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Selection of thoughts and tips shared by project controls community.

Welcome to PCI Blogs - selection of thoughts and tips shared by Project Controls community.

Identify the 2 Potential Driving Factors for Your Project

A well-prepared construction schedule helps the project manager manage project tasks, other parties in the contract, and the various risks inherent in any project. Since all participants have some role in the successful project and some interests and risks at stake, it is important to bring each party into the planning and scheduling process. There are often many parties involved in the project management process and each one has their issues and risks to manage. For example, the project owner has a goal for a quality project delivered on time and within budget. Usually one or both of these issues drive the project finish from an owner’s perspective. Time is the driving factor when the owner is willing to accelerate a project (and pay for it) in order to meet a certain deadline. The budget is the driving factor when time extensions are granted instead of paying for acceleration costs.

What are the 2 potential Driving Factors for Your Project?

When project delays occur, it is important to clarify what the owner’s driving factor is in order to resolve schedule delay issues early. For example, if a delay occurs and the contractor accelerates to pick up time and, after the fact, submits a claim against the owner in order to recover the extra costs associated with the acceleration, the owner may respond that the budget was the driving factor and that a promptly submitted time impact analysis may have resulted in a time extension and no acceleration would have been necessary so the contractor bears the risk of those costs. Contractors often finish a project late when there were legitimate delays, only to find that a time extension is not granted at the end of the project because the driving factor for the project was time more than budget. Therefore, the owner argues that a promptly submitted time impact analysis would have resulted in an acceleration order at the owner’s expense in order to meet the construction completion milestone, so liquidated damages are enforced.

Well defined scheduling processes will give the contractor and owner an effective tool to identify these driving factors early in the project and resolve issues impacting these factors.

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CPM Scheduling – Why a Project Roadmap Is So Important

The role of CPM scheduling in the construction industry has increased significantly over the past couple decades. One reason for this is economic. Owners have become more demanding in their scheduling specifications in order to better monitor the project and meet funding requirements and budget projections. And tight competition and narrow profit margins have forced contractors to maximize efficiency through careful planning, scheduling, and coordination.

A second reason is liability. From claims preparation and dispute resolution to legal evidence in a trial, a well-designed and maintained CPM schedule can make or break the chances of recovering damages.

Most fundamentally, however, a well-designed and maintained CPM schedule is just good project management practice—it lays out the road map that tells you how to get from point A to point B, from project start to project completion.

CPM Scheduling – The Project Road Map

Growing up in my family meant road-trip vacations every summer. And, of course, we asked all the typical questions children ask after sitting for hours in a back seat. The “How many more miles?” and “When are we going to get there?” questions were most often responded to with a map highlighted along the shortest path of travel (the “critical path”), and we were encouraged to figure out the answers ourselves. We learned that we could use the red numbers along the highway to measure progress and project our arrival time (duration). We could measure our average speed by counting the miles traveled divided by the hours on the road (production). Taking our average speed we could calculate our arrival time based on remaining miles (projections). What’s more, if my father made a wrong turn or we experienced mechanical difficulties, all we needed was the map to determine where we were when we went off course, how long we were off, and when we were safely back on the right path. From there we could measure the impact of the mishap.

These maps were great management tools. Not only did my parents use them to plan and make projections for the trip, they also were great for back seat management. The longer we went without getting the answers we needed the greater the noise level from the back seat. My parents learned early that an easy-to-read, clearly highlighted map kept us busy for hours and proved to be a good exercise in noise reduction and dispute management.

In any undertaking it is important to know where you are going, how you will get there, and what resources will be required to successfully achieve the goal. It is no different with any construction project. A successful project roadmap (a well-maintained construction plan) is an essential management tool for many of the same reasons that my parents learned in our vacation experiences.

A well thought-out plan and schedule will help in planning and allocating the five key resources on the project: time, money, personnel, equipment, and material. With that plan in place you only need to know three things to measure the impact of most delays: where you were on the critical path at the time of impact, how long you were off of the critical path, and when did you returned to full production on the critical activities. Finally, the well-prepared, easy-to-read plan is great for communication and noise management.

