Sample Undergraduate 2:1 Construction Dissertation

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Construction Project Delay: Causes and Effects


The construction industry plays a key role in contemporary society and the economy, however in the United Kingdom (UK) the industry has a poor reputation with a high volume of projects delivered late. This research focuses on the causes and effects of delays in construction. The objectives of the study are to consider the extent of delay as a problem in the construction industry and to explore the underling factors for delay from the main contractor perspective. The study also assesses the impact of these delays in terms of time, cost and quality and considers the tools/processes that could be used to reduce delays.

This deductive study uses a survey strategy with quantitative analysis of the data gathered in a review of secondary data and the collection of survey data from professionals active in the UK construction industry.

The research finds that there is a problem with delays in construction, underpinned by client-led, designer-led and contractor-led issues. Delay has social, economic and environmental impacts. There are measures that can be used to mitigate these problems including the use of risk management, effective supply chain management and technology such as Building Information Modelling (BIM). However the implementation of these measures is hampered by the competitive and fragmented nature of the industry. Real change can only be effected by effective supply chain management, a shift away from competitive procurement and the development of integrated project teams.

Table of Contents

Click to expand Table of Contents

1 Introduction

1.1 Problem of Delay in Construction Industry

1.2 Types of Delay

1.3 Causal Factors and Impacts of Delay

1.4 Aim and Objectives

2 Literature Review

2.1 Causal Factors of Delay in Construction

2.2 Impacts of Delays

2.3 Ways of Managing Time in Construction Projects

2.4 Summary of the Literature Review

3 Methodology

3.1 Research Approach and Strategy

3.2 Data Collection and Analysis

3.2.1 Interviews or Questionnaires

3.2.2 Development of Questionnaire

3.2.3 Ethical Considerations

3.2.4 Analysis of Data

3.3 Summary of the Methodology

4 Data Collection

4.1 Secondary Data: Case Study- Holyrood

4.1.1 The Holyrood Project

4.2 Questionnaire

4.2.1 Section 1 Demographics

4.2.2 Section 2 Underlying Causes and Impacts of Delay

4.2.3 Section 3 Mitigation Measures

4.3 Discussion

4.3.1 Causes of Delay

4.3.2 Impacts of Delays

4.3.3 Mitigation Measures

5 Conclusion and Recommendations

5.1 Findings of the Study

5.2 Conclusion

5.3 Recommendations for Further Study

6 References

7 Appendix A Questionnaire

1 Introduction

A construction project is generally considered successful, if it is delivered on-time and within budget, complying with the client’s specifications, and  satisfying the end-user of the constructed asset. However it is submitted that a high proportion of projects are not completed on time. In fact delay is considered to be one of the most common problems in construction resulting in a plethora of negative impacts on projects, the project stakeholders and on the industry (Gebrehiwet and Luo 2017). González et al., (2013) point out that this issue appears to be a global problem with Kog (2017) making a similar point, adding that  construction projects in  India, Hong Kong, the United States of America and the United Kingdom (UK).  This research focuses on delays in construction projects in the UK. The purpose of this chapter is to set the research in context, presenting the aim and objectives of the study.

1.1 Problem of Delay in Construction Industry

The difficulty is that in most countries, including the UK, the construction industry plays a key role in the economy, in the development of essential services and infrastructure in the built environment, the provision of housing, and in providing employment and supporting other industries (Marzouk and El-Rasas 2014). In addition the construction industry can contribute to the quality of life in society, as it creates the built environment which provides for the  needs and values of the community (Osei, 2013; Çelik et al., 2017).

For instance the construction industry in the UK comprises more than 280,000 organisations involved in contracting, services and supply of construction and design activities. The industry contributes an estimated average of 6.7% in value added to the national economy and approximately 10% of total UK employment (Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) 2013). However the industry also lacks efficiency and has a persistent problem with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) suggesting that in the UK industry, only 66% of projects are completed within the specified time (Glenigan 2017, p.8). It is argued that there is clear scope for improvement in such performances, with HM Government (2013), who is not simply a regulator of the industry but also a major client, challenging the industry to reduce the time of delivery by 50% as a means of optimising productivity and profitability.

1.2 Types of Delay

Kaziz et al., (2011) agree, adding that delays can be categorised according to the perpetrator  of the delay, suggesting that there are client-led delays, designer-led delays, and contractor-led delays.  Aziz and Abdel-Hakam (2016) make a similar point, asserting that delays can also be defined in terms of liability, with  excusable delays, inexcusable delays and concurrent delays. Excusable delays can by further sub-divided into compensable (client ) and non-compensable, as shown in Figure 1.1. 

Figure 1.1. Types of Delay (Hamzah et al., 2011, p. 291, Figure 1).

In short excusable, compensational delays are permitted under the contract, whereby the client can may changes for which the for both the project owner and the project contractor. Non-excusable delay are largely due to errors by the contractor or the designer and neither party should expect compensation, rather the client may be due compensation depending on the type of error and the impacts of such an event. In any case, the importance of the construction industry to the economy, means that it is important to understand the concept of delay in this sector (Hamzah et al., 2011).

1.3 Causal Factors and Impacts of Delay

Marzouk and El-Rasas (2014) maintain poor time management affects productivity and profitability, arguing that this problem is due to inadequate planning and resources management, ineffective site management and problems with contractor financing and the client’s payment for completed works.

