In comparison to many other developed countries, Saudi Arabia’s construction industry is relatively young. Its clients consist of both public and private sector. The public sector refers to the government ministries responsible for infrastructure and national development projects, while the private sector comprises of privately owned or family subsidised construction company. The construction industry in Saudi Arabia started to flourish in the 1980s because of the country’s oil income which brought financial security to support massive infrastructural development projects. Since then the construction industry has grown rapidly. According to The government of Saudi Arabia, current projects are estimated to be worth more than 1.6 trillion Saudi riyals and it is the largest market for construction in the region.
Despite the massive growth of the industry, some problems have been noted by researchers and professionals in the industry. The success of an industry can be judged by certain criteria, namely, cost, time and quality. One issue that has been identified within the Saudi construction industry is its performance in relation to time. In a construction project, time refers to the allocated schedule for the construction work to be completed in. End time is very important in the construction industry and it can affect the other criteria, cost and quality. Therefore the objective for any construction project is to complete the project in or ahead of time, in budget and to the required standard of quality (S. A. Assaf, S. Al-Hejji 2006:349-357)
A variety of reasons have been identified that cause delays in construction projects and result in the project not being completed in the allocated schedule. These reasons can be categorised by the source of their cause which are the three main parties involved in any construction project, the client, the contractor and the consultant. In addition, some delays are caused by external factors which are not controllable by any of the involved parties.
The purpose of this report is to investigate and discuss into the most causes that delay construction projects in Saudi Arabia. The different factors that cause delay will be identified from the point of view of all of the three parties to establish the most significant reasons behind the delay of construction projects and who the responsible party is for each cause of delay. Furthermore it will identify some of the methods that are used to prevent delay and discuss possible improvements that could be implemented to prevent delays occurring.
An identification of the causes that delay construction projects
Causes that delay construction projects
Delays in construction projects can be caused by a number of factors, sometimes a particular party is responsible and sometimes it is events or conditions that are uncontrollable or unexpected. Delays can be due to a lack of available construction materials in the market, including both materials from inside the country and from abroad. Some projects require special building materials to be manufactured and the contractor has to find a specialist manufacturer and wait for them to make and deliver it. Delays are also caused by late procurement of materials. In addition a rise in the cost of materials can have an effect if the contractor or client does not have enough money in the budget. Other financial factors can impact on the schedule of a project, for example, when the contractor does not manage the budget well and when the client delays payments. A national or international economic crisis would also have an effect on a project, although this cannot be controlled by any of the parties involved in the construction project. Other factors which cannot be controlled or occur unforeseen include bad weather conditions, social and cultural factors, natural catastrophes, accidents on the construction site, changes in government regulation and laws and differing ground conditions.
The performance of both the contractors and the equipment also impact on the schedule of a construction project. It is the responsibility of the contractor to provide labourers to undertake the construction of a project. A project can be affected if there is a lack of labourers or they are poorly qualified. In addition, the main contractor will sometimes employ sub-contractors and there can be conflict between the two staff. The requirement of adequate and good quality equipment is also a factor if the contractor does not provide it and the following can occur, equipment breakdown, lack of equipment and low productivity of equipment. Furthermore, the contactor is responsible for the management of the project and if this is poor it can affect the schedule. The engineering consultant also has a role in the management and organisation of the project and bad project planning, errors and discrepancies in the design documents and no application of advanced engineering design software can delay construction.