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3 Executive Strategies for Successful Project Execution

So much is written and discussed these days to help teams execute organizational objectives. It is not enough to have thorough knowledge of a particular strategy, and good intentions will not get the job done. What organizations need is a culture or environment that fosters execution, or follow-through on goals or strategies communicated from the top. While many construction executives focus sincere effort on high-level strategies and goals, there is often a breakdown at the implementation level. No program strategy will be successful without the team and tools in place at the project level to execute that strategy.

Program strategies can vary as much as the number of programs that exists; from individual construction project execution to enterprise software implementation, from a rollout of corporate standards, to a management accountability program. Successful execution of the program strategy, no matter what it is, will generally consist of three themes that must flow down from the executive level.

Empower the Team

The successful project execution process begins with a systematic project team approach to planning the rollout of the strategy. Without a rigorous dialogue on the detailed day to day strategy of an entire project among those assigned to accomplish it, it is impossible to move forward as a coherent team. With the dialogue up front before the project even begins, the team becomes more of a unit and their effectiveness reaches way beyond their individual skill or knowledge base.

This principal is demonstrated regularly in sports. Every player on a football team, no matter what position they play is a part of game-plan discussions. It is important that each player sees how their efforts fit into the big picture. The quarterback may participate at a different level in the discussion, but if an offensive lineman is unaware of his part in the overall plan, the quarterback may have a rough game.

It is no different for a construction project, or group of projects. The most effective game-plan sessions are those that include participants from the entire project management team. These sessions allow the team to discuss in detail the “how’s” and “what’s” of the project and form a cohesive plan for project execution.

As a professional planner and scheduler I have participated, as a facilitator, in a wide variety of these types of “game-plan” sessions, usually lasting one or two days at the beginning of the project. The focus and team spirit that comes from these meetings always benefits the execution mentality and helps link organizational strategy to field operations.

Establish Milestones

Milestones help execution teams (Project Management Teams) establish goals and work together as a team to accomplish them. Milestones also help the executive know if a project is in trouble before it is too late. Some effective guidelines for milestone setting are:

  • Establish some milestones early in the project. Unlike a sporting event with a real-time scoreboard most projects/programs are moving forward in the dark when it comes to measuring their score on time and budget. So, an executive will need to set up a scoreboard with milestones if he wants to know how his team is doing.
  • Establish rewards for milestone accomplishment. By spreading rewards or bonuses over the course of the project for specific accomplishments an executive benefits from the ongoing accountability of the project team. The execution team benefits from the ongoing team motivation and accountability offered by the milestone rewards.

Ask the Right Questions

It is so important for executives to know the right questions to ask and to know when to ask them. Most of the construction claims that I have been involved with over the years could have been avoided had executives (those with experience and vision) understood this simple process.

To ask the right questions an executive must be involved. In the “game-plan”, or planning and scheduling sessions mentioned above, an executive can learn so much about the team he is depending on to execute. Those sessions open up so many opportunities to ask “How are you going to do that?” or “What resources will that require?” Asking the right questions forces the team to think about their assumptions and contingencies. Asking the right questions also exposes strengths and weaknesses among the team members. So often weaknesses are not discovered until it is too late when execution hopes become replaced by recovery necessities.

Secondly, to ask the right questions the executive must be informed. Having the right information allows the executive to understand the proper management questions. I’ve known executives who would meet with their project managers and maintain a cordial relationship with general conversation about the project and major issues. Their intent may have been to keep the project manager motivated and keep the project moving forward. Their intent may have been to become more informed on the status of the project. In either case, without the proper information to know what questions to ask these executives were so often left holding the bag.

Clear and succinct reports that compare current status with planned status, milestone status, progress on the critical path, along with budget and projections provide the information needed to ask the right questions. When the right questions are asked the execution team will stay motivated because problems are always in the open. Executives stay better informed and their experience brings earlier and more effective resolution to project issues.

John Jackson is a professional scheduler, expert claims consultant, and enterprise software implementation and corporate standards specialist. For question please contact jjackson@encrp.com.

