Over the last three decades, there has been an increase in the number of major construction projects in Saudi Arabia. This has attracted construction professionals from different parts of the world. However, although there are almost enough construction professionals in Saudi Arabia, delay in completing major projects has been a major issue in the construction industry. Delay in this case refers to the time difference between the time contractors approximate to complete projects and the actual time they do so (Megha, & Rajiv 2013). In developing countries, project delays look like they are normal, but projects’ owners lose revenue when such delays occur and contractors end up incurring unnecessary expenses. In relation to this fact, it would be necessary to understand the main causes of these delays in Saudi Arabia with an aim of addressing them. In particular, it would be paramount to conduct this study in both developed and developing countries because current studies indicate that there is significant difference in project completion in the two types of countries (Sweis, 2013). Doing so would perhaps minimize delays thereby enhance economic prosperity in developing countries.
Timely completion of project is important. It does not only indicate company’s efficiency in what it does, but it also contributes to fast economic development (Megha, & Rajiv, 2013). This notwithstanding, current literature indicates that delays in project completion has been a chronic problem in almost every part of the world. A study conducted by Alinaitwe, Apolot and Tindiwensi in Uganda establishes that this issue is chronic in Uganda as it is in other parts of the world especially Africa. Another study conducted in Palestine by Mahamid indicates the same in Palestine. Saudi Arabia has not been left out in this issue because the number of delays in road completion has been on the rise almost on annual basis. In addressing this issue, Saudi government claims that construction industry contributes significantly towards economic growth. However, the same government is quick to note that delays in completion of these projects hamper economic development in one way or the other (Mahamid, & Dmaidi, 2013). A study conducted by Assaf and Al-Hejji back in 2006 established that approximately 70 percent of major construction projects in Saudi Arabia experienced delays in completion. This study also established that time difference between estimated completion time and actual completion time was between 10 and 30 percent (Assaf, & Al-Hejji, 2006).
According to Alinaitwe et al (2013), any party can cause delay in a major construction project. This means that either project owner or contractor can cause delay. In addition, external factors can cause delays as well (Odeh, & Battaineh, 2002). In spite of this fact, delays in project completion can be minimized or avoided as it is the case in developed countries. In terms of effects, project delay can have adverse effects on financial status of contractors and projects’ owners. On one hand, projects’ owner may lose revenue when projects are not completed on time. On the other hand, contractors may end up incurring extra financial costs resulting from inflation and extended working period. Delays do not only affect these parties financially, but they also leave them struggling as to who should take responsibility of delays (Alinaitwe et al., 2013). This practice has not taken place once in Saudi Arabia, but like in other countries, the problem is rampant and need to be addressed as soon as possible.
The issue of delay in project completion especially in road construction in Saudi Arabia has been rampant over the past three decades. However, no one can explain with certainty the reason behind these causes beyond highlighting them. Accordingly, majority of the people that try to do so find themselves laying blames of delays on one of the parties involved in these projects. This notwithstanding, there has been a number of studies conducted on causes of project delays in Saudi Arabia. These studies have tried to highlight the main causes, but very few of them have tried to compare those causes with the causes of project delays in other parts of the world. One study that focuses its attention on Jordan and Saudi Arabia establishes that the ranking of the ten main causes of project delays in the two countries differ significantly even though the causes are the same (Albogamy et al., 2013). Beyond this point, there has been very little effort if any to compare and contrast these causes with the factors that cause project delays in USA. This research paper tries to fill this gap by comparing the causes of project delays in Saudi Arabia with the causes of project delays in USA.
In relation to the above problem statement, this research has three main objectives. The first objective is to evaluate and identify factors that cause delays in road completion both in Saudi Arabia and in USA. The second objective is to compare those factors in the two countries with an aim of establishing whether they are the same or not. The third objective is to establish the differences in the factors if any.