Gebrehiwet and Luo (2017) argue that delays can occur in the pre-construction stage affecting the timely delivery of the design and affecting the construction start date. Delays also occur in the construction stage of the project life cycle, ultimately affecting the project costs, quality and the programme of work. Causal factors in delays can be categorised as internal factors such as designer related causes, client related causes, and contractor related causes. Delays can also be caused by external factors such as site conditions and weather related issues.

Aziz (2013, p.387) argues that despite persistent problems with delays in construction, there has been little effort “to curtail the phenomenon”. As such this research seeks to identify, investigate, and assess the casual factors in delay in the construction industry, focusing on projects in the UK and to understand the impacts of such delays.

1.4 Aim and Objectives

The aim of this research is to explore the causes and effects of delays in construction projects in the UK. The objectives of the study are to

  • Consider the extent of delay as a problem in the construction industry
  • Explore the underling factors for delay from the main contractor perspective
  • Assess the impact of these delays in terms of time, cost and quality
  • Determine the tools/processes that could be used to reduce delays
  • Ascertain the barriers to implementing these tools/processes.

This dissertation continues in chapters, with the next chapter presenting a critical review of pertinent literature.

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2 Literature Review

The purpose of this chapter is to set out the findings of a critical review of literature, exploring the causes of delays in the construction process and the effects of such delays. In the interests of clarity it is noted that delay in the context of this dissertation means the non-completion of project within the specified duration that is agreed within contract (Aziz 2013).

2.1 Causal Factors of Delay in Construction

Kog (2017) maintains that schedule performance is a key performance criteria in determining  construction project success, as such it is imperative to identify the major construction delay factors to understand the factors that affect schedule performance. Once these factors are understood, it is possible to implement measures to address and implement effective schedule performance.

In research conducted by Gebrehiwet and Luo (2017), it was found that delays can start at the preconstruction stage, due to ineffective project planning and scheduling, along with inflation and /or price increases in materials. Other causal factors include the unavailability of services such as essential utilities on site, inaccurate feasibility studies, the late issue of   design information and design documents, design mistakes and errors, along with a lack of  understanding of the contract documents and responsibilities. In the construction stage, it is argued that delays can be caused by construction material related causes, finance related causes, equipment related causes, and labour related causes exacerbated by poor site management and sub-contractor-related causes (Gebrehiwet and Luo 2017, p.368).

There are multiple reasons for delays including a lack of communication across the design-construction interface, and between the various construction organisations delivering the project (Afshari et al. 2011; Khoshgoftar et al. 2010). Delays can also be underpinned by poor project management, particularly if the client does not make payments to the contractor as set out in the contract, or seeks to stall/delay such payments (Fallahnejad 2013; Sepasgozar et al. 2015). The client and design team can also cause delay by making changes during the construction stage, as such variations typically result in rework, additional costs and such rework can affect project morale and relationships (Pourrostam and Ismail 2012). Kog (2017)  add that the client also contributes to delays by selecting the contractor based on lowest price rather than best value or by setting unrealistic deadlines for the design and the construction teams. Kog (2017) points out that the contractor can also add to delays in a project through the use of inexperienced workers, poor resource planning and management and failure to control work of key organisations such as sub-contractors.

Niazi and Painting (2017) suggest that there are labour-led delays, a shortage of skilled workers, or where the contractor appoints inexperienced workers to carry out the work. According to Aziz (2013) the main causes of delays in construction are contractor’s financial difficulties and uncontrolled changes made by the client. It is conceded that there are other causal factors such as severe weather conditions and changes to government regulations that can lead to delays, and which the project stakeholders have little control over (Al-Hazim, et al., 2017), however Winch (2010) argues that effective project management includes taking a systems approach to management, whereby such external factors would be anticipated and taken into account in the planning and scheduling of the works.

Soliman (2017) argues that delays are fundamentally caused by failures in communication, given that the delivery of a project depends on the flow of information from one organisation to another.  The fact is that project success hinges on the flow of detailed and accurate information, whereby the contractor has the necessary information to construct each element of the work, as set out in the schedule. However this can be difficult to achieve in practice, given reliance on competitive forms of procurement and the fact that the contractor is typically not involved in the design process (Morledge and Smith 2013).

2.2 Impacts of Delays

There are several impacts of delay in construction, with Aziz (2013) arguing that delays can adversely affect profit, market growth and financial viability. Delayed project typically result in cost implications for at least one of the project stakeholders, can result in disruption to new work and loss of productivity. Delays can also lead to third party claims, disputes and in extreme circumstances abandonment or termination of contracts.

Wang et al., (2016) make an interesting observation, conceding that delays in construction have an impact on project success, adding that delays also have an adverse social dimension. In short delayed construction extends the life of a construction site which affects the local community and can also have a negative impact on the natural environment. As mentioned earlier delays due to client changes, designer error or poor contractor workmanship, invariably result in rework, which increases the level of waste generated in construction and the carbon footprint of the project, all of which have social and environmental impacts (Patil and Laishram 2016;Lee et al.,2016).

Cheung et al., (2011) maintain that there are problems with organisational culture in the industry and it is argued that this affects willingness to collaborate within the project team and across organisational boundaries, increasing the risk of delays. Arditi et al., (2017) makes a similar claim, suggesting that organisational culture can be affected by delays in construction and can also be a causal factor. For example if there is a clan culture in an organisation then this can result in lax attitude to management’s authority in terms of achieving project goals, whereas a market oriented organisation may pay too little attention to human resources which results in delays through unmotivated staff.

