Project scheduling - the fitting of a plan of work to a timeline - is at its most complex when it comes to the construction industry. There isn’t much that has more moving parts except, possibly, the US Army on D-Day.
But just because it’s complicated doesn’t mean you should skip it. The project schedule shows how long each task is expected to take and when it should be done. Scheduling contains a number of important aspects and provides benefits for those who learn to do it well.
Important aspects of project scheduling
Scheduling includes organizing, staffing, directing, controlling, and coordinating.
- Organizing. Splitting up the total plan into manageable chunks doled out to the appropriate contractor, sub, or other professional.
- Staffing. Provisioning people to each department needed for the project to succeed.
- Directing. Training people to carry out assigned tasks, supervising them, guiding their work, and generally motivating them to complete the task as required.
- Controlling. A constant review of the plan to discover discrepancies and fix them through corrective action.
- Coordinating. Bringing multiple tasks and people together for clear communication, so everyone is on the same page.
That is a lot of work, but the construction project manager is responsible for all of it.
Benefits of scheduling
Beyond making sure the project ends up with a safely constructed building, scheduling does several positive things for an owner and a contractor.
Scheduling properly saves time and overhead costs by utilizing available resources properly. Delays are minimized as much as possible in an industry where the environment can work against you. It also keeps you from playing things by ear, duplicating work, or creating issues that could have been avoided.
Scheduling also allows you to play to your team’s strengths and provide time to be more innovative in how you achieve your goals.
Methods of Project scheduling
Scheduling a complex project means there are lots of smaller schedules embedded within the master schedule. Here is a sampling of different types of scheduling and what they are used for.
- Crew chases. Tracking large pieces of equipment or key labor crews from one activity to the next. Crew chases prevent you from scheduling the same crew or equipment for two places at one time or leaving gaps in utilization. Double-booking and underutilization both tend to create multiple mobilizations, lower morale, and reduce productivity.
- Subcontractor scheduling. Preparing an initial schedule with the subcontractors on the project. Each sub needs to commit to the dates required and sign a well-written contract that clearly defines their scheduling responsibilities.
- Short interval or look-aheads. Tying weekly short interval schedules to the master schedule to make sure you don’t overlook critical tasks. You show the actual progress over the previous two weeks as well as the planned work for the next three. Below the current schedule, you display the previous month’s tasks.
- Scheduling for changes or delays. Revising a schedule as changes occur, so the schedule remains accurate. Inaccurate schedules will not provide you with the ability to ask for time extensions with compensation. Keep network diagrams of the affected work to identify and explain delays to the critical path and make a claim for compensation.
Schedule analysis guidelines for substantiating delays
Delays come in three flavors:
For your best shot at an excusable, compensable delay you need to be able to document every change and delay as it happens and avoid delays whenever possible. Schedule analysis is performed for every delay for which you request compensation. It is in your best interests to document everything for future reference.
Planned work is compared to the schedule before and after each delay. If you have not kept the schedule up to date, the analysis will show discrepancies that could keep you from getting paid. Schedule analysis after a delay also involves comparing the estimated impact and the actual impact of the delay on the critical path.
Critical delays are identified because only a critical delay is compensable. It is the only type of delay that can impact the completion of the project. Critical tasks should never have float time associated with them.
Delays must be analyzed in both chronological and cumulative order. When you don’t investigate delays in sequence, you may miss what actually occurred. Once an excusable delay occurs, you must adjust the completion date to reflect it, and propagate the delay to all critical path tasks.
Include accurate as-built information to analyze actual progress and minimize potential future delays, so float calculations are not altered. Altered floats can impact critical path tasks. As you analyze the schedule, correct any flaws in logic, document the changes, and explain them at the time they are made. Each delay requires a causation to be compensable and excusable.
Once you perform and document a schedule analysis, you will have most of the documentation you need in case you make a delay claim that is disputed by the owner.
Tips for scheduling
- Use templates for faster scheduling. By using a blank project schedule with the appropriate steps already available, you can avoid skipping activities by mistake. Place additional activities as you need and remove any you do not.
- Use task lists for much the same reason. A task or check list will keep you from missing steps or tasks when doing your scheduling.
- Use tools to allocate resources. An online tool for resource allocation can automatically notify workers of exactly where and when they are needed. You can get rid of some of your most annoying meetings this way.
- Structure your schedule. Group similar tasks together, build project phases by looking at where is it logical to split the work into chunks. Add milestones to mark the completion of significant work elements.
- Regularly track progress. Do not allow your schedule to get out of date and do not attempt to reconstruct anything at a later time.
Create a flow of communication between everyone in the project including the workers, stakeholders, and suppliers. Transparency reduces email and phone calls when there are problems. A collaborative work management tool can sync all comments, store attachments, and keep calendars. It can also monitor news, budgets, and scheduling changes.
Continuously plan. Your plan will be revised along the way; it will never be static. Take the time to check it regularly and update it, letting everyone on the team know of any changes.
Learn from those you work with. Observe how things work on the jobsite and in the office. You can learn how to avoid certain problems if you listen to those who know the work.
Use tools to monitor costs and budgets such as permits, wages, materials, and equipment. You need to be able to track everything from the initial bid until project completion. It’s impractical to do this without a software tool.
Construction scheduling is complicated. Clear communication and good software tools are essential for creating, tracking, and changing the schedule as events unfold. To be compensated for delays you need solid documentation put together when the delay occurs, not later. Use checklists and templates to make sure you don’t miss anything.
A well-planned schedule is the construction project manager’s best friend.