In terms of limitations, this research paper has not been able to access governments’ websites for the two countries to evaluate the number of road projects currently experiencing delays. Accordingly, the research paper has relied heavily on previous studies to highlight some of the road projects that have ever experienced delays in completion. This notwithstanding, the research paper has been able to give a clear picture of what takes place in road projects both in USA and Saudi Arabia. Another limitation is that based on the current literature, this research paper has not been able to evaluate delays that occur in other phases of road projects other than in construction phase. Accordingly, the focus of this research paper has been narrowed down to construction phase only.
Types of delays
Depending on the nature of delay, there can be about four types of delays in road construction. The first one is non-excusable delay. For this type of delay, contractors assume losses because either they cause it or they underestimate it. Such delays may result from construction mistakes, bad luck or equipment breakdown. Others may result from mismanagement or from staffing problems. Contractors have control over delay of this nature; thus, in most cases projects’ owners do not excuse these types of delays (Anastasopoulos et al., 2012). The second type of delay is excusable with no compensation. Just like the name suggests, projects’ owner can excuse these type of delay, but they do not compensate contractors for experiencing them. This type of delay results from unforeseen circumstances that are beyond contractors’ control. In some instances, contractors and projects’ owner may have agreed to share risks that may emanate from this type of delay, but in other instances, they might not agree to do so. When there is no consensus to share risks, each party bears its respective risks. Nevertheless, contractors are awarded more time to complete their projects.
The third type of delay is excusable delay with compensation. Once again, as the name suggests, delays of this nature are both excusable and compensable. This means that when they occur contractors can claim compensation from projects’ owners as well as demand for more time to complete projects. Such delays may result from contract changes, suspension or from differing site conditions. The fourth type of delay is concurrent delay. Unlike when contractors are solely liable for delays, in this type of delay both contractors and projects’ owners are liable for delay. Accordingly, neither contractor nor project owner can be held liable for this type of delay (Anastasopoulos et al., 2012). In this respect, no one recovers damages in this type of delay.
A number of studies conducted all over the world has established the main causes of project delays. One of such studies conducted in Uganda by Alinaitwe, Apolot and Tindiwensi established that the main causes of project delays in the said country were delayed payments, poor monitoring and controlling processes. Other factors included high interest rates and inflation (Alinaitwe, Apolot, & Tindiwensi, 2013). Another study conducted in Oman established that about 40 percent of major constructions in Oman experience delay. In addition, the study established that the causes of delays change with time, but majority of those causes are related to projects’ owners (Alnuaimi, & Al Mohsin, 2013).
A study conducted in Palestine by Mahamid identified five factors that cause delay in road completion. These factors include contractors’ financial status, delays in payment and political instability. Other factors include poor communication among involved parties and equipment inefficiency (Mahamid, 2013). Some of these factors are present in Saudi Arabia and they might delay project completion. On the other hand, a study by Haseeb et al identifies natural disasters such as earthquake and flood, financial problems and improper planning as some of the major causes of delay in Pakistan. The study also identifies material and equipment shortages as well as insufficient experience to be among the major causes of delays in road completion (Haseeb et al., 2011).
A study that was conducted by Kikwasi in Tanzania back in 2013 established that funding problems, delays in giving instructions, delays in making payments, design changes, disagreement, and mismanagement as well as compensation issues were the main causes of delay in the said country (Kikwasi, 2013). In Zambia, a study conducted back in 2009 by Kaliba et al established that the main causes of project delays in that country were financial deficiencies resulting from contractors and projects’ owners, problems in procuring construction materials and delayed payments. Other factors included design changes, poor coordination, labor disputes and unavailability of equipments (Kaliba et al., 2009). In Nigeria, James and his colleagues in their study have established that inadequate funds, design changes, poor communication, slow decision-making processes and bad weather conditions among others cause delays in the said country (James et al., 2014). On the other hand, a study conducted in Gaza Strip identifies four causes of time delays and three causes of cost overrun. The causes of time delays include delays in delivering materials, unavailability of construction materials and border closures as well as material related factors. With regard to cost overrun, the study identifies delays in delivering equipments and materials, inflation and price changes of construction materials to be the main causes of cost overrun (Enshassi et al., 2009).
