Causes of variation in construction project task starting times and duration

Brad W. Wambeke, Simon M. Hsiang, Min Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


In this research, variation is defined as the time difference between what was planned and what actually happened in terms of task starting times and duration. Variation in construction tasks is important as it can impact productivity performance. Construction projects consist of a large number of interdependent tasks. When the starting time and/or duration of one task varies, it can affect other downstream tasks and result in disruptions to the schedule and/or decreased productivity. The construction process is complex and involves numerous people with different levels of responsibility, which makes identifying the root causes of the variation difficult. A nationwide survey was administered to workers, foremen, and project managers to identify the most prevalent causes and magnitude of both starting time and task duration variation. Fifty individual causes of variation were divided into eight categories: prerequisite work, detailed design/working method, labor force, tools and equipment, material and components, work/job site conditions, management/supervision/information flow, and weather or external conditions. This research examined the similarities and differences in perceptions between craft workers, foremen, and project managers in terms of starting time and task duration variation. The top eight causes of starting time variation and top nine causes of task duration variation were identified. The research also quantitatively analyzed the underlying structure of the causes of variation using factor analysis. This was done by grouping the 50 individual causes into nine orthogonal factors that represent the underlying structure of the affecting causes. The findings will help construction project managers and field managers focus on the root causes of variation during planning in order to develop effective strategies to reduce variation and improve project productivity performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)663-677
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Construction Engineering and Management
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Construction
  • Factor analysis
  • Labor productivity
  • Variation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Building and Construction
  • Industrial relations
  • Strategy and Management


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