There’s nothing like a big sporting event to get construction companies hot under the collar and in recent years the Middle East has been buzzing with anticipation in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Pandemic permitting, Qatar is scheduled to host the 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup, featuring 32 teams from six confederations and up to eight venues across five host cities. It is the first World Cup ever to be held in the Middle East, and from the moment the bid was won it was predicted that the construction sector would likely be one of the main drivers of local growth in the years leading up to the event.

The best laid plans don’t always stay on schedule

Since the start, all manner of issues arise – perhaps not unsurprisingly on a project management exercise of this magnitude. For example, by July 2017 there were anxieties when lawyers warned that construction delays could produce a rash of litigation following a boycott of the country by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain. That was without the impact of Covid-19. That said, there have also been some very positive impacts from the build – knowing as we do the benefits that infrastructure development can bring.

To some extent we all realise that issues will arise on a construction project. There are simply too many variables for nothing to be delayed, for example. To give some perspective, in some countries more than 100 claims arise in each mega construction project and in our team’s experience, the highest numbers of claims and modifications totalled 6,000 items at one of the largest department stores in the world.

How many project management issues could be resolved with better communication?

However, one of the positives from any area of concern, is the ability to learn, and having worked directly and indirectly on a number of different claims related to FIFA 2022 over the last few years, we can definitely see some patterns. Perhaps the most obvious, is the issue of communication and how often poor communication results in a small issue resulting in a large dispute.

A delay doesn’t have to lead to a claim and it certainly doesn’t have to lead to animosity if communication and resolution are handled well. If something is delayed and it’s not communicated, it obviously has a knock-on effect. It’s also worth noting that some of these issues relating to delays and disputes are not purely construction based but also relate to fit out.

Where changes have occurred, a supplier may have had a hard time following a schedule of works that they are contracted to follow, potentially incurring penalties because no one has communicated with them. Things changed in the main contractors programme, which was probably outside the supplier’s control/works. Perhaps that changed the delivery of the stadium so something like the seating was then disrupted. Access was not given on time, causing issues down the supply chain.

How do you communicate better on large scale projects?

While it’s not guaranteed, much upset could have been avoided. However that’s easier said than done on projects with multiple managers, stakeholders and decision makers. So, what do you do?

By employing someone experienced in contract management and dispute resolution early on, you can make sure that your position is defended properly and that documents are put together at each stage of the project, rather than waiting for there to be an issue, receiving a penalty and being in a position of defence. That means relationships are more likely to be salvaged, the issue is handled more quickly and it tends not to be disruptive to cashflow. When you act at a later stage, an expert can still help, but the issue has the capacity to be a lengthier, more expensive and more damaging process.

The other thing you can look at is incorporating an industry specific document management system to ensure everyone is appropriately involved in communications and updates.

These issues are not unique to football stadiums, or the Middle East. However, seeing similar projects develop similar issues alongside one another does throw a spotlight onto the recurring challenges that large construction projects face, providing an opportunity to avoid them. After all, you know what Einstein said about the definition of madness – it’s doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.