Overtime Kills – Five Alternatives for Recovering a Late Construction Schedule

In an article published May 11, 2017, JapanTimes.com reports that 343 Japanese companies have been blacklisted for “making employees put in excessive and illegal hours of overtime”.  Among the companies listed are Dentsu (an advertising firm) and Panasonic Corp.

I tried to get the full list, but it only seems to be available in Japanese.

Excessive overtime has become a major problem in Japan.  So much so, that there have been reports of workers dying from excessive overtime hours.

This story caught my attention because of the severity of it and also because it struck a personal chord with me.

Early on in my Architectural career, I recall talking about overtime like something I was proud of.  Often, my colleagues and I clocked in 70 hours or more in just one week.  I remember one particular fellow routinely working 90 hours or more.  At the time, he seemed quite proud of his accomplishment.

Today, I have many more responsibilities.  I could never be able to work that much without hearing about it when I came home.   To be honest, I’m not sure we accomplished that much more working that many hours.

Relating this story to construction, working overtime is often the go-to solution for recovering lost time in construction, but working more hours is rarely the answer.

We know working more than 40 hours per week in construction is not productive.  Scholarly studies performed by the American Society of Civil Engineers show “a decrease in productivity as the number of hours worked per week increase”.  Some studies show that workers clocking in as much as 100 hours in one week still only achieve the equivalent product of a 40 hour week.

We also know that stacking trades (crowding a job site with many workers) can be equally counter-productive because of the physical limitations associated with staging space, room for equipment, and overlap between trades.

So what is an Owner to do when his/her job falls behind?

Here are a few considerations for you if you feel your project is behind schedule.

Number 1 – Is your target achievable?

For starters, we need to take an objective look at our initial expectations.  Many projects begin with un-achievable end dates.  This causes undue pressure and unrealistic expectations.  Such expectations can manifest a perceptions of slow progress or schedule slip.  If you think your project is progressing slowly, consider contracting an independent scheduler to validate your construction schedule.  Regardless of what you find, having an independent view of your project is never a bad thing.

Number 2 – Understand why your project fell behind.

There are many reasons why projects fall behind.  Some causes are preventable while others are not.  Some causes can be chronic while others can be one-time events.  Taking stock of why a project fell behind is the first step towards identifying how to recover lost time and prevent future slips.

Number 3 – Consider the effect of changes.

One of the key causes of schedule delays are changes to the scope of work.  If your project has suffered significant changes, odds are those changes are responsible for your delays.  This seems obvious, but many GC’s submit change orders without revising their schedule.  This lapse may give you the impression that the changes had no impact on schedule, but chances are that it does.  If you anticipate more changes are coming, consider how the changes will impact your schedule and factor that into your change review.

Number 4 – Expect to pay more.

Once your project has experienced a delay, you may ask the GC to recover the schedule (or make up for lost time).  Keep in mind that schedule recovery often requires added expense.  Expenses could come from additional crews working second shifts, working through weekends or Holiday’s, and the cost of additional man-power.  Be mindful of this whenever you ask your GC to recover the schedule.  Make sure you get a quote for these added expenses before your schedule recovery begins.

Number 5 – Replace your GC.

In the most extreme cases of schedule slip, you might be tempted to replace your GC.  I cannot say that this is never an option.  I have had projects where the GC had to be replaced, but I would say this is not the best option.  Assuming for a moment that there are no concerns about the integrity of the GC (in which case I would recommend replacement), being direct with your GC about schedule concerns is your best course of action.  Honest GC’s don’t intentionally delay work.  In fact, if you have a fixed price contract, every day of schedule delay further dilutes any profit they had in the job.  As such, if project delays are not caused by changes to the work, the GC’s motivation to recover the schedule might be greater than yours.


Project delays can be frustrating and costly.  Recovering from a delay begins with an objective look at why the delays happened in the first place.  Follow that up with a straightforward discussion with your GC and you might be surprised at how well you can recover.

How about you?  How have you handled project delays in the past?  Were you able to recover from the delay?  Tell me your stories.

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this content, please feel free to browse my previous articles and please like, share, comment, and subscribe.  This helps promote my content and is greatly appreciated.

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