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Getting to Done Done

September 18, 2017Michael Wykoff

What does done mean anymore in the construction industry? Even after 30 plus years in construction and scheduling, I remain amazed at the staggering amount of time it takes to complete a project. The problem is now so bad that I constantly find myself hearing the same question in meetings: “You say it’s done, but is it done done?” We’ve had to coin a new term to reflect the reality that projects aren’t 100 percent complete when they should be. Everyone’s familiar with this problem, and when I announce in a project meeting that we are going to review the activities that are not “done done” heads start nodding in recognition.

Leaving a project not truly done creates a host of problems, and leaves it open to risk that could have been minimized or eliminated. Take a look at this eye-popping list of 7 common problems that not being done done creates. Then let’s talk about why it happens and, most importantly, some solutions.

  • Inaccurate forecasting of completion dates – As sophisticated as schedules can be, they are still subject to the basic principles of information management: garbage in is garbage out. Incomplete activities in a schedule may not reflect the true scope of work remaining or the path to getting the work done done. Once the project team loses confidence in the projected dates in the schedule the entire project is at risk because everyone is working with different information.


  • Additional risk – Incomplete work leaves the exposure/risk open, whether it’s the risk of damage of almost complete work-in-place prior to turnover, equipment in use prior to warranty start or extending the warranty period, financial exposure from the owner or subcontractors, etc. Incomplete work can add risk when it should have been behind you.


  • Additional costs – It is not possible to save money by coming back a second time to finish work. Get in, get it done right the first time, get out.


  • Difficulty getting subcontractors to return – Under the best circumstances, it can be difficult to get a subcontractor to return for punch list work completion. That difficulty multiplies when you try to get a sub to return due to someone else’s work not being complete, especially on a remote project site.


  • Scope creep during closeout – People unfamiliar with the issues do more than the original contract required in order to get to done done.


  • Owner dissatisfaction with final product –The business relationship with the client can now be at risk because a lingering closeout phase due to incomplete work can turn a once good project into a bad memory for the client the next time you bid a project.


  • Employee dissatisfaction – In the long term it’s counterproductive to have quality workers repeatedly asking “why am I always finishing someone else’s work. Doesn’t he know how to get things done done?” and feeling like they are not getting the support they need to complete their job.

So, if not completing a project causes all these negative reactions, why does the work not get done done? Two issues that stand out to me are unsettled change orders and the misapplication of LEAN principles and pull planning. Consider this: when the focus of the project team is not to complete all tasks — but only to complete tasks so that the follow-on task can start — the result can be a long lingering punch list and closeout effort. This can cause the group that is ultimately tasked with getting the work done done to hemorrhage money on the back end. With unsettled change orders many owners and project teams adapt a “let the scenario play out” approach to change orders and punt them and the incomplete scope of work to the end of the project. This can be the best approach for specific items, but not all of them. Pushing the resolution of change orders to the end of the project almost always creates work that can’t be done done because the scope of work is not resolved, which is a lose lose scenario for both owners and contractors.

Let’s get to some solutions to these problems so we can get the result that everyone wants: being done done! For starters, commitments made in the pull planning sessions should always be for completed work and not simply to get out of the way of the next subcontractor. Change orders should be resolved quickly, and getting the work scheduled accurately and completed on time reduces the costs and risks for everyone. Big picture, attitudes need to shift so that there’s an emphasis on getting the work done right the first time to reduce risk. When the work is done right the first time, risk doesn’t shift down the line, it’s ended.

At Aegis we keep our clients on track and provide accurate feedback on the status of each task.  With a good project controls plan there is no more done done, just measurable progress and an on time completion.