It is submitted that the over-use of competitive procurement has an impact on delays in construction whereby clients favour cost over value, requiring contractors to submit the lowest possible price to secure work. This in turn affects the supply chain, where contractors put pressure on subcontractors to reduce the cost of work. All of which adversely affects trust, supply chain management and relationships and willingness to collaborate. These failures increase the risk of delays, and ensure that there is a viscous circle of inefficiency within the construction industry (Hartmann and Caerteling 2010; Fawcett et al., 2012; Morledge and Smith 2013).

2.3 Ways of Managing Time in Construction Projects

Altuwaim and El-Rayes (2018) maintain that during the construction stage, contractors used scheduling to optimise the efficiency of resources including labour, to reduce wasted time and to reduce the time taken to complete an activity to as short as possible. It is suggested that contractors use a variety of methods to develop and maintain an efficient programme of work including Gantt charts and the Critical Path Method (CPM). The former is widely used in construction and seeks to identify the key activities that are vital to the successful completion of a project within the time specified in the contract. However there are drawbacks to the CPM method including the fact that each activity requires representation by a significant number of activities and there is no guarantee of maintaining continuity of work (Long and Ohsato 2009). Francis (2016,p.50) argues that a CPM schedule is “not realistic because it assumes unlimited resources”.

Dziadosz and Rejment (2015) argue that construction projects are fraught with uncertainties relating to time, the design, the regulatory environment, site conditions, the project team and financing, as such success depends on managing risk. As such construction project teams typically use project management tools to assess risks and to implement mitigation measures to protect the critical path activities and the time of construction. Risk management is typically a staged process of identification of hazards; quantification and assessment of risks which then informs the action required to mitigate such risks. A number of construction organisations use project management standards such as Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) and PRINCE 2, as part of risk management where the latter includes a register of risks. However the use of these measures is generally sporadic and confined to larger organisation  and projects, due to the complexity of calculations, the need for appropriate computer programmes and the clarity of the results. El-Karim et al., (2017) agree that risk management is useful in keeping projects within the planned schedule, implying that the problem lies in the ability of the project team to keep manage risks in a dynamic environment when there are multiple client-led and designer-led changes. Serpella et al., (2014) concur, adding that the effectiveness of risk management is dependent on carrying out this process from the concept stage of a project.

HM Government (2013) suggests that the solution to the problems in the construction industry is the use of technology such as Building Information Modelling, which Eastman et al., (2011) argue can create efficiencies throughout the life cycle of a project. Bryde et al., (2013) take the view that BIM facilitates better communication within the project team which can improve time efficiencies and reduce changes which put the project schedule at risk. Azhar et al., (2008) agree, also maintaining that the visual nature of the 3-dimensional virtual model of the project enables the client to visualise the project, reducing requests for change during the construction stage and facilitating effective planning and organisation of the project during construction. That said, Abanda et al., (2015) argue that the industry is slow to adopt this technology, in part due to the fragmented nature of the industry, a lack of understanding of the construction life cycle and the unwillingness of supply chain members to collaborate in a highly competitive industry. In addition, whilst in theory BIM provides a virtual model from which time schedules and cost reports can be extracted, the reality is that there are typically interoperability issues due to the plethora of software available.  Miettinen and Paavola (2014, p.85) refer to the BIM  “utopia”, where there are suggestions that this technology is the single most effective solution to the problems in construction projects, whereas the reality falls short of such a vision. However BIM can be useful in facilitating change in the industry, encouraging better communication and project organisation which should be beneficial to time management and project success in the longer term.

Kivrak et al., (2008) add an interesting point to the discourse, suggesting that there is a wealth of knowledge and experience within each project team, relating to the problems occurring during a project and the management of these problems. The difficulty is that in the temporal nature of a construction project, this knowledge is typically lost at the completion of each project, as the project team fails to carry out a post-project review and organisations fail to optimise the benefits of these experiences for future project, through ineffective communication, knowledge sharing and knowledge management. It is submitted that such management of knowledge relies on cooperation between the diverse entities that develop and deliver a project, and to date this appear to be hampered by fragmentation and mistrust in the industry, underpinned by competitive procurement where costs are prioritised over value (Loosemore 2016; Hinton and Hamilton 2015; Morledge and Smith 2013).

2.4 Summary of the Literature Review

There is general agreement within the literature that all project stakeholders are responsible for delays in construction projects, with the client and designer typically responsible for making late changes to the design during construction and failing to comply with the contract with respect to payments for work complete. Contractors are also responsible for delays through poor site management, poor quality workmanship and a lack of control of the supply chain. It is suggested that the underlying causal factor in these issues is the fragmented and disjointed nature of the industry and project delivery. This in turn is linked to competitive forms of procurement and excluding the construction team from the concept and design development stages of the project.

The impacts of such delays are low levels of productivity and profitability, high levels of wasted time, energy and materials and dissatisfaction among the client body. There are possible solutions including risk management, and the use of BIM, however these solutions are in part dependent on the willingness of the industry to accept new ways of working and to collaborate. These issues require further consideration, as set out in the following chapters.

3 Methodology

This dissertation seeks to add to the research bank on delays in construction and is aimed at organisations working within the industry. It is therefore important to ensure that the research is carried out in a transparent and coherent manner, so that the findings of this study can be validated through wider studies on this topic. Therefore this research was designed in a staged manner, taking the scientific approach to academic studies, whereby the research methodology is underpinned by quantitative reasoning and analysis (Fellows and Liu 2015). The purpose of this chapter is to set out the research methodology, with the options available at each stage and justification for the choices made.