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Scheduling Technology or Experience – Which is Most Important?

Advancements in technology continue to stretch construction project programs and their managers. It sometimes seems that the technology has outpaced organizational capabilities to manage it. While the technology promises advantageous results in effectiveness and efficiency in managing not only larger and more sophisticated programs and projects but also the small project as well. It also presents new issues for organizations to deal with in implementing new systems and procedures. So, between Construction Scheduling Technology vs Experience – which is more important?

Competitive nature of construction Technology

On the one hand, many firms have done well enough without the technical advancements and resist any change in their current ways knowing that change will have to come eventually, while other organizations struggle with attempts at implementing any new scheduling Technology to ease their pain. There is no doubt however that the competitive nature of construction scheduling technology and development, both public and private, continues to force a resistant construction industry into a new age. In this environment it is imperative that executives adhere to certain basic business fundamentals – some things do not change. While they may not understand all of the ramifications and benefits of new construction scheduling technologies, certain elements should not be overlooked, like the importance of scheduling technology experience experience and expertise. Technology, in particular computer hardware and software, is only a tool, and benefits will only be noticed based on the hand that wields it. Let me illustrate with a simple analogy:

Construction Scheduling Technology or Training

Mr. Smith, a Framing and Drywall contractor knows that to stay competitive in the current market it is important to keep up with the latest in hammer development. After all, he knows that good tools increase productivity. His approach is to purchase only the finest hammers for the young apprentice carpenters on his staff. Through careful research and evaluation Smith selects a new hammer from a reputable manufacturer for his inexperienced crews. The selected manufacturer provides the sleekest and most user friendly features in the hammer industry. The contractor justifies the purchase price and the cost of training for the best tools in the business with the money he is saving hiring only apprentice carpenters. Following a day of training with their new device, the carpenters begin framing walls with new enthusiasm.

Construction Scheduling Technology and Experience

Over time the overall company production has not increased significantly with the new product or construction scheduling technology. Our Smith gradually becomes somewhat disillusioned with the innovative hammer product and begins re-entertaining new products for the company thinking that the previous selection has not lived up to his expectations. We on the outside look at Smith and his hammer selection process and say “It’s your carpenters, Smith.” You can purchase the best hammer, but in the hands of inexperience, even the best tools will bring little benefit to a construction project. On the other hand, an experienced carpenter can produce a quality performance with a mediocre hammer.

Let’s apply this same analogy to a different area of project delivery. Planning and scheduling construction project and using that schedule to coordinate the execution of the project can have such an impact on whether or not a project is successful. Yet emphasis on experience for scheduling is often minimized. Just like our contractor, expensive and sophisticated planning tools (software) are entrusted to inexperience for their implementation. In so many situations, project executives entrust the coordination of the project scheduling to apprentice project managers inexperienced in critical planning and scheduling techniques, developing a well-coordinated plan, identifying potential risks, recognizing issues, and analyzing impacts. Owners are also guilty of minimizing experience in the schedule coordination and review process.

Here’s a tip, inexperience will often cast blame on the failure of technology (a quality planning tool) for a lack of quality performance. Experience, on the other hand, provides quality with the available tools. A change or an upgrade in technology will usually only increase efficiency, not quality. With so much at stake, budget and time, wouldn’t it be prudent to re-evaluate where the planning and scheduling department focus should be. Research and evaluate procedures, experience, and expertise first – then review technology.

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4 Reasons Project Schedules Don’t Get Updated

We are often asked to work on troubled projects, such as when a contractor realizes there are two months of remaining contract time with five or six months of work left to perform. While my clients usually request that I go back to the beginning of the project to find out what went wrong, my first recommendation is always to look at the remaining work and develop a detailed plan to complete the project. As in any emergency it is important to find the bleeding and to stop it. This would seem to be an obvious conclusion, yet it is amazing how many projects are “bleeding” and contractors, as well as owners, don’t know it until it is too late, and even at the point they realize it they don’t take the time to bring the remaining work under control. Only then should one analyze what happened prior to the update point and analyze how much “blood” was lost. These types of situations can usually be avoided if the project plan is well developed, carefully monitored, and regularly updated.

