Deadlines are not arbitrary and rarely optional. Yet more than 50 percent of construction jobs finish late. The Project Management Institute found last year that for every $1 billion in spending, nearly $122 million was wasted as a result of poor project management practices.
That should be significant incentive for firms to invest in better project scheduling and controls. Those that develop a strategic approach to on-time job delivery are better able to get all moving parts to where the need to be, when they need to be there. And, it can help ensure work gets done according to specifications.
The alternative is more of the same. If status quo means less-than-ideal project controls, there will be less-than-ideal outcomes, including:
- costly mix-ups on the jobsite;
- lack of visibility with little or no warning into potential scheduling problems;
- possible late penalties and risk of litigation;
- “scope creep” due to design errors or client-requested changes that cannot be rebilled; and
- unhappy clients.
A Better Way
Conversely, if project managers are able to deploy their team and subcontractors more efficiently, the firm will experience:
- reduced costs with less overtime needed, fewer fees for rental equipment not used and less potential for damage or theft of stored materials;
- increased managerial visibility with real-time project status updates to help spot problems early and find solutions using if/then modeling to determine the need for additional staffing (and subsequent change orders);
- better pricing of future projects by establishing standard times for common job sequences (e.g. rough-in plumbing);
- enhanced documentation to support claims in the event of contract disputes and/or litigation;
- more consistent cash flow as the firm is able to bill for the portion of work that can be proven to be complete; and
- improved client communications to keep the client informed of progress.
That client communication is critically important according to construction lawyer Leonard Goodman, who works with owners. He suggested, in the LexisNexis Law360 blog, that owners must be more involved in the construction process and demand more visibility from their contractors.
“Design and construction schedules with interim milestones should be accompanied by requirements for regular progress reports and remedies if a milestone is not achieved,” he wrote. “These may include requiring the AE or contractor to develop a recovery plan, to work overtime, and/or to add resources to get the project back on track—all without an increase in compensation.”
Establishing a Strategic PM Approach
Once the decision is made to get strategic about the firm’s project scheduling and controls, the first step should be to define a process that works for the team going forward. Consider project scheduling goals (e.g., better resource planning), the roles of various team members, measurement and progress review points, and processes for dealing with change orders and resource constraints.
Be sure to get senior management buy-in to ensure the implementation of the new plan is an organizational priority. Member associations such as Construction Management Association of America and the Associated Builders and Contractors can provide an additional primer on critical path scheduling and best practice tips on setting up a firm’s project scheduling process.
If starting from scratch, it could be worth talking with a professional consultant who can help more quickly develop a standardized process and review the tools that can empower the team.
The newly established process should be applied consistently and on every project the company undertakes. Construction project scheduling software can help facilitate this implementation.
One of the most important factors in selecting a system is ease of use. Some software packages have lots of bells and whistles while others are made to be simple. Many are fairly general in their approach and can be used to manage any type of project (e.g., Microsoft Project) while others are construction-industry specific. If the firm is doing complex builds (more than $3-4 million), it likely makes sense to use a tool made specifically for the industry. To ensure better usage, look for a tool that gives the team the functionality needed without being overly “techie” or complex.
Having a clear process in place and asking some key questions, such as the following, can also help find the balance of features and flexibility:
- Who will be responsible for making and updating schedules (full-time schedulers or part-time/occasional schedulers)?
- Will you need to share schedules with the client or subcontractors? If so, in what format?
- Is there a need to be able to make project updates from the jobsite?
- Is managerial reporting a key requirement?
- Is there the need to make and use templates to speed up the scheduling for future jobs?
- Does the software allow users to take advantage of emerging trends in design and construction management (e.g., BIM/4-D modeling)?
- Is technical support readily available if needed?
As with any new process and software system, plan to provide some initial training and ongoing support for schedulers. An introductory one or two-day training session can get new users acclimated to the project scheduling and controls process as well as the selected software. Future training can be used to refresh occasional schedulers’ memory on software features or to provide advanced techniques for sophisticated users.
Finally, remember to review project controls process periodically to ensure it is still performing as expected.
A strategic approach to project controls takes work but the results will be well worth it as the firm consistently performs better than the competition, optimizes efficiency and increases its profits.