Will your construction project be 100% complete when it’s finished?

Well that appears to be a stupid question? If a construction project’s complete, that means it’s finished? Yet many contractors finish a construction project – hand it to the owner, but then spend months, maybe even years, completing snags and defects. They tell everyone the project is finished, but it’s not.

Many years ago, while on business, I stayed at a hotel which had just been constructed for a major hotel chain. I was surprised to see so many construction workers still working in and around the hotel. Later that night as I showered I was dismayed that water from the shower ran across the whole bathroom floor, soaking everything in its path. I tried to form a dam with the towels and bath mat to keep the water in the shower, but without much success.

Over the course of the next 18 months I stayed at the hotel on many occasions while visiting my own construction project, which we completed in this time. I stayed in many different rooms and most had a similar problem with the shower, together with other snags or punch list items. Over time the number of workers from the original contractor diminished, but there were still some repairing defects when I last stayed there. The construction period for the hotel had been less than 18 months, but here they were still repairing defects 18 months after the hotel had been opened! Imagine what that cost?

But now in the city where I live this almost seems to be the norm. We own an apartment in a large building, and it took 4 years for the builder to repair leaks on balconies, and 6 years after it was completed the owners are still battling with the builder to resolve the leaking swimming pool. A similar story is repeated in many other apartment blocks.

So where does it go wrong?

All parties to a construction project can negatively impact quality

The owner

Owners don’t help quality problems when they:

  • specify impossibly short construction project durations
  • select contractors based purely on the cheapest price
  • specify products based only on the fact that they are the cheapest
  • don’t manage their contractors properly

The designer

Designers exacerbate the problem by:

  • accepting the clients decisions even when they compromise their design
  • producing designs which are inappropriate to the level of skills available in that region
  • producing designs which are inappropriate – for instance I know that water creates many of the problems in buildings, yet designers continue to specify falls on roofs and balconies which don’t allow for the water to drain away
  • using designers who aren’t familiar with construction processes and what can go wrong on a construction project
  • not allowing for contractors that don’t (can’t) work in millimetres

The main contractor

Ultimately the quality of construction rests with the main contractor. But main contractors are often their own worst enemy. For example, some main contractors often:

  • accept unreasonable project durations which results in them throwing the project together and then suffering the consequences later
  • employ managers and craftspeople who don’t have the required skills
  • don’t manage the project properly
  • don’t institute the correct quality management systems
  • don’t take pride in their work

But it’s also more than this. Main contractors leave their snagging, or punch listing, to the end of the project, often asking staff to rectify mistakes made by others before them. For the duration of the construction project every one appears blind to the quality problems, accepting that if there’s a piece of paper ticked to say the item’s been inspected it must be ok. So the problem that occurs in apartment 1 probably is replicated through all the apartments to apartment 501! Furthermore the person who allowed the problem to occur in the first place doesn’t have to fix it, so is oblivious to the cost their carelessness has caused.

Do you know what poor quality costs your project and company?

Owners think that poor quality doesn’t cost them anything – after all, the contractor will rectify the problem. But it does cost the owner.

  • there is the inconvenience of having the contractor stay on well past the end of the contract
  • the contractor still has to be managed while they repair their defects
  • a repair of faulty work often results in a weakness which creates maintenance problems later
  • guests, visitors or clients are inconvenienced by the problem and the rectification of the problem (with the hotel problem I described above, think of the unsuspecting guest getting their clothes soaked on the bathroom floor – many guests might not return, or even avoid that hotel chain in other cities)
  • often there is disruption to processes while the problem is resolved (hotel rooms which could not be occupied while repairs are being done)
  • often owners give up in frustration and accept a substandard item

The contractor often does not even begin to understand the costs which are usually far more than just monetary.

  • there’s the actual cost of the repair
  • the cost of the overheads and supervision to do the repair
  • often in repairing the defect something else is damaged
  • harm to their reputation which might prevent them from getting another project (again think of my example of the hotel – if you stayed in the hotel and the bathroom flooded every time you showered would you consider employing that contractor for your project or recommending them to a friend?)
  • the disillusionment of the staff left to rectify someone else’s poor work; people in the construction industry generally want to be building new projects, not spending 18 months rectifying poor work; in many cases they will resign and join another contractor
  • the lost opportunity of having your workers repairing defective work instead of constructing your next project where they could be making money for your company
  • often, as long as there are items remaining to be rectified the contractor doesn’t get all of their retention money released or their sureties and bonds returned

All parties need to understand the true cost of poor quality on a construction project


The action of all parties can negatively impact quality. It’s in all the parties’ interests that they understand the actual costs of poor quality.

Snag, or punch list items should be attended to as the construction project proceeds, preferably by the person responsible for the defect. These items should be tracked so they aren’t repeated. They need to be closed out as soon as possible so the project is completed and staff can move off site.

Often the repairs aren’t managed well, and workers wander aimlessly through the project looking for the item, don’t have the right equipment to fix it, don’t understand what needs to be fixed, or don’t fix the correct item. Sometimes items aren’t repaired properly and result in a defect later or while repairing the item something else is damaged resulting in a new defect.


Written by Paul Netscher the author of the acclaimed books ‘Successful Construction Project Management: The Practical Guide’ and ‘Building a Successful Construction Company: The Practical Guide’. Both books are available in paperback and e-book from Amazon and other retail outlets. This article is adapted from information included in these books. To read more visit www.pn-projectmanagement.com.

© 2015 This article is not to be reproduced for commercial purposes without written permission from the author.

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