According to Sweis (2013), the causes of project delays vary from one country to the other and they depend on various environmental, technological and topographical constraints. As a result, some factors that cause delay in USA might not cause delay in Saudi Arabia, and vice versa. In relation to this fact, Sweis suggests that it would be paramount to understand some technological differences that cause delay between developed and developing countries (Sweis, 2013).
Studies that relate to construction in Saudi Arabia have been conducted. Bubshait and Al-juwairah conducted one of such studies back in 2002. This study sought to identify factors that were determinant in construction cost of projects. Although this study did not address itself to causes of delays directly, it could be used as a platform of identifying factors that cause delay in project completion in Saudi Arabia. The said study identified weather effects, project location and productivity standards as some of the factors that lead to cost overruns. It also identified cultural and social impacts, other ongoing projects as well as lack of cost data among other factors to be the factors that determine construction cost (Bubshait, & Al-juwairah, 2002). In a nutshell, these factors could in one way or the other cause delays in project completion and they will be evaluated in this research paper.
Another study by Ikediashi, Ogunlana and Alotaibi conducted in Saudi Arabia back in 2014 sought to establish the main factors that cause failure in infrastructural projects. Although twenty-one factors out of thirty factors were found to be significant in causing project failure, the study highlighted only ten of those factors. The said ten factors included budget overrun; delays in schedule; discrepancies in design; poor risk management; poor communication; inadequate estimation practices; poor change management; poor teamwork; difficulties in cash flow and poor project structure (Ikediashi, Ogunlana, & Alotaibi, 2014). Although this study covered different area in construction industry, some of these factors can be attributed to delays in construction projects. In fact, an overview of the current literature on delays in project completion indicates that some of these factors cause delays.
Another study conducted in Saudi Arabia back in 1999 by Al-Khalil and Al-Ghafly highlighted some causes of delays in major utility projects. This study categorized causes into six major groups namely administration by project owners, government regulation and contractor performance. Other groups identified in this study included environmental and site conditions, site supervision and early design and planning. The focus of this study was on the ranking of the causes by projects’ owners, consultants and contractors. With the help of a ranking consensus, this study identified problems in cash flow, requisite to award project to lowest bidders and complexities in obtaining permits to be the main causes of delays in completing utility projects (Al-Khalil, & Al-Ghafly, 1999). This notwithstanding, each party involved in the study highlighted its main causes. First, contractors identified factors in owners’ administration to be the main causes of delays. These factors included slow paces in making decisions, delays in making payments, bureaucracy and slowness in settling claims. Second, projects’ owners identified factors in early design and planning category to be the main causes of delays. Other factors identified by projects’ owners included complexities in obtaining permits, cash flow problems among contractors and inefficiencies in scheduling and planning. Third, consultants, on the other hand, identified factors relating to the way contractors performed to be the main causes of delays. These factors included improper project review, inefficiencies in scheduling and planning, slow paces of making decision and poor qualifications among lowest bidders that win project bids in most cases.
In evaluating the major causes of delays in road completion in Saudi Arabia, Alhomidan (2013) identifies four main factors. These four factors were identified from forty-one factors that were considered. The said four main causes included poor communication between contractors and project owners, administrative problems and payment delays as well as delays in making critical decisions.
Another study that was conducted in 2006 by Assaf and Al-Hejji indicated that delays in completing projects in Saudi Arabia were in most cases behind schedule by between 10 and 30 percent of the original time. In other words, on average delayed projects extended their duration of completion by between 10 and 30 percent of the time those projects were supposed to be complete. This study like the one conducted by Al-Khalil and Al-Ghafly back in 1999 included projects’ owner, consultants and contractors in its survey. Its focus was on performance of construction projects even though it evaluated the causes of delays. In total, the study identified seventy-three causes of delay and grouped them into nine groups. One notable thing with this study was that like the study that was conducted by Al-Khalil and Al-Ghafly, projects’ owners and consultants in this study acknowledged the fact that the issue of awarding projects to lowest bidders was a major cause of delay in project completion. At the same time, contractors equally attributed delays to projects’ owners (Assaf, & Al-Hejji, 2006). This notwithstanding, the study identified government regulations, cultural and social effects, site restrictions and traffic control to be among the main causes of delays in project completion.