Planning and scheduling a construction project is one of the most valuable exercises during the entire construction process. Unfortunately, many organizations still place little value on it. Often both owners and contractors avoid the process even though contract specifications require it. These specifications do serve a good purpose. A good schedule update is a great opportunity for:

  • Analyzing and developing a snapshot of where your are in your project
  • Re-evaluating the work that is left to see what it will take to finish
  • Developing an as-built record of what has happened; and
  • Analyzing and documenting delays.

Problem 1 – Little emphasis on planning and scheduling

While most organizations place a heavy emphasis on developing the project budget, they often leave the task of developing the project schedule to a junior technician. If a budget exists without a well-thought-out comprehensive plan to accomplish it, a project is at risk before it starts. However, when a comprehensive plan and schedule is developed, the budget, if realistic, usually falls in place.

Problem 2 – Planning stops after the baseline schedule is prepared

Frequently, the baseline schedule is needed for a pre-construction conference, and some contract specification requires the preparation of a formal submittal. After the baseline project schedule is prepared and approved, however, many owners don’t insist on and many contractors don’t bother with regular schedule updating. The problem is that a plan loses its value if it is not updated—things never go exactly as planned, and if the schedule isn’t regularly reviewed and updated, it will quickly become inaccurate and useless as a management tool. But, as I emphasize below, a well-developed and maintained CPM schedule is the single most useful management tool there is. Without it, the contractor can only fly by the seat of his pants when unexpected delays occur, and this almost always leads to considerable inefficiencies and wasted resources.

Problem 3 – Excuses are made for not updating the schedule

The following are the most common excuses I hear for not updating a project schedule

  • No schedule updates are required (or if it is required, the owner is not requesting it).
  • The project management team doesn’t have the time to devote to the schedule.
  • The organization doesn’t use a schedule to monitor projects.
  • The baseline schedule no longer reflects what is going on in the project.
  • The baseline schedule doesn’t have the detail to be useful to management.

All of these are poor excuses. When schedule updates aren’t required submittals, it is foolish not to carefully monitor progress on a project and have up-to-date projections about remaining items. Without a good, updated schedule you don’t have the information to efficiently manage a project. As for as the time required to maintain and manage the schedule, it will cost the team more time and money due to project inefficiencies if they don’t give proper attention to the schedule. Even if your organization doesn’t require schedule reporting to monitor project, or you’ve “never done it that way”, it’s still a good idea to do it that way. An out-of-date baseline is a condition due solely to the contractor’s lack of attention to the schedule in the first place. The proper response is to build a better schedule, one that is up to date and sufficiently detailed to be useful to management.

Problem 4 – Organizations don’t see the value of updating a schedule

I am amazed that many organizations still view scheduling as a “necessary evil”. That is the term used when I was hired for my first scheduling assignment many years ago. It is an attitude that still pervades many construction firms. Here are some tangible benefits of implementing good updating procedures:

  • 1) A well-documented as-built schedule. It is always less costly to build an as-built schedule as-you-go rather than after-the-fact. It is usually much more accurate as well. This can mean significant savings in claims resolution. Also one of the overlooked values of an as-built is the information they can provide for future projects.
  • 2) A well-executed plan saves time. It’s not enough just to finish a project within the contract allotted time. I constantly remind clients that every day has a dollar value. If the operational overhead of an average project is $10,000 per day, and a well-executed plan cuts 5% off the project time, then planning efforts could easily knock $100K off the bottom line per year per project just in overhead savings, not to mention efficiency gains.
  • 3) Documentation of delays. Documenting delays can save a project money in several ways. First, a delay can be documented and analyzed as it happens in a fraction of the time and cost of an after-the-fact analysis. Second, early identification and resolution of the delay issues always results in a better return than delays resolved in the claims process. Third, better resolution of delays can represent significant cost savings if Liquidated Damages are relieved, and/or Extended Overhead is recovered, and often (most important) a good owner/client relationship is preserved.
  • 4) ) Team building. Most project management staff frustration and turnover occurs as a result of the burden of out-of-control projects. A good schedule, just like a well-managed to-do list, gives the project management team a sense of control. Even if the project is not going well a good schedule that’s updated will help the team realize where they are in the process, what is left to accomplish, and a good road-map for how to get there. In addition, good updating procedures keep executives in the loop so that their experience can be brought into the situation for better results for the project and the project team. When organizations see the value the scheduling process brings to the project their priorities change. The old excuses don’t work anymore. I have seen repeatedly how those that have begun to emphasize good scheduling practices and procedures benefit from the results.
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2 Rules for Resolving Construction Delays

