Is construction management an art or a science?

In construction paradise…

  • It only rains on Saturday evenings… after dark and is always finished by dawn with a spectacular Sunday sunrise and a beautiful sunny day that dries things out for Monday.
  • Building, zoning and regulatory officials provide same-day review and permits.
  • Banks are always looking for ways to lend money… as soon as this afternoon if you need it.
  • Subcontractors are fully staffed and just happen to have an opening on their schedule that they were hoping to fill when you called.
  • There is no such thing as unsuitable soils.


In the real world…


  • It rains whenever the soil is almost dry from the last rain, but rarely on Sunday and almost certainly first thing Monday morning.
  • Approvals can take months and sometimes even years.  To top it off, the staff reviewer assigned to the project just left for a two-week vacation and has a three-week backlog waiting for their return.
  • An endangered species has been found a short distance from your property.  Unfortunately, your property has some similar features that makes it a “suitable habitat.”  Your project will be delayed.
  • Rain has delayed the work of the excavator and they must finish another job before they can get to this one.  In addition, three of another subcontractors’ key employees just left to start their own company and a once reliable subcontractor is indicating that they may no longer be able to staff the project.
  • After a thorough geotechnical exploration that included what seemed to be more than an ample number of test borings, excavation has revealed a seam of unsuitable soils that runs between test borings 7, 9, 10 and 13 that the borings somehow missed.

Every project anticipates a certain process and sequence.  No matter how much planning goes into a project, however, there will always be unforeseen circumstances to which the construction team must adjust.  The solution could lie in changing the order of sequence, making up for lost time by extending the work week, replacing subcontractors or a myriad of other actions—each of which has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.

The moral of the story is… we live in an imperfect world.  Nothing ever goes as planned.  The key is to be prepared by identifying potential risks, having a contingency plan, and by adjusting quickly to unexpected events.  A great construction partner will always seek to identify ways to protect the owner’s investment.  This is when the science of construction management becomes the art of construction.

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