Delayed construction projects in Saudi Arabia and USA
Delays in project completion in Saudi Arabia have been somewhat chronic; thus, they are far away from being over. According to Al-Kharashi and Skitmore (2009), 59 percent of projects completed between 1985 and 1994 in eastern province experienced delays in one way or the other. Back in 2004, Falqui reported that about 40 percent mega projects in Saudi Arabia experienced delays. Notwithstanding the number of projects that experienced delays during that time, Falqui was quick to note that there were some improvements in project completion. This was an indication that even if the number of delayed projects was still high, there was a decline in the percentages of delayed projects. According to Al-Kharashi and Skitmore (2009), these delays and consequent follow-ups have direct consequences on the cost of projects. On the other hand, when government is the client as it is the case in road construction, the members of the public are usually confused about government’s development plans.
Unlike in Saudi Arabia where the number of projects that delay in completing is high, the number of such projects is slightly low in USA. A study conducted in Indiana back in 2004 established that only 12 percent of projects in that state experienced delays and that the average number of days for delay was 115 days (Bordat et al., 2004). Other studies although they do not highlight the number of delayed projects indicate they are few in USA.
Causes of delays in Saudi Arabia
In an effort of trying to establish the main causes of project delays in road construction in Saudi Arabia, Alhomidan classifies forty-one causes of delay into six major groups. The first group comprises of managerial related causes. Some of the factors in this group include poor communication between projects’ owners and contractors, delays in making decision and internal administrative setbacks. Other factors in this group include resource management, delays in project commencement and project postponement among other factors. The second group comprises of projects’ related problems. These factors include inconveniences in accessing construction site, disturbance by public activities and poor terrain conditions as well as imperfect construction areas (Alhomidan, 2013).
The third group of factors comprises of consultancy related problems. These factors include design changes, late inspection and late approval as well as design mistakes. Other factors include inappropriate design, incapable and insufficient inspectors as well as late project designs. The fourth group comprises of financial related problems. Some of these factors include delays in payment, monopoly, inflation as well as financial status of project owners. Other financial related factors include fluctuations in exchange rates, policy changes in bank loans and financial status of contractors. The fifth group comprises of external related factors. These factors include changes in weather conditions and occurrence of natural disasters. The sixth group comprises of item related factors. These factors include rework resulting from poor quality of construction materials, insufficient labor and unavailability of construction materials. Other item related factors include inefficient equipments and rework resulting from unskilled labor (Alhomidan, 2013).
After conducting this study in Saudi Arabia, Alhomidan establishes that the four main causes of delays in road completion are poor communication between involved parties, delays in making critical decisions and internal administrative setbacks as well as payment delays. Based on this finding, Alhomidan concludes that majority of these factors relate to management issues. As a result, these factors can be addressed by enhancing managerial skills in Saudi Arabia through workshops and trainings (Alhomidan, 2013).
Another study conducted by Mahamid back in 2011 sought to establish factors that cause delays in project completion. Although this study did not focus its attention on road projects, it evaluated factors in question from owners’ perspective. Accordingly, this project can be instrumental in understanding some of the causes of delayed projects in road construction from government’s perspective. This study starts by acknowledging the fact that construction industry is large worldwide and that it is growing tremendously in Saudi Arabia. After a thorough analysis, this study highlights seven factors to be the major factors that contribute to delays in project completion. The first factor identified in this study is awarding projects to the lowest bidders. This practice is practiced widely in other parts of the world. Accordingly, it affects other parts of the world as well particularly developing countries. The assumption has always been that the lowest bidders can complete project just as the highest bidders can do. The truth of this matter is yet to be established, but this issue has affected significantly project completion in Saudi Arabia. The study argues that lowest bidders may not be qualified to complete projects; thus, they may perform poorly and delay projects (Mahamid, 2011). The second factor identified in this study is poor coordination and communication between involved parties. The parties involved in this case may be many ranging from contractors to suppliers. Accordingly, if communication breakdown happens to occur in the process, then a project can delay. In most cases, poor coordination results to delays in making critical decisions that pertain to projects, reworks and recurrent design changes (Mahamid, 2013).
