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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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6 Reasons Critical Path Schedules Fail – Part 2

If you have not yet done so, please read 6 Reasons Critical Path Schedules Fail – Part 1 Having done CPM scheduling work on hundreds of projects with many different owners and contractors, I have witnessed many bad scheduling practices. We can divide these into two groups, insofar as they pertain (a) to the creation of the initial baseline and (b) to the maintenance of the schedule as the project unfolds. Here are three of the worst practices I have seen when it comes to creating a baseline schedule:

1. Lack of collaborative input from those involved

A good schedule needs to have collaborative input from all parties directly involved in the project, so that everyone can sign on to support the same plan. When this is not done, competing project visions can emerge, creating tension and conflict between contractors, subs, and owners. Perhaps the most egregious example of this I have witnessed involved a large school project in which the general contractor refused to coordinate with his subs and develop a detailed baseline schedule, preferring to manage by the seat of his pants. As might be expected, several of the subs had problems coordinating their work because they had no detailed overall plan telling them in advance when and where they needed to be working. This eventually resulted in massive delays and damage claims by the subs against the general contractor

2. Illogical logic

The logic in a CPM schedule should reflect the real dependencies of tasks and/or resources. Frequently I see schedules in which activities have been tied together even though they are not actually related just because one is planned to occur after the other. For example, I have seen schedules where exterior landscaping work was tied to interior insulation and drywall for the sole reason of tying landscaping to an activity that would push it out to a certain point in the schedule. One problem with this kind of logic is that it can seriously distort the critical path, undermining the value of the CPM as a management and delay analysis tool. Another problem is that it masks inefficiencies in a project that, if not made explicit by identifying real dependencies, could cost unnecessary considerable time and money.

3. Not treating the CPM schedule as a management tool

I have worked with many contractors who see the baseline schedule as nothing more than a contract requirement to fulfill. Accordingly, they only put enough detail and thought into the CPM to satisfy the owner or contract manager. Consequently, unless the owner or construction manager closely reviews the schedule, the schedule tends to be poorly organized, insufficiently detailed, and inaccurate, as little concern is taken to make sure the durations and logic are sound and accurately reflect the job plan. Of course, if that is how the schedule is treated, then it will be good for nothing but satisfying a contract requirement. But that is to neglect the single most useful project management tool—the CPM schedule. The well-designed schedule provides a clear road map for the project, reflects the collaborative support of all involved, makes it possible to precisely monitor progress by comparison with the baseline, and facilitates efficient completion and recovery from delays.

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6 Reasons Critical Path Schedules Fail – Part 1

6 Reasons Critical Path Schedules Fail. Without good CPM schedule maintenance throughout the course of a project, the investment of time spent in developing a good baseline schedule will be largely wasted, as the schedule will become increasingly unreliable as a project management and delay analysis tool. In the last newsletter we looked at how not to create a CPM schedule; this time we will look at how not to maintain a schedule as the project unfolds.

1. Infrequent Maintenance

Good maintenance needs to be regular and frequent. Just as your car needs a regular oil change and tune up to stay at peak operating efficiency, your CPM schedule should be updated once a week, or every other week at the latest. Unfortunately many project managers get so busy with the daily details of running a project, from paperwork and inspections to managing subs, that it is easy to procrastinate here. Oftentimes contractors update the schedule only because, and not until, the owner makes them or they need to file a time impact analysis. Usually that means that a month or more lapses between schedule updates. By that time, the project manager has forgotten many of the specifics and, not wanting to take the time to look up the details in the daily reports, guesses at everything, which leads to bad data (see point two below) and a failure to note and track the impact of delay issues as they arise (see point three below).

Best practice is to examine three- to four-week short-range look ahead schedules on a weekly basis, compare them to the last month’s schedule update or approved baseline, and pay close attention to any activity that is critical, near-critical, or that has slipped considerably against the comparison schedule. It is easier to maintain a schedule if you do it regularly, and the very activity of maintaining it will remind and alert you to possible project issues.

2. Bad Data

When it comes to updating a schedule, one of the easiest and most common things to do is to plug in a few actual dates and completion percentages—often just rough guesses from memory—check the resulting milestone dates, and run with it if the dates look acceptable. The problem with this practice is that the schedule can very quickly become filled with bad data and bad logic and cease to be a useful project management or delay analysis tool. When statusing a schedule it is important that the information entered be accurate. Frequent maintenance helps here. Also, the logic of the work especially that of critical or near-critical activities, needs to be reexamined periodically. We suggest once a month at a minimum.

3. Failure to Track Delay Issues As They Arise

When delay issues arise—such as a late response on an RFI, inclement weather, utility conflicts, or what have you—a common practice among schedulers is simply to add a log entry on the impacted activity. This is fine, but it doesn’t show you what impact the delay will have on the critical path. To see that you need to add the delay as a separate activity and tie it in to the rest of your schedule. As soon as feasible after a delay issue emerges, you should start tracking it in your schedule so that you can forecast its impact and make appropriate project management adjustments. A further advantage is that if the delay becomes a claim, you will already have a good documentary history in your schedule of its impact on the job. This is much simpler than trying to retroactively plug a delay into a completed as-built schedule in order to determine its impact.

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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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