How to Ensure Clear Communication in Construction Projects

How to Ensure Clear Communication in Construction Projects

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Achieving good communication on the job site of a construction project is no easy task. With architects, general contractors, woodworkers, suppliers, and owners focusing on different aspects, it’s easy for carelessly delivered messages to be misinterpreted or lost. This can lead to significant delays, mistrust, excessive expenditure, and dissatisfaction on behalf of the client.

What causes poor communication on the construction job site?

To define and plan for good communication, construction professionals first need to understand how miscommunication occurs. By recognizing the causes, it becomes much simpler to identify and address the weakest areas of communication, and to promote effective teamwork.

Perhaps the most problematic element is the immense number of communication channels found in a construction project. Where once communication may have just been verbal or written, the increased use of technology and management systems has made construction much more complex. Add to that the fact that improved supply chains and building tools have permitted a much greater scope for projects, and it’s easy to see how the transfer of information quickly becomes overwhelming.

On the construction job site, communication channels often include:

  • Conversations, meetings, and presentations
  • Reports, briefs, appraisals, assessments, and plans
  • Contractual documents and project specifications
  • CAD, BIM, photographs, drawings, and mock ups

Within each of these channels, the language, terminology, and expectations of communicators aren’t guaranteed to match. For example, where an architect might use one set of acronyms and operational processes, a general contractor might use an unfamiliar system. Therefore, information that one party might consider unambiguous can be totally misunderstood by their recipient.

When this information is then passed onto a third party, the cycle of miscommunication begins again. And by the time the information has reached its final destination, it might bear only a passing resemblance to the original message. This can lead to major flaws in the design and construction processes, which take hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to resolve.

In addition to these two factors, studies in 2005 (Yu, Shen & Chan) and 2011 (Shen) highlighted the following reasons for communication difficulties between designers and clients:

  • The client’s viewpoint was not fully considered
  • There was not enough communication between stakeholders
  • Design requirements were not sufficiently managed
  • The needs expressed by the clients often change
  • There is a lack of feedback from the client

The longer a project runs, the more these communication issues mount up, and the more damage they can cause. Therefore, to ensure clear communication and create an outcome that satisfies all stakeholders, it’s important to devise an effective construction communication plan.

5 ways to achieve good communication in construction

 

1) Follow the agreed chain of communication

A good chain of communication on a construction job site tends to look like this:

Owner <-> Architect <-> Contractors <-> Suppliers and subcontractors

Stakeholders communicate up or down the chain, but not outside of it. So, while the architect conveys messages between the owner and contractors, a contractor would almost never deal directly with the project owner. Maintaining this chain of communication ensures that all parties possess and can make decisions based on up-to-date information.

However, there’s another aspect to consider: precisely who in the architecture firm should a contractor communicate with? Let’s say the contractor leaves an important message with a member of the architectural team whose name and role they don’t know. How can they confirm when and if that message has reached the person who needs it? Similarly, the message taker might lack relevant contextual information, and be unable to accurately convey the intended meaning.

To prevent information from getting lost or warped, each stakeholder should possess the information for key points of contact within the chain of communication. By following the agreed chain, all stakeholders can be sure their messages reach the intended recipient.

2) Choose an appropriate channel of communication

Usually, less important updates can be safely delivered through emails, texts, or notes. But important information needs to be delivered directly to the relevant party, either by phone or by speaking with them face-to-face. Not only does this guarantee that the information has been received, but it also allows the recipient to ask any clarifying questions.

This is where project management systems can be extremely useful. By acting as a single source for the storage, delivery, and reference of information for all stakeholders, a project management system prevents it from getting lost. It also provides a trail that can be useful for resolving disputes. Just be aware that all users will need proper training to use the system effectively.

3) Use short, clear, simple language

Studies show that the average American has a 7th or 8th grade reading level. Similarly, the American Press Institute shows that readers understand over 90% of a 14-word sentence, but less than 10% of a 43-word sentence. So, to increase the chances of your written communication being understood, it’s important to use simple language and short sentences.

It’s good practice to keep your sentences below 25 words wherever possible, and to avoid using jargon or technical terms that not everybody will understand. Use one paragraph for each point or topic, and don’t use more than three sentences per paragraph. You can also use bullet points to break up lists of information into easily digestible chunks.

4) Communicate in facts, not opinions

Most of the time, the owner of the project will benefit from your professional opinion. After all, they’ve hired you for your expertise, and they want their project to reach its full potential.

But when it comes to operational information, discussing your opinions or feelings can make it harder to understand your message. For example, a short 200-word email can quickly double in length, and it might be hard to separate your instructions from your thoughts. Discussing your personal opinions on a construction project in official communication might also come across as unprofessional, reducing your chances of receiving further work.

5) Listen carefully to what others are saying

As the old saying goes: communication is a two-way street. Even if you convey short, simple facts through the right communication channels, others will probably still have questions.

Encourage others to ask you about anything they don’t fully understand, and wait until they’ve finished talking to respond. Try to notice patterns in the questions you’re being asked to see if the same topics keep coming up. Then, adjust how you explain yourself in the future to avoid communication issues before they arise.

Ensure excellent communication in millwork and woodwork projects with QCP

Clear communication in construction projects starts long before the project actually begins. That’s because the clarity of your specifications has a huge impact on the ability of your general contractor and woodworker to deliver quality products.

When you include QCP in the specs of a millwork or woodwork project, you present a common universal language that makes your requirements completely unambiguous. This saves you a great deal of time by removing the need to provide hyper-specific instructions, and acts as effective risk assurance to protect you in the case of a dispute. QCP-certified projects also qualify for inspections from a trained and experienced QCP representative, giving you and your clients confidence in a positive outcome.

To ensure excellent communication in your millwork and casework projects, register your project with QCP today.

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