The third factor highlighted in this study is poor management at the construction site. This includes management of resources, labor and construction activities. To a great extent, this depends on contractor experience. As a result, if a contractor is inexperienced in this, then there is a high tendency of delay. On the contrary, if a contractor is experienced in all these, then there is a high likelihood of contractor completing project on time. This notwithstanding, there are frequent site mismanagement in many construction projects in Saudi Arabia; thus, there are high number of delays in completing projects (Mahamid, 2013). The fourth factor highlighted in this study as one of the main factors that cause delays in project completion in Saudi Arabia is delay in making payments. As it is the case with almost every government, Saudi government is slow in making payments because of bureaucracy. For this reason, it is not a wonder for projects to fall behind schedule when government fails to make payments on time. At times when contractors do not have enough funds to finance projects as contracts may state, then projects are bound to fall behind schedule. Comparatively to other countries evaluated in literature review, Saudi Arabia experiences this problem; thus, there are delays in project completion. The sixth factor identified in this study is rework. This may result from poor workmanship, design mistakes and changes, materials of poor quality and scope changes. Without much emphasis, it is obvious that rework wastes time thereby cause delays in project completion.
A comparative study that was conducted by Albogamy and his colleagues to in Jordan and Saudi Arabia established that ten factors caused project delays in the two countries. Those factors included poor performance from lowest bidders, delayed services from sub-contractors, unskilled labor, contractors’ poor scheduling and planning of projects, delays in processing payments and design changes caused by project owners’. Other factors included shortages of engineers, delays in planning, contractors’ cash flow problems and inadequate project planning (Albogamy et al., 2013).
Causes of delays in USA
Anastasopoulos and his colleagues conducted a study in Indiana and established that from 1,722 highway projects the following factors were likely to cause project delays in USA. The first factor identified was project cost. The second factor identified was project type. The third factor identified was the likelihood of experiencing adverse weather condition (Anastasopoulos et al., 2012). Another study that was conducted in Indiana by Bordat and her colleagues established that changes in project scope, unfavorable weather conditions, project changes, unexpected site conditions and design errors were the main causes of project delays in the state of Indiana (Bordat et al., 2004).
Another study conducted by Ellis and Thomas back in 2002 established that project manager, designer and external forces as well as contractors contributed significantly in delaying projects in USA. This study is one of its kinds in USA because it is almost difficult to find studies of this nature in USA. The study included professionals in road constructions in its survey. Some of those professionals were state highways agencies (SHAs) and contractors. The SHAs attributed delays in completing highways to unfavorable weather conditions, delays in issuing permits, differing site conditions, utility relocations and errors in projects’ specifications. On the other hand, contractors attributed delays to utility relocations, unfavorable weather conditions, differing site conditions, errors in projects’ specifications and design changes from projects’ owners.
Ahmed and his colleagues evaluated the causes of delays in building projects in Florida and established that consultants, designers and clients as well as external forces were the main causes of delays in private sector. On the other hand, Choudhury and Phatak conducted a study in 2004 and established that design, contractors and clients as well as finance contributed significantly in causing delays in commercial construction projects. In acknowledgement of the fact that design changes in construction projects are rampant in USA just like in other parts of the world, Anastasopoulos and his colleagues conducted another study on frequency of these changes. The study established that design changes result from unfavorable weather conditions, unfavorable site conditions and design errors and that they are main causes of project delays in USA (Anastasopoulos et al., 2010).