Construction Delays and Disputes are all too common in the construction world. Avoiding delays is always preferable, however at times construction delays are at times inevitable. Delays cost time and money, and so planning for the possibility of encountering Construction Delays or Construction Disputes should be fully appreciated and considereda. Today we will be discussing 2 Rules for Resolving Construction Delays.

For this reason, it is imperative that all participants in the construction project agree to acceptable guidelines and methodology, and these should be fully participated In by all parties, and established at the start of the project. When preparing for delays it is important to understand that most construction disputes remain unresolved for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The delay entitlement has not been settled (acknowledgement of who is responsible for a particular issue), and/or
  • The understanding of delay resolution concepts is not understood (see the article on concurrent delays), and/or
  • here is no understanding of the RulesO of Engagement in the delay resolution process.

There are two fundamental Rules of Engagement that must be followed in order to successfully resolve a construction dispute over delays:

Agreement to the method of construction delay analysis, or which Time Impact Analysis (TIA) to use for evaluating the construction delay impacts, and Once the method is selected, agree to adhere to the guidelines built into the particular evaluation method. Both of these rules for resolving construction delays are essential. It is not enough to establish an schedule analysis method. Both parties must agree to work within its parameters.

Following the Construction Projects Established rules

I have two children, and as angelic as I want to believe they are, I constantly must step into a dispute and establish a plan for resolution, as in “taking turns”. It seldom fails that one will cry for enforcement of the rules when it benefits their position and will want to claim alternate reasoning when the rules are not in their favor. I must remind them that, although the rules may not seem fair in some situations, in the long run, following the established rules will work both ways and is the fairest way to resolution.

Resolving Construction Delays

I recently worked with an associate who was in the process of buying into a partnership with an optional buy-back clause. This associate spent a lot of time and effort attempting to calculate the best method for evaluating the value of the shares of the business he was buying. The seller had proposed a specific evaluation method for the purchaser’s shares, at a discount, with the agreement that in a set time frame the same evaluation method would be used in buying back the shares at full value.

Avoiding Construction Projects Delays First

Through this process we concluded that as long as the evaluation method was reasonable at the beginning and was the same for both transactions, whatever part of the formula may work against him during the purchase would be in his favor when he sells. ¬In the end it would be fair and equitable, as long as the formula was consistent for both parties, and both transactions.

Resolve construction projects delays

In attempting to resolve construction projects delay issues the same reasoning will typically apply. It helps to start with the best delay analysis methodology. But even if the best methodology is not selected, if both parties will follow specific guidelines of the agreed upon method, equitable resolution can be accomplished. 1) Establishing the Best Construction Delay Analysis Method AACE established Recommended Practices identify numerous analysis methodologies. In general, however, delay analyses fall into four basic categories:

  • Total Time Analysis – used mostly in efficiency claims when the budgeted time is compared to the total time.
  • Adjusted As-Planned Analysis – delay activities are inserted into an ‘As-Planned’ or ‘Baseline’ schedule to measure impacts to the critical path.
  • Adjusted As-Built Analysis – an as-built schedule is prepared from project documentation and delay activities are removed to collapse the schedule back to a ‘but for’ status to quantify the impacts.
  • Contemporaneous Time-Frame Analysis – delays are inserted into the current updated schedule to determine impacts to the current critical path including the current as-built conditions and the contemporaneous critical path.
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