Relationships between all three parties, contractor, engineering consultant and client, is considered very important. Conflict between the different parties can cause delays. The actions taken by different parties can cause bad relationships, for example, when the client delays payment or changes the specification during construction or is slow in the decision making process. Weak communication between the parties can also have an effect and it is important for parties to be flexible and have a good contract of agreement. Some serious conflicts are not resolved and the result is that the contractor or project manager changes during construction. This causes disruption and results in delay of the construction project(—)
The most causes that delay construction projects by the stakeholders point of view
Several authors (Assaf and Al-Hejji 2006:349-357; Al-Karashi and Skimore 2009:3-23) see that there are four main parties involved in construction project: the client, who funds the project and in government projects is represented by the ministry, the contractor, who is employed to manage and undertake the main construction, the consultant, who is responsible for the supervision of each stage of the project, the designer, who produces the blueprint for the project including specifications for the materials. On occasion the same engineering consultant is allocated to design and supervise the project, although it is not recommended. The client, consultant and contractor are the main contributory parties to the execution of a construction project and many causes of delay in construction projects can be associated to them. The causes of delay can be seen from the perspective of each in the following:
In the stakeholders view most of causes delay in construction projects are listed below:
Causes of delay in construction projects from a neutral point of view and suggested solutions
By looking at those causes identified by owners, consultants and contractors, it is not clear what the most important causes of delay in construction projects are as each has their own opinion of the causes of delay from their point of view. Although all these factors can cause delay in construction projects, they can be put in a sequence of priority. It is suggested that the most significant causes of delay in construction projects from a neutral point of view in order of priority are:
Ineffective planning and scheduling of the project by the contractor
Harris and McCaffer (1995) indicate that construction projects have four types of planning technique; critical path method (CPM) is one of the most important and has very useful planning techniques. It illustrates the critical path way in the project for all activities and requires that all of them are executed accurately and on time to prevent the time for each activity being exceeded. Not only does it set a plan and execute it very well, but it also assesses limitations which may face the project, such as inadequate manpower. This cause has been ranked first and the most important because good planning can provide opportunities to solve any limitation that confronts the project. Take Mina Hospital as a good example of projects already completed in Saudi Arabia as an accurate illustration of planning; the planned schedule for this project was one year because it had to be open one year later for the Hajj. Therefore, the SAPAC company which had executed the project made accurate plans and which they followed exactly, as a result, in precisely one year they had finished the project. Studying construction projects from all aspects helps the contractor to have good planning and assess the limitations, which in turn solves many problems. In addition, the use of high planning techniques such as CPM and modern software programmes such as primavera for planning, which must be updated annually, will help the contractor to be more accurate in his working.
Slowness in decision making and late in reviewing and approving design documents by owner
Activities such as changes in the main design need to be approved by owner because he is responsible for the new design. Sometimes the owner is hesitant and takes additional time to approve a new design. A better approach would be for all parties to share the responsibility for a new design and that would make provide the owner with more opinions and expertise to make him confident to make the right decision. This would begin with the designer making a proposal for a new design and then the consultant would have to check and approve it. The owner would then find it easy to make a final decision and approve it without hesitating. Finally the contactor would have to check before executing the work. It would guarantee that the design was safe and correct. (Flanagan and Norman 1993).
Delay in progress payments by owner
After every month, the contractor should be paid the money for the activities which have been done in that month. In some situations the owner delays the payment because for example, he does not approve the work. This causes a loss of trust between the contractor and owner. All the activities for the month need to be approved or the contractor will not be paid. The best solution for this problem is to do approval at different stages in the month and then for example, about 70% of the activities that had been done that month would be approved and the contractor has guarantee and can continue executing the remaining 30%. This will ensure there is trust in the relationship. Also, to help the contractor to have stable financial state, a payment of approximately 20% of the total cost of the project price should be paid in advance.
Conflict between construction project’s parts
Sometimes there is conflict because the parties have different opinions and do not agree, this results in them not trusting each other. Many problems arise that cannot be solved because each party thinks his decision is right and the other is not. In this situation, the parties have to agree external judges to approve or make a decision about their issue. This can be illustrated briefly by an issue that happened at Al-Ahilah project, executed by NPK company; there was a conflict between the project’s parties about the design, so the owner decided to accept a new decision from an external party as judgment, this was a wise decision made by the owner because it made the project safe and made the stakeholders agree to follow it.
Changes in materials types and specifications during construction
Every project has to complete a design with full specifications before execution. However, some owners want to change part of the design or add some specifications during construction. As a result, the contractor has to change his plan and wait until the owner approves the new design. This wastes critical time and causes delay. So, to avoid this delay, the owner should have to make all final decisions before commencement of the project and agree with the contractor not to make any changes during construction.
Lack of labours and unqualified manpower
This can be seen as two factors but in fact sometimes it is a combined factor that causes delay in construction projects. To illustrate how this factor can affect and cause delay in construction project The Mina Hospital project in Mecca is taken as an example. The installation of the windows in this project needed seven days to install according to the planning which stated that there should be 12 qualified workers and 12 assistants. However, on the first day it appeared that there were two unqualified workers so the project would have been late but then the contractor solved the problem by changing one of them to a qualified worker. This action by the contractor prevented a delay. From this example it can be understood that there is a successive relationship between the delay in construction projects and the lack of labours or unqualified work force. Another idea could be to work in shifts of two or three man teams.