3.1 Research Approach and Strategy

There are two approaches to this type of research including deductive study and inductive study, where the former seeks to answer a research question and the latter seeks to build theory relating to a specific topic, such as delays in construction. In this instance, it is argued that the deductive approach is suitable for this quantitative study, as it seeks to answer a specific question relating to delays in construction (Roberts 2010).

According to Biggam (2015) there are several research strategies that can be used for deductive, quantitative studies including surveys, case studies, experiments and action research. Each has merit, with Farrell (2011) advising that it is necessary to ascertain the benefits and drawbacks of each with respect to the research question, aim and objectives of the study. It is noted that a survey is beneficial in gathering data pertinent to the research question, offering a high degree of flexibility with respect to the variables surveyed. It is conceded that that whilst the researcher has a degree of freedom in choosing the survey sample, the survey questions and the assessment methods, this process can be time-consuming, it typically relies on third-party input into the study and crucially the reliability of the findings depends on the survey sample and how this sample represents the wider population of the construction industry.

Naoum (2012) takes the view that a case study offers a flexible form of research that does not rely on third party involvement. The benefit of this strategy is that there are different forms of case studies such as exploratory and explanatory, and the researcher has the freedom to choose the variables to be measured and analysed. However, it is evident from the preceding chapters that the construction industry is a large and diverse sector (BIS 2013), as such there is a risk that the selected case study or case studies may not be representative of the wider industry (Biggam 2015).

Farrell (2011) notes that the strategy should be practical, adding value to the study being conducted; as such it is suggested that experimentation is impractical in this instance. Action research can be used to assess the impact of change within an organisation, and could be useful in ascertaining the impacts of the implementation of processes such as risk management or BIM on delays in construction projects. For example, a comparative study could be carried out following the implementation of BIM whereby past experiences of delay could be compared to the level of delay in project’s after the introduction of the technology including taking account of behavioural and cultural changes in the organisation. It is argued that there are significant benefits to such a study, however it too was discounted as impractical as the researcher should ideally be embedded in the organisation to form part of the study (Fellows and Liu 2015).

Given the above discourse, it was decided to progress this research using the survey strategy, as this offered the greatest flexibility with research to the data collected and optimised the chance of answering the research question posed in this dissertation.

3.2 Data Collection and Analysis

There are two forms of data that can be used in surveys, primary and/or secondary, whereby the former is typically collected using interviews or questionnaires and the latter is gathered by reference to published data (Fellows and Liu 2015). There are merits to both, as secondary data gathered from academic sources provides expert opinion on the topic of delays, whilst primary data provides an insight into contemporary construction (Biggam 2015). As previously mentioned the construction industry in the UK is diverse and fragmented, as such it was decided to gather both primary and secondary data on this topic, whereby the former was useful in guiding the latter. A review of construction projects was carried out and a case study selected to highlight the causal factors in delay and the impacts of such delay.

3.2.1 Interviews or Questionnaires

In terms of the primary data, it is noted that interviews provide the opportunity to gather detailed data from a selected sample of participants, whereas questionnaires typically facilitate the collection of a large volume of data from a wide sample of participants in a relatively short period (Naoum 2012; Fellows and Liu 2015). Given the diversity of the construction industry and project stakeholders, it was decided to progress the research gathering primary data using a questionnaire. In the interests of time efficiency, the survey sample was selected from the researcher’s contacts with the industry, to ensure that the participants had sufficient experience of construction to add value to the study and to consider the concept of delay from different perspectives (Biggam 2015; Farrell 2011).

3.2.2 Development of Questionnaire

The questionnaire, attached to Appendix A of this document, was prepared following the guidance offered by Fink (2003) ensuring that each question was focused on the objectives and that the meaning of each question was clear. In addition the questionnaire used a mix of open style and closed style questions, to ensure that the process resulted in sufficient data from analysis and to draw on the experiences and opinions of the sample of construction professionals.  It is acknowledged that there is a risk of researcher bias within the questions, as such a minor pilot study was conducted among the researcher’s peers to ensure that that aesthetics and logic of the questionnaire was correct and to also ensure that each questions had the same meaning for the different participants (Fink 2003).

3.2.3 Ethical Considerations

As mentioned the sample was selected from the researcher’s contacts, with each participant receiving the questionnaire by email, as this was the preferred method of contact, giving the participants flexibility to complete the work. In keeping with the ethical requirements of academic studies, the researcher also informed the participants about the purpose of the study and the data collection, as well as the manner in which the data collected would be used. In addition the researcher did not collect any personal or commercially sensitive data and all participants were assured that participation was voluntary (Roberts 2010; Biggam 2015).

3.2.4 Analysis of Data

Given that this research is a deductive study, underpinned by quantitative reasoning, the data gathered in the closed style questions was analysed using descriptive and statistical analysis. The data from the open style questions was analysed using coding to establish the key themes in the responses along with  descriptive analysis. The analysis focused on the research objectives for this study.

3.3 Summary of the Methodology

This study is deductive, seeking to respond to a specific question on delays in construction. Several strategies were considered and it was decided that the optimal strategy was a survey. Two forms of data was collected; secondary data which references a construction project and the impacts of delays on the project, and a questionnaire survey of a sample of professionals in the construction industry. The data, presented in the next chapter, was analysed using quantitative methods.

