6 Ways to Avoid a Project Disaster

PSMJ Resources, Inc.
Posted on: 07/16/18
Written by: PSMJ Resources, Inc.
Topics: public works

photo-1453230806017-56d81464b6c5.jpgFrom a public works perspective, here are 6 ways to avoid a project disaster:

1. Conduct a formal project status update meeting once a month.  A best practice in any organization with several projects in the pipeline is to conduct regular project meetings. Where this breaks down is when there is no prescribed format. Lacking a format, participants are free to talk about whatever they want, and they will. You need to know some specific information: Using earned value, what is the current status of scope, schedule and budget? Are any activities at risk? What is the status of quality control activities? Are we going to meet our bid date? What is the current estimate of probable cost? 

2. Recognize the common causes of public project failure and manage them. Studies have shown that the five most common causes of public sector projects to go over budget or schedule are:

  •  Right of way issues

  •  Utility conflicts

  •  Environmental (permitting) delays

  •  Public/political issues

  •  Underground conditions

Each of these can be managed but they must be recognized for what they are: potential showstoppers. And they must be managed early and consistently.

3. Do a risk analysis. Not just once, but several times as the project progresses, use your consultants, engage constructors, involve whoever will be operating and maintaining the end product. Manage the most probable risks and the risks that have the most potential to cause cost or schedule overruns.

4. Manage the review process. At the start of the project, determine with your consultants, the submission schedule and anticipated review durations. As the project progresses, review that schedule during your project status update meetings. As the submission due date nears, verify with your staff that reviewers are available and are anticipating the review activity. Be careful about holidays and vacation periods! Staff will typically not be available and the review becomes delayed. When you receive comments from reviewers, don’t just accept them at face value, critique them. Are they in conflict with other comments? Are they in conflict with direction previously given the consultant? Is the reviewer allowing for appropriate design prerogatives.

5. Make clear what’s expected in each submittal. In this industry, too often we do not spell out what we expect an interim submittal to contain. One public agency reviewer will expect one thing from a 30% set of plans, someone else may expect something different. Decide at the outset what you expect at each level of submittal and tell the consultant. As an important aside, a 30% set of plans means that the consultant has accomplished 50% or even 60% of the work given that at this point surveys, geotechnical investigations, drainage and off site hydrology have been completed.

6. Insist on a progress report and invoice from your consultant every month. Then be sure that the consultant is paid and that the sub-consultants are paid promptly. Cash flow is absolutely essential for the consultant and it is equally important to you, the steward of the taxpayer, to be certain that invoices are in and paid on a regular basis. Not to do so invites big dollar surprises to you and to the project budget, and can jeopardize the financial health of the project team. 


We all want the answer to that question to be a resounding “yes!”— but, sometimes, reality falls short of our desires. That’s why we’re here to help. Our complimentary e-book, Guide To Empowering Project Managersis designed to synthesize some of our most insightful and action-oriented advice for project managers. From entrepreneurship and leadership to project scheduling and getting out of trouble, this easy-to-follow guide will give you the jolt of helpful instruction (and encouragement!) you need to fire up your engines and take on that next assignment with confidence.

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