Comparing the causes of project delays
A closer look at available data demonstrates that even though USA experiences some delays in project completion, Saudi Arabia experiences more delays. Indeed, it is almost difficult to find studies on delays in project completion in USA than it is to find such studies in Saudi Arabia. This indicates that there are fewer project delays in developed countries than there are project delays in developing countries. This notwithstanding, this study has been able to identify some causes of delays in USA. These causes will be compared with Saudi Arabian ones to give an overview of the differences on the same.
To start with, it is worth noting that the causes of delays in Saudi Arabia are many and they differ depending on interviewees’ perspectives. This means that when projects’ owners are interviewed, they attribute delays to contractors. On the other hand, when contractors are interviewed, they attribute these delays to projects’ owner. This notwithstanding, majority of these factors relate to contractors even though some of them relate to projects’ owners.
One notable thing with this comparison is that there are significant differences between the causes of project delays in USA and the causes of project delays in Saudi Arabia. Just like current literature demonstrates, these differences could be attributed to the level of development in each country. In other words, even though there is tremendous increase in the number of Saudi Arabian construction projects, the causes of delays in these projects could be attributed to the level of technological, topographical and environmental constraints in Saudi Arabia. The same should be done to USA (Sweis, 2013).
The first factor that causes project delays both in USA and in Saudi Arabia is unexpected site condition. In USA, Bordat and her colleagues highlight this cause while in Saudi Arabia a number of studies highlight it. The second factor that is common in USA and Saudi Arabia is the issue of changing project design. Even though there are legal frameworks that take care of this issue in USA, the issue appears to be rampant. A study by Anastasopoulos and his colleague focuses its attention on this issue and establishes that projects’ owners in USA alter contracts because of varied reasons. Some of the reasons cited include unexpected site conditions, unfavorable weather conditions and errors in original designs (Anastasopoulos et al., 2010). Once again, various studies highlight this issue in Saudi Arabia.
In terms of differences, although payment delays are highlighted significantly in Saudi Arabia this issue is not highlighted as such in USA. In fact, almost every study conducted in Saudi Arabia highlights this issue while no single study highlights it directly in USA. This issue relates to projects’ owners failing to submit payments on time for projects to proceed as well as contractors lacking financial capacity to execute projects as agreed. Another difference relates to external factors such as adverse weather conditions. With regard to this issue, even if some parts of Saudi Arabia experience unfavorable weather conditions, this issue does not seem to cause delays in project completion in Saudi Arabia. This is in relation to the fact that even if this issue is highlighted in many studies, it does not feature prominently as some of the factors that cause project delays in Saudi Arabia. On the contrary, unfavorable weather conditions feature prominently as one of the factors that cause project delays in USA. Bordat and her colleagues claim that unfavorable weather conditions are among the main causes of project delays in the state of Indiana (Bordat et al., 2004). Anastasopoulos and his colleagues also attribute unfavorable weather conditions to delays in project completion in USA (Anastasopoulos et al., 2012).
Another difference that features prominently as a cause of project delays in completion is the issue of awarding projects to the lowest bidders. On one hand, this issue may relate to the way U.S government awards tenders through competitive means without necessarily focusing much attention on the lowest bidder as Saudi government does. On the other hand, this issue may relate to availability of qualified contractors in USA while there may be few qualified engineers in Saudi Arabia (Albogamy et al., 2013). This notwithstanding, current literature indicates that the issue of awarding tenders to lowest bidders in Saudi Arabia causes project delays. However, this issue is not highlighted by current literature in USA. Another difference that features prominently is the issue of project management. On one hand, Saudi Arabian contractors appear to lack the necessary management skills. On the other hand, American contractors do not appear to have any problem with this issue.
In conclusion, it is worth noting that many road projects tend to fall behind schedule in Saudi Arabia than they do so in USA. Although this research paper was unable to outline majority of those projects in this study, the number of those projects is evident from the number of studies that cover this issue in Saudi Arabia as well as the number of factors highlighted. On the contrary, it is almost difficult to find such studies in USA because such projects are few in USA.
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