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4 Data Collection

This chapter presents the primary and the secondary data collected as part of this study. The data is then analysed and discussed in relation to the objectives of the research.

4.1 Secondary Data: Case Study-Holyrood

The case study selected for this study is the design and construction of the Scottish Parliament building, Holyrood, chosen because this project was initially commissioned as a fast-track development with a budget of £40million, that ultimately took almost five years to complete with a final project cost of £431million (White and Sidhu 2005). This project illustrates the impacts of poor management, client-led changes and designer-led changes on delays in the construction stage of a project’s life cycle.

4.1.1 The Holyrood Project

The project was commissioned by the newly devolved Scottish Government in 1997, with a project budget of up to £40million based on a feasibility study of suitable sites for the new parliament building. The client’s brief was for a fast-track, iconic building  with a budget commensurate with value for public funding. On completion of a feasibility study, which included the late inclusion of the Holyrood site, the initial boundary of the project budget was increased to a range of £55 to £71 million depending on the site, for a 20,000 m2 with car parking. The Holyrood site was then selected because it was the lowest cost option, with estimates of £49.5million (White and Sidhu 2005).

The development process continued with a design competition in 1998 whereby the initial 70 applicants was reduced to five selected design from which the successful joint venture team of Spanish architects Enric Miralles y Moya (EMBT) and a Scottish firm RMJM Ltd was selected with a budget of £62.60 million, for an increase footprint of 27,610 m2. Bovis was then appointed as Construction Manager in 1999 to oversee and manage the design and construction process. The programme of work was produced with a start date in July 1999 and completion by September 2001 (Scotland Audit 2004).

Several studies including Scotland Audit (2004), Bain (2005), Fraser 2004, and Potts and Ankrah (2013) indicate that from the start, the project was subject to delays attributed to

  • Client-led changes to the design brief including requirements for additional space and alternations to the proposed structure of the building.
  • Designer-led changes such as changes to the materials and the footprint of the building which when combined with the client-led changes increased the budget to £107million. The design was reviewed in 1999 and consequential changes increased the costs to £195million.
  • Poor levels of communication between the client-design team and the design-construction team.
  • Failure to freeze the design.
  • Lack of collaboration within the design joint venture and with the contractor.
  • Incorrect method of procurement as the client chose the construction management route rather than the design and build route, which would have restricted the fluid design and shifted the risk of completion to the contractor, optimising the chances of completion on time and within budget.
  • A lack of risk management whereby risks were identified and managed by increasing the budget without testing the value-added by the successive changes or assessing the impact of each change on the cost and construction programme.
  • Continual changes to the design resulted in delays to construction with planned completion changed to 2004.

It is argued that the above case study highlights the fragmented nature of a typical construction project and the fact that poor project management from the concept stage can affect construction progress. The impacts of such poor supply chain management and failure to communicate are significant delays during the construction stage, along with tensions and conflict in the project team, wasted time, costs and materials. This project may provide an extreme version of construction however it illustrates the need for collaborative working, effective communication and integration of the design and construction stages of a project.

4.2 Questionnaire

As mentioned in the previous chapter, primary data in the form of a questionnaire was gathered from a sample of professionals working in construction in the UK. Given that Grove et al., (2009) suggest that the reliability of the data collected is dependent on the sample having sufficient knowledge of delays in the construction industry and experience of the industry, it was decided that the sample should be selected from a range of design and construction organisations using the researcher’s contacts. The questionnaire is set out in three sections, with the first section testing the reliability of the sample, based on their experience of the industry. The second section explores the problem of delay in the industry and section 3 investigates ways of improving the productivity and performance of the industry. The purpose of this section is to set out the questions with justification for including each question and analysis of the responses obtained.

4.2.1 Section 1 Demographics

The first three questions seek to develop an insight into the participants role in the industry and experience. The response to Question 1, as shown in Figure 4.1, indicate that that main groups in construction (client, design and construction) are represented, although this is weighed in favour of those involved in the construction stage.

Figure 4.1 Responses to Question 1 “ What is your role in construction in the UK?”

The second question explores the participants experience, with the responses to Question 2, given in Figure 4.2.

Figure 4.2. Responses to Question 2 “ How many years’ experience have you working in construction?”

The data in the above figure, suggests that 68% of the participants have more than 5 years’ experience in construction, which it is argued indicates that this sample has sufficient experience to add value to this research.

Figure 4.3. Responses to Question 3 “In your opinion what are the key attributes of a successful construction project?”

Question 3 explores the participants views on project success, as it is argued that these views can be related to the importance of delay in the industry. The responses to this question, shown in Figure 4.3, indicate that the majority response correlates with the findings of the literature review, namely that success is measured in time, cost and quality (Walker 2015; Harris and McCaffer 2013).

Question 4 asks the participants about delays in the construction industry in the UK, and is included to ascertain the sample’s views on current productivity levels as this may influence the responses to the remaining questions. The responses to Question 4, shown in Figure 4.4., indicate that 50% of the participants agree that there is a problem with delays in the industry, whilst 18% take the opposite view, and 27% take the view that there is a problem with delay on some projects.

Figure 4.4. Responses to Question 4 “In your opinion is delay in project completion a problem in the construction industry in the UK?”

It is argued that these responses are in keeping with the benchmark data provided by Glenigan, which indicates that there are projects completed on time. It is submitted that the general experience of this small cross-section of professionals in the construction industry, provides a snapshot of the performance of the industry at this time, and that the sample has sufficient experience to make a positive contribution to this dissertation.