This is one factor that cannot be controlled by any party, contractor, client or consultant. Weather conditions, such as serious freezing, scorching weather, heavy dust, heavy rain and fog, can obliterate the scheduled planning in a construction project because it delays the projects suddenly without early warning. Take Al-Qunfothah Hospital project as an example; heavy dust affected the project unexpectedly and the project stayed under heavy dust for approximately 60 days, as a result the project was delayed by 60 days and the contractor had to extend the completion date. There is no particular solution for this cause but the contractor should include any risks that might occur during the project in the planning and consider the possible limitations in advance.
Inadequate contractor’s experience and poor site management
When the contractor has only a few years experience it suggests it is likely that he has not faced many limitations, so the contractor does not know how to deal with the problems. Some contractors who have a few years’ experience are stopped by the first serious limitation that faces them. Inadequate experience often results in poor site management. This example shows how lack of experience can delay a construction project, Al-Wataniah Company is a small company, in its first year was working as a sub-contractor with NPK company in Al-Qunfothah, from the first problem it faced, it lost control of its manpower and the working stopped for 2 weeks. This was caused because it had a problem with its financial state and could not pay the workers so they went on strike for 3 days. After many negotiations the problem was solved but it caused a delay. This is a serious problem and the contractor needs to manage his finances and workers to prevent delays. The best solution for this problem is for new contractors or the contractor who does not have enough experience to work alongside a contractor who has more experience than him and ask them for advice and consultations for any serious limitations. This will give new contactors useful experience from more mature contractors and they have a chance to avoid many problems.
Mistake and discrepancies in design documents by the designer
The contractor has to check the design and shop drawing and compare between them, are they exactly true, and are they typical together, the contractor has to be sure before starting to execute the project; this way makes the stakeholder grantee that the construction project is in safe. For example for that, National Pan Kingdom Company discovered that there are mistakes between a shop drawing design and specification documents in Al-Taheel Al-Shamel Project, so after they discovered this mistakes they explained that to the owner, and after that they wait tow month until the designer redesign it and check it again before submitted it to the owner. To avoid the problem like that, the design has to check everything very careful and after that if there any mistake the design should pay for the contactor about any day without working when he recheck it again, this idea will make the designer be very carefully for his work.
Inflexibility of consultant
The consultant plays an important role in the execution of the construction project and can affect the project positively or negatively. If the consultant has a good relationship with the contactor it will make everything easy as he can give advice and look for solutions if there are any problems. However, if the relationship is not good, the consultant will not give any advice and will not accept any other solution if any problems occur and he will insist on his decision even it will be difficult. Take for example the Sewage Water Treatment Station Project where there was inflexibility in the relationship between the contractor and the consultant. The result was that the consultant insisted on all his decisions and didn’t accept any other solution for any situation and the project exceeded the deadline by one month because of the inflexibility in the relationship. The best solution for this limitation is the contractor has to offer alternative solutions and use an external consultation to make the consultant respect his proposals instead of ignoring it.
It is clear to see that there are a variety of factors can delay construction projects. The stakeholders do not agree yet which factor has the most effect on the delay of projects, as it is shown. After much research, the neutral view summarises that there the factors which cause delays in construction projects can be put in an order of significance, as noted in the ten most prominent factors that have been identified above. Producing a good plan for the project, including solutions for every limitation that could happen, will help to avoid delay. Furthermore the plan should be adjusted during the construction accordingly if any changes are made. Every factor from the previous can be impacted by good planning to find solutions in advance and avoid delays in construction projects.
To avoid the delays in construction projects in Saudi Arabia it is suggested to make some changes by adding a condition in the contact by the owner that every worker has passed the training test which is run by the government. The aim of this condition is to check how qualified the worker is. This gives confidence that the workers are competent in their job. Additionally is to change the planning technique, increase the daily working hours or increase the number of workers, these ideas will help to increase the productivity of work. Also recruiting experts from developed countries to be the government’s consultant for everything regarding the projects, such as planning management, risk management and organization management, would help to solve many problems that Saudi Arabia has and assist in speeding the process of improving the construction industry.
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