5 Steps to Eliminate Change Orders and Reduce Cost and Time


Whether change orders are warranted or not, they're an unwelcome sight to most contractors. They can delay or otherwise disrupt a schedule and tend to impact the budget negatively. Although it's probably impossible to eliminate them altogether, there are five ways you can reduce them and, by doing so, cut the cost and time spent on projects.

The steps explained below come down to collaboration, communication, and remembering that the devil's in the details. It's possible to implement one or two of these steps to make a difference in the number of change orders you receive. However, they'd be far more effective if utilized as five parts of a holistic approach to construction.

1. Start With A Complete Design

5 Steps to Eliminate Change Orders and Reduce Cost and Time

If you start a project with a design lacking in detail or otherwise incomplete, you can expect there to be changes along the way. The design you begin with must leave as little room for ambiguity as possible. 

For example, suppose a design for the construction of pavement doesn't mention the underlying fabric. In that case, a change order will need to be issued at some point, as the fabric is a necessary element. The implementation of the order will increase the material and labor costs and could lead to the project deadline not being met.

All designs must include details for every aspect of the construction process. Enough information should be supplied for you to estimate the type and quantity of materials needed, price the project reasonably, and proceed with construction confidently. 

The more time, effort, and detail put into the planning and design process, the less scope there will be for changes or additions.

2. Determine The Change Order Process

Determining a process that dictates how change orders are requested and including it in your contract can reduce these requests. The process and costs incurred by requesting and implementing a change order can act as a deterrent. This can be particularly effective if the client's requests are unnecessary.

A contract should detail how requesting a change order is initiated and how any added requests are authorized. You must also stipulate how the requested work will be carried out, and how costs and payment for the new requirements will be covered.

The process can include the directive that every change order is submitted in writing. The orders must consist of all the necessary details and be clear enough to avoid misunderstandings. All parties concerned must be required to sign off before any work is actioned. 

Keeping a written record of orders makes it easier to track the various aspects of a project. Plus, it streamlines cost projections and ensures all changes are included in the final invoice.

3. Collaborate And Coordinate

5 Steps to Eliminate Change Orders and Reduce Cost and Time

Many projects require the involvement of several independent disciplines, such as civil engineering, HVAC, construction electrician, and plumbing. Each of those disciplines will have their own specifications and work schedule.

If those independent plans are not coordinated, they could result in situations that lead to change orders, higher costs, and extended timelines. You can work toward reducing or eliminating these factors by coordinating these plans. Coordination must include collaboration between all the stakeholders and the various plans examined for inconsistencies. If any are found, clarification needs to be obtained, and you must ensure everyone has the correct information before proceeding. Ideally, only submit the construction documents once all stakeholders have agreed that adequate details have been supplied for the project to begin.

For example, a site plan won't always indicate the various connections to the drainage system. The plumbing plan covers this information, but while it may show that a sewer line exits the building, it doesn't necessarily mark the horizontal and vertical location. The civil engineer would need access to both sets of plans to ensure all is in order. If not, a change order will need to be issued so that the build can be completed.

4. Determine Quality Control Process

Quality control must be applied to every aspect of the project. Too many contractors and project managers limit their quality control process to the job site, and this shortcoming contributes to the number of change orders requested.

You can potentially reduce or eliminate orders by putting quality control processes in place from the beginning, especially during the planning, design, and technical documentation stages. Conducting regular inspections will ensure that those who are tasked with quality control are applying it at all levels.

By keeping continuous tabs on quality control, you can immediately pinpoint problem points or anticipate issues that may arise later. Plus, you'll have enough detail about the project and its multiple facets to exclude possible reasons for change orders.

5. Have Regular Meetings

5 Steps to Eliminate Change Orders and Reduce Cost and Time

Face-to-face meetings - even when held via Zoom - are an integral part of any construction project. From tiling a roof to plumbing and adding finishes, these meetings ensure stakeholders are kept up to date every step of the way. By regularly sharing information and seeking answers to questions, the process of coordination and collaboration continues. 

Daily meetings are an opportunity to correct any issues before they become insurmountable. A problem that's identified quickly can reduce the risk of employing costly measures to rectify a mistake that impacts the entire construction process. 

These meetings also promote transparency, which should be present from start to finish. The presence of transparency can increase the likelihood of accountability, cultivate a sense of responsibility, and improve the team's performance. 

If all stakeholders work as a cohesive team and maintain open lines of communication, the necessity for cost orders can be minimized. In turn, this will reduce the cost of the project and the time required to complete it.

The Key Ingredients

Reducing or eliminating change orders is an ongoing challenge. Projects need to be assessed on a case-by-case basis to ensure that the above principles can be applied effectively. However, regardless of scope or size, the five fundamentals will always remain the same.  

  • Attention to detail
  • Formalizing quality control
  • Collaboration
  • Coordination
  • Communication

When these steps are implemented singularly or collectively, the potential for change orders becomes diminished. In the absence of these orders, you can save time and money, both of which are major benefits when building.

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