Ch-ch-ch-ch Changes

November 30, 2023

For anyone who has undertaken a construction project, reading the words “change order” might make you cringe a bit. After all, change orders can derail a construction schedule and push project costs over budget. But never fear! There are a few things you can do in order to reduce or eliminate unwanted change orders on your next project.

A clear and concise scope is essential – Many change orders occur because the project did not have a well-defined and well-thought-out scope. Failure to define the scope early on often leads to scope creep and unnecessary increases to project cost.

Crystal clear project specifications required – Most change orders result from incomplete or ambiguous specifications. Project specifications should clearly describe the work elements, materials required, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, delivery of contract goods and services, and payment method. The specifications, in combination with project plans and/or blueprints, should explicitly state the work to be performed, location, timeline, deliverable schedule, performance standards, and other applicable special requirements such as security. Any missing elements could increase the likelihood of change orders.

Take the time upfront to review – Quite possibly the most critical step you can take to reduce change orders is to complete a constructability review. This review should assess the two primary elements of project procurement: buildability and biddability. To prevent/reduce construction delays, certified construction personnel should confirm that the project can be built as designed using the prescribed construction sequence and specifications. A biddability review is a cost control measure to determine whether the project’s estimate has adequate quantities and unit prices for each work element.

Collaboration is key – Nearly every project includes work elements designed by different disciplines. Problems tend to arise when a project manager or architect isn’t coordinating the plans, sequence, and specifications of each discipline. This results in a silo design approach and often leads to conflicts in the field, which necessitate redesigns and added cost and delays.

Process, process, process – Contract documents should always include a process for initiating, authorizing, performing, and paying for change order work. Having an established process up front will help prevent unauthorized change orders and other disputes as the project progresses and will ultimately minimize impacts to the schedule and budget. This process should clearly outline the steps to follow as soon as a potential change order is identified.

Top-quality quality control – To minimize change orders, ensure that a quality control process is in place for all project stages and tasks. These include the design process, technical documentation, specifications and engineering changes, testing and inspection reports, and other processes and procedures in the contract requirements. The project manager should have an inspection system to verify that quality control is implemented.

Get together – Having regularly scheduled progress meetings is an integral part of any project. In effective meetings, potential problems can be solved before they cause issues, and each discipline should participate. You can never predict when an issue may arise that can either directly or indirectly affect work. By preparing in advance and gathering the right individuals at the table, problems find solutions, and the project is the beneficiary.

Get your ducks in a row – The contractor is responsible for ensuring that all subcontractors and the goods and services they provide meet or exceed the contract requirements, and that team members are employed according to federal contractor and subcontractor legislative requirements. As an owner, though, having a program to track and verify that proper protocol and documentation is in order is vital. Contractors may assume that subcontractors are doing things properly without verification or oversight. This can cause delays and have a ripple effect that can trigger a time-based change order if left unattended for too long.

When in doubt, talk it out – Communicate! Disputes can often be traced back to a breakdown in communication. Effective communication includes being transparent, open, and honest. When each stakeholder takes ownership of the overall project and its goals, it’s much more likely that the project will be successful. “Partnering” is a global commitment from all team members to put the project goals above individual goals.

Being able to effectively manage change orders doesn’t have to be difficult. All it takes is a little preparation, understanding, and lots of communication with all parties involved with the project. We recommend getting in touch with us early in the process. Our pre-construction service can help you get ahead of the game (read more about Terlin’s pre-construction services by clicking here).

If you’re considering a construction project next year, reach out to us right away. We can help guide you through the process and alleviate your concerns.

Contact Terry McLaughlin, President, at 1-888-791-9376 or