Samuel Okoronkwo

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How can micromanaging lead to construction disputes?

Micromanaging is an issue across many industries; managers feel the need to control employees’ every action in an extreme way. The construction industry is no exception however, the consequences of micromanaging a construction project can be much worse than an uncomfortable HR meeting.

First, let us determine where this issue of micromanaging comes from in construction projects. Project managers and general contractors are two vital roles in any project, and despite having the same end goal of project completion, the approaches to these roles are very different.

What causes micromanagement in construction projects?
Project managers are in charge of overseeing the entire project from beginning to end whereas general contractors deal more with the day-to-day, such as providing the labour, material and equipment needed. For this reason, project managers are more likely to work in alignment with the client’s wants and needs with general contractors viewing the project more from a cost perspective.

While neither approach is right or wrong, the variations are what can lead to project managers micromanaging general contractors, or general contractors feeling as if they are being micromanaged. Regardless of whether any intentional micromanaging is happening, the repercussions tend to be neither cost-effective nor productive. In some cases, other employee’s safety could even be put in jeopardy.

How does micromanagement turn into construction disputes?
Of course, these are all negative effects both project managers and general contractors will want to avoid, but how can the negative effects of micromanaging lead to construction disputes? The reasons for disputes will fall under one of three categories; cost, time or quality – all things that micromanaging can affect.

General contractors have to work with a certain lump sum and therefore will seek ways to reduce costs when necessary. Since project managers often see things from the client’s perspective (who have already agreed upon a certain price and so could worry that reducing costs will lead to lower quality), they may be resistant to this. General contractors could then feel as if they are working with an impossible budget when they believe there is a more cost-effective way of completing the project.

Disputes could arise from this situation should the general contractor feel dismissed enough to go ahead with the cost-reducing methods anyway, or a project could run over budget if the costs are not reduced. In either situation, the project now has an inaccurate budget – a figure different to what was originally agreed upon during contract drafting.

Following on from this, if general contractors must have every single minute thing approved by a project manager then this risks significant delays. Project managers will usually oversee multiple projects at a single time, therefore, making it difficult for them to give timely responses. If this causes a project to not be completed on time then this will lead to disputes.

Then, of course, there is the overall quality of the project. Micromanaging is fraught with poor communication – something that is essential for any project to be completed on time. Once again, if general contractors are not being trusted with day-to-day decisions or given a clear process of how to deal with any potential issues, the quality of the project will no doubt suffer.

Avoiding micromanagement could potentially reduce the risks of disputes
Project managers and general contractors can work in harmony when they respect the boundaries of their roles. Project managers should concern themselves with matters that relate to the final result of the project and leave general contractors to handle how the work is being completed.

To maintain this synergy, clear channels of communication should be established, such as the general contractor sending reports via email to the project manager at the end of each day detailing any project updates. The project manager should also outline a clear process for the general contractor to follow should any issues arise during the project and the level of issue the project manager should be called in to deal with.

Setting these clear expectations and channels of communication is key for effective supervision and preventing this supervision from becoming micromanagement and/or potential disputes.

Dispute avoidance is essential for construction projects however, disputes cannot always be foreseen in this way. That is why it is vital to seek expert legal advice during every stage of a construction project.

Mercantile Barristers are specialist consultants in the law for when the legal issues involved are complex, intricate and so important that the most seasoned expertise in advice and handling is required. Our expertise can help guide you through complex matters such as construction contract drafting, running through conditions and warranties and offering advice in the case of disputes.

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