4.2.2 Section 2 Underlying Causes and Impacts of Delay

This section of the questionnaire focuses on the sample’s views of delay, and the impacts of this problem in construction, to ascertain if there are correlations with the findings of the literature review and the case study. Question 5 asks the participants about the key causes of delay in construction, using an open-style question to draw on the participant’s experience of this issue. The responses were coded to establish themes within the responses as shown in Table 4.1.

Table 4.1. Responses to Question 5 “In your experience, what are the key causes of delay in construction?”

It is evident from the above data, that delays at the construction stage can, according to this sample, be attributed to the client who makes frequent changes to the design, thus impeding the construction programme of work; the designer due to problems with design errors and lack of quality management, as well as lack of construction experience and delays in issuing information for construction; and contractor-led delays through inexperience, poor communication, ineffective management and a lack of quality control of all activities on the site. It is argued that there is a strong correlation between these responses and the findings of the literature review.

Question 6 seeks to build on the data collected in the previous question, providing the participants with a list of issues drawn from the literature review that could affect the delivery of the project. The participants were required to assign a scaled rating to each, from 1 to 10, in order of importance. The results shown in Figure 4.5, from which it is clear that the most important factor underpinning delays in construction is the client making changes to the scope of work during the contract, closely followed by poor communication between the design and construction team.

Figure 4.5. Responses to Question 6 Causal Factors in Delays.

The majority of participants (76%) also agreed that delays were caused by inefficient project management, control and monitoring of the project and issues such as failure of the client to meet the requirements of the contract were rated as the fourth most important factor affecting delays in construction. Contractor-led delays were attributed ineffective resource management and poor control of workmanship on site, which were rated 5th and 6th respectively. Surprisingly, poor design control with errors and changes during construction was rated 7th out of 10 in terms of importance. However, it is noted that there was very little difference in the percentage responses to delays factors rated 5 to 7. The least important factors included the lack of collaboration across the supply chain, lack of contractor experience and unrealistic schedules for the projects.

Question 7 queried the impacts of delays in construction, using the open style to gather opinion based on the participants experiences. The responses were coded and divided into themes as shown in Table 4.2, from which it is evident that the key impacts are loss of productivity, risk to profits, dissatisfied clients and tainted reputations, as well as conflicts and disputes over the responsibility for the delays.

Table 4.2 Key Themes in Responses to Question 7.

The participants also stated that delays in contracts resulted in a

loss of confidence in the project team, with a blame culture as to who is responsible” (Main Contractor 10-years’ experience).

The consensus was summarised by one of the most senior participants, a main contractor with more than 20 years’ experience in the industry, mainly involved in the construction of commercial buildings such as offices and high rise construction. This participant stated that:

a project may be going fine until an unforeseen event occurs, which could be soft ground on site, an impediment to planning or misinformation from the design team after an element of the work is completed or under construction. In some cases, for example if the change is client or design-led then this will take the form of an instruction from the client and the contractor can haggle the additional cost and time for carrying out such a change. In my opinion, such changes form part of the dynamic nature of construction and can be dealt with under the contract. What I mean is that these changes are acceptable and less likely to cause conflict than for example design errors, where the designer does not want to admit an error and tries to either pin the blame (time and costs) on the contractor. This can happen in a number of ways, for example a classic one is when the designer will state that the contractor carried out the work before receiving the final design, as such the contractor took the risk of the element of work and therefore has to front the costs and time for rework. The point being that construction is competitive and neither side is willing to acknowledge or pay for mistakes, which typically results in conflict, that increases time delays in a downward spiral” (Main Contractor 20 years’ experience). 

Several of the participants took the view that delays could erode the  ‘team spirit’ (Designer with 5 years’ experience) in the project, which in turn affects willingness to collaborate and cooperate, and ultimately adversely affects the success of the project.

4.2.3 Section 3 Mitigation Measures

This section was included in the questionnaire to assess the measures currently used by contractors to avoid delays and to ascertain if measures such as BIM and supply chain management are prevalent in the industry.

Question 8 asks the participants what measures are taken to reduce delays, and the responses indicate a variety of measures as indicated in Table 4.3.

Table 4.3 Responses to Question 8.

It is noted that all of the above processes have merit, however there was no mentioned of risk management or BIM, possibly indicating the industry’s reluctance to move away from traditional management practices.

Question 9 explored the use of risk management, and BIM as potential solutions to the problems of delay in construction, with the responses shown in Figure 4.6.

Figure 4.6. Responses to Question 9. “Do you think that technology such as Building Information Modelling or processes such as risk management and effective supply chain management can reduce delays? “

It is argued that given the benefits of these processes, as indicated in the literature review, the above responses are surprising, as there is divided opinion on the benefits of BIM, risk or supply chain management. Question 10 was included to draw opinion on these measures, and it is argued that the responses reveal the underlying issues associated with the above measures.

It is noted that 70% of the participants agreed that there was a need for better supply chain management, however the view was that such collaboration and integration was hampered by the competitiveness in the industry. Several of the contractors stated that delays were due to the client-body’s unwillingness to appoint the construction team early in the project.

The responses indicated that 55% of the participants take the view that risk management is useful and virtually all had experience of  risk management for safety assessments, but this did not appear to extend to time management.

