, you never have to hear the phrase “Do it again!” … again.