Over the years I’ve seen some construction projects that move at near-lighting speed, while others have struggled to get out of first gear. There are few things so frustrating for both homeowner and contractor than a project that stalls out. But when all parties involved benefit from a fast-moving job, why do so many end up stuck in the metaphorical mud?

In my experience the two difference-makers that determine whether a job will run-over in length are proper preparedness and limiting changes to scope or specifications. Luckily, there are ways to help ensure a project will move along quickly, whether the work is being performed by a team of contractors or by a DIY-er over a long weekend.

Proper Preparedness

The first key to a fast moving project is preparedness. Once you accept that there will be problems along the way, you can anticipate them and nip them in the bud. It will never be possible to eliminate all problems from a construction project, but by dealing with them on the front end their impact can be kept to a minimum.

Tools & Talent Matter

Having the right tools for the job (and the right workers to use those tools) is critical to a project’s success. Be sure to bring in contractors who know how to properly perform the work. If that worker is you, then take an honest look at your skill-set and see if this project is really a good match for you. Learning on the job is great, but not when the goal is speed.

Just as you need the right skills, you need the right number of people. Although many tasks can be done by a single person, having extra sets of hands can exponentially decrease the time involved.

All Permits in Order

If your project is going to need a permit, have it in hand before starting work. You may not be able to impact the government’s schedule for inspections, but there’s no excuse to not have the permit ready to go on time. If this means having drawings or schematics, then have those prepared well before an inspector ever sets foot on your job site.

Financing Secured

Although we’re well past the bad old days of the 2008 financial crisis (when lines of credit were often shut down with no notice to the homeowners) it’s still possible for hiccups in funding to disrupt the flow of work. Without prompt payment, workers may slow down and materials may be hard to come by.

If you’re paying for the project with a credit line, make sure that you understand the terms of the line. If you’re using a construction loan, make sure that you understand the draw structure, and the criteria that the bank will be using to determine if checkpoints have been met.

Materials on Site

This is the big one. When I’ve seen projects grind to a halt, there’s almost always an issue with material supply. Your electrician may be standing around ready to go, but without lights to hang not much is going to get done.

But while having the materials on-site in time for install is great, it’s even better to have them there well in advance. For contractors, just knowing the make and model of plumbing fixtures, lighting, and other final items will allow installers to look up any critical measurements and make adjustments accordingly during the rough-in stage.

All Selections Made

Of course, you can’t have the materials on site if you don’t know what you’re going to need. It can be tempting to start work without knowing all the gritty details of what colors and design, but each item you haven’t selected is a potential “full-stop” when it comes time to order or install them.

In all honesty, you don’t need to know what style of outlet cover you want when you’re tearing down existing walls. But if you push back too many decisions, the whole project will suffer.

In a perfect world, each selection when made would stay fixed. But in the far from perfect world of construction changes will happen. So once the project has been prepped sufficiently, it’s time to focus on the second half of the equation: keeping changes to a minimum.

Limit the Shifting Sands

Moving targets are hard to hit. If your project’s goals shift too often or too drastically, then it can kill worker morale and delay progress. Just like a home built on loose sand will never stand, a schedule tied to changing demands will never hold.

Precisely Defined Scope

When responsibilities are clear, no time is wasted shifting workloads or pointing fingers when something goes wrong. A precise scope also prevents issues with mis-ordered materials. Confusion about something as simple as where the hardwood stops and the tile begins could add weeks to the schedule while waiting for additional material.

Limit Impulsive Change Orders

Sometimes it makes sense to expand the scope of work. Maybe there is unexpected damage found inside a wall during a rehab, or you realize you need a bigger closet once you actually walk your framed-in new build. But impulsive or ill-timed changes in material or scope can give the project a herky-jerky feel.

Don’t Let Buyer’s Remorse Take Hold

In the midst of a large project, some homeowners may begin to have second thoughts. Second-guessing their contractors and their own judgement, they begin to apply the brakes because they’re afraid they’ve made the wrong decision somewhere along the way.

If this happens to you, you may be tempted to bite your tongue and hope that things resolve on their own. Resist this temptation! The better response is to not be afraid to communicate. Check in frequently with your contractor to make sure the project is moving according to plan. If you are unhappy with anything tell the contractor as soon as possible, so they can find the best solution. As you do this, understand that changing your mind in midstream will slow the process. But it’s always better to raise concerns now than wait until later in the process, when the fix might be far more expensive or simply not possible.


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