The responses to Question 10, indicate that just under 50% of the participants suggest that BIM is expensive, requiring a “significant amount of cash and time investment to become savvy with the technology” (Sub-contractor with 15-years’ experience). Several of the participants also mentioned that rather than an:

all-singing, all-dancing technology, BIM depends on the level of maturity. I agree that it can be useful in data organisation (Level 2) but we are a small organisation and cannot justify investment in anything above that level of maturity” (Main Contractor 10 years’ experience).

It is noted that the designers in the sample typically used BIM or as described by one participant “ a form of BIM, which is then uploaded to a central model to share the information with the other designers on the project”, adding that there are frequent interoperability problems that need to be resolved because different designers use different packages. However this participant also stated that these were “teething problems, as this technology will evolve and slowly become commonplace in the industry” (Designer 10-20 years’ experience).

4.3 Discussion

To reiterate this research seeks to understand the causes of delay in construction, the impacts of such delays and to suggest suitable mitigation measures. The purpose of this section is to discuss the data collected in the previous section with that gathered in the literature review.

4.3.1 Causes of Delay

Aziz and Abdel-Hakam (2016) conducted a similar study, investigating the causal factors and impacts of delays in construction, based on primary data collected using a questionnaire and secondary data from case studies. The findings correlate to the above data collections, with delays attributed to the client, the designer and the contractor. The research provides an insight into the problems of delays in construction from different perspectives, finding that client’s in the industry take the view that delay is primarily caused by contractor’s financial difficulties. Other causal factors included shortage in equipment and inadequate contractor experience, as well as poor resource management resulting in a shortage in materials and equipment failure, poor subcontractor performance and the need for rework due to poor site management and supervision by contractor. It is argued that such findings provide an interesting perspective on delay, however it is also submitted that the views expressed by the client-body ignore the fact that contractor’s financial difficulties are very often underpinned by slow payment by the client or when client’s withhold payment for spurious reasons.

Analysis of the data collected in this study, highlights the designer’s view that delays are typically the fault of the client who makes successive changes and the contractor because of poor workmanship.  It is argued that this is evident in the Holyrood case study, where the client was responsible for successive changes. These views correlate with the data collected by Aziz and Abdel-Hakam (2016), whereby the designers/consultants suggested that client financial problems and problems with coordinating the work of different parties was ranked  as a key factor in delays in construction. That said it is argued that this view ignores the fact that the designer has an obligation to work with the client to freeze the design at the tender stage and to work with the contractor and the client to minimise the impacts of change throughout the construction stage (Winch 2010; Walker 2015; Royal Institute of British Architects 2013).

In short, the causal factors in delays are a mixture of client, designer and contractor-led issues, underpinned by failure to collaborate from the concept stage and to develop integrated teams whereby all stakeholders work to a common goal.

4.3.2 Impacts of Delays

The data collected as part of this study, indicate that delay affects the public’s perception of the industry through projects such as Holyrood. In addition delays, as suggested by the responses to the questionnaire, affect project morale, willingness to collaborate, profitability and productivity. As previously mentioned the construction industry plays a fundamental role in the national economy (BIS 2013), with Senouci et al., (2016) implying that given the highly competitive economic environment in the global economy, it is important that the industry improves productivity and output. The fact is that persistent delays reduce competitiveness and profitability, putting competitiveness and viability at risk.  Matthews et al., (2016) maintain that aside from the cost of delays, there are also social costs to delayed construction, including additional waste, poor value for public funds and increased levels of carbon emissions, along with prolonged disruption for local communities.

4.3.3 Mitigation Measures

The data collected indicates the importance of effective project management controlling time and changes. This is particularly evident in the Holyrood project, as the delays were a combination of por planning from the outset and failure to control change throughout the project (Potts and Ankrah 2013). This point is reinforced by the survey sample, the majority of whom linked project success with effective planning, monitoring and controlling the project schedule and change management. This finding correlates with research conducted by Pourrostam and Ismail (2011b) who also used a carried a questionnaire survey, involving contractors and designers focusing on ways in which delays could be reduced/eliminated in construction. The study concluded that it is essential to freeze the design prior to the construction stage. Kog (2017) adds that delays can be reduced through effective planning and management of resources at all stages of the project, ensuring that the design team and the construction team are competent and that all parties are aware of the conditions of contract and their roles /responsibilities under that contract. The inference being that the solution lies in cooperation and collaboration of all project stakeholders.

The literature review highlights the need for collaboration and integrated teamwork (HM Government 2013; Koolwijk et al., 2015). However the responses to the data collection, highlight the fact that competitive procurement impedes such working practices. Eastman et al., (2011) offer BIM as a solution, yet the responses from the questionnaire imply reluctance to adopt such technology. This latter point is supported by Abanda et al., (2015) who argue that this reluctance is underpinned by fragmentation in the industry, and mistrust within the supply chain. The responses also indicate that BIM is still viewed as an evolving technology, a view also expressed by Miettinen and Paavola (2014).

It is argued that there is merit to risk management, and whilst the responses to the questionnaire suggest that this practices appears to be widely accepted for safety management, there is less interest/experience in carrying out risk assessments for scheduling and programming of activities in the design and construction of a project. It is submitted that this inexperience or lack of use can be linked to fragmentation in the industry and over-reliance on small to medium size organisations, as well as competitive procurement (Perrenoud et al., 2017). The point being that the issues preventing a reduction in delays or improvements in construction are essentially the same as those causing the problems.

