How to keep DIY projects on track

Everyone’s heard horror stories of DIY projects gone horribly awry – the bathroom that remains untiled for a year or more, the building work that gets horrendously over budget. What can you do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you?

The key is planning, planning and more planning. Whether it’s a relatively simple project you’re carrying out yourself, or building work requiring professional help, the more information you can gather at the start the more smoothly things are likely to go.

Here are a few tips for keeping the risks and pitfalls under control:

  • Draw up a timetable. Make a list of tasks that will contribute to the success of your project and order them. For instance if you are constructing a new shed you will need to lay the foundations, erect the walls, put on the roof and fit locks on the door – in that order. Estimate how long each of these tasks will take and, if you are using professionals at any stage, get their input. Now you have a project plan.
  • Cost your project plan. Work out the materials and labour costs for each stage. Don’t forget to include the price of any tools you might need, any costs associated with using your own time or facilities and the cost of rubbish disposal. Again, involve any professionals you will be using in this stage of the planning.
  • What could disrupt the project? Take a bit of time to consider what could knock your project off course. For instance, is it outside and dependent on a spell of fine weather? Are you relying on materials being delivered on a certain date? If a friend or relative has offered to help, will they really be available? List your risks in what you think is their order of likelihood
  • Draw up contingency plans. For every item you thought of above, come up with a solution that would limit the impact of things going wrong. If your supplier lets you down, could you arrange another at short notice and reasonable cost? If your helper is unavailable, what will you do? This will reduce the likelihood of nasty surprises considerably and means you stand a better chance of coping if things go off-course.
  • Allow enough time and money. Build in extra resources to cope with delays and disruptions. Estimate on the generous side – skimping on time and money in the planning stage may very well have the unwanted effect of costing you more in the long run. Your best chance of keeping a project on time and on budget is realistic planning. Do all the research you need to, including asking advice and getting plenty of quotes.
  • Check you are staying on course. Don’t do all this work then leave your notes in a drawer somewhere, never to be consulted again. Check back daily throughout the project and ensure things are staying on course. Don’t be too rigid – if you can see that your plans need adapting, don’t be afraid to do it. Make checklists and, if you are happy with computers and the Internet, look round for some of the many task management services and software that might make things easier.

Finally, know your limits. If you are thinking of having really major work done you will need to have a project management professional in place – maybe an architect or a surveyor. Try this guide from RICS or RIBA’s guide to finding an architect (PDF).

Project management resources