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5 Conclusion and Recommendations

This research set out to investigate the causes and effects of delays in construction projects in the UK. The objectives of the study were to consider the extent of delay as a problem in the construction industry and to explore the underling factors for delay from the main contractor perspective. The research also sought to assess the impact of these delays in terms of time, cost and quality, to determine the tools/processes that could be used to reduce delays and to ascertain the barriers to implementing these tools/processes. The purpose of this chapter is to set out the findings of the study, present the conclusions drawn from these findings and to recommend further useful research on this topic.

5.1 Findings of the Study

This research finds that delay is prolific in the construction and there is a general acceptance that this is simply a part of the industry. It is evident that major clients such as HM Government are dissatisfied with the value offered by the industry, which it is noted includes the design and construction processes.

There are several interlinked and underlying issues which lead to this persistent problem in the industry including high levels of fragmentation, and a disjointed approach to project delivery. For example it appears that the design process is carried out in isolation of the construction team in a high volume of projects, and that key players such as sub-contractors have little access to design/construction development or to the client. These issues are underpinned by the use of competitive procurement, a client-body that is typically concerned with costs rather than value and a construction-body which needs to drive costs down by putting pressure on sub-contractors to get the best price. In short, all project stakeholders are responsible for delays.

There are a range of causes of delay in the construction process, many of which are not in the control of the contractor. These include client-led changes during the construction stage and failures to progress payments to the contractor in a timely manner. There are also designer-led delays including poor communication, failure to issue good quality and accurate data to the contractor and changes during the construction stage due to errors or lack of experience of construction processes. That said, the contractor is also responsible for delays, through poor site management and organisations, poor levels of quality and the use of inexperienced labour. In effective project management will inevitably lead to delays, particularly if the contractor does not have measures in place to monitor and control subcontractors on the project and all interrelated work activities.

The impacts of delays can be explained from a national perspective, whereby poor performance reduces the industry’s contributions to the economy, or social issues when public works are delayed. From the contractor’s perspective delays can reduce profit, can affect reputation and future work loads and increase the risk of conflict and disputes.

There are ways in which delays can be reduced/eliminated in the industry including effective supply chain management, the use of risk management and the implementation of technology such as BIM. It is clear from the literature review that each has merit, however it is equally evident from the data collected as part of this study, that there is resistance to investment in BIM and that many organisations have not, as yet extended risk management to scheduling. It is found that resistance to such measures can be linked to high levels of fragmentation in the industry and competitive procurement which impede collaboration, trust and cooperation.

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5.2 Conclusion

In conclusion, there is a problem with delay in the construction industry. Delay in the construction stage is linked to ineffective communication, changes required by the client and the designer and poor site/construction management. The obvious solution is a combination of  involving the contractor and key suppliers in the design stage to reduce the level of change and subsequent delays in the construction stage, the application of risk management, effective supply chain management and the use of BIM. These measures would reduce conflict, encourage collaboration and enhance trust, all of which would reduce delays.

5.3 Limitations

It is submitted that the above conclusion should be set in context with the limitations of this study. These include the fact that the survey sample of 22 professionals is minute in comparison to the extent of the construction industry in the UK. That said it is suggested that the research provides a useful snapshot of the issues underpinning delay at this point in time. It is also argued that a further limitation is the use of a single case study, however it is contended that this case study illustrates the interlinked nature of the causal factors in delay.

5.4 Recommendations for Further Study

This research illustrates the importance of the role of the client in delays in the construction industry, as such it is submitted that the findings of this study could be enhanced by focusing on the clients perspective of delays. It is suggested that such a study would be beneficial in assessing the clients reluctance to appoint the contractor and key suppliers early in the project. In addition, it would be useful to carry out further examination of BIM as a suitable solution to delay in construction, seeking to understand the different levels of maturity, the current rate of implementation and the barriers to this technology.

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7 Appendix A Questionnaire

Section 1 Demographics

  1. What is your role in the construction industry in the UK?


Please Tick


Main Contractor


Design Engineer


Quantity Surveyor

Other (Please Specify)

  1. How many years’ experience have you working in construction?

Work Experience

Please Tick

Less than 1year



10-20 years

More than 20 years

  1. In your opinion what are the key attributes of a successful construction project?

Attributes of Success

Please Tick

Completed on time

Completed within budget

Completed to the satisfaction of the client

A project on-time, within budget and to the quality required by the client

  1. In your opinion is delay in project completion a problem in the construction industry in the UK?


Please Tick




Do Not Know

Section 2 Underlying Causes and Impacts of Delay in Construction

  1. In your experience, what are the key causes of delay in construction?
  1. Please rate the causal factors in delay from 1 to 10 with 1 being the most important and 5 the least important.

Causal Factor

Rate 1 to 10

Client changes to the design/scope of work during construction

Poor design control with errors and changes throughout the project

A lack of communication between the client/design team and contractor

Poor workmanship on site

Ineffective resource management 

Lack of contractor experience 

Over- ambitious/unrealistic programme of work

Lack of collaboration within the supply chain

Inefficient project management in terms of planning, monitoring and control

Failure of client to meet the requirements of the contract e.g. late payments

  1. In your opinion what are the impacts of these delays?

Section 3 Mitigation Measures

  1. In your experience what measures do project stakeholders take to reduce delays?
  1. Do you think that technology such as Building Information Modelling or processes such as risk management and effective supply chain management can reduce delays?



Do not know

  1. Could you please explain your response to the previous question?

Thank you for taking part in this survey

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