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Are You Practicing Reactive or Proactive Scheduling?
Written by John Jackson
Sep 22, 2016

Are You Practicing Reactive or Proactive Scheduling?

To many managers in the construction industry value is overshadowed by cost. By not seeing the value that planning and scheduling can bring to a project, 98% of the project budget may be placed at risk in order to save a few dollars of the overhead budget.

I categorize attitudes toward scheduling among those that consider scheduling a necessary project function as either ‘reactive’ or ‘proactive’. In addition, there is still a considerable part of the industry that does not schedule at all; we might say they have an ‘inactive’ attitude to scheduling.

The difference between the proactive and reactive approach is defined by the goal of the scheduling efforts. Reactive scheduling starts with a haphazard approach to the planning process and continues when the ongoing scheduling efforts are spent trying to keep up with happenings in the field, and making adjustments when field operations deviate from the scheduled plan. In this case the schedule may be built with good intentions, but the reality is that the project drives the schedule.

Proactive scheduling requires a coordinated effort of the project management staff to actually plan the work for the project and then utilize the scheduled plan in performing and overseeing the work in the field. Updates are performed to measure how the plan is going and to make necessary adjustments. The process of planning and scheduling is never complete until the project is done. In other words, the plan and schedule drives the project.

The Absurdity of Reactive Scheduling

I will never forget my first job as a professional scheduler. My contractor client informed me that my services were required to appease an ‘overzealous’ owner and were not necessary for success of the project. My services were merely a ‘necessary evil’. I proceeded to study the project documents and prepared the contractor’s schedule for submittal. The schedule clearly delineated how the project was to be built and was readily approved by the owner. My client received a long-awaited first payment on the project and I enjoyed hero status for a day.

However, the contractor’s project management team proceeded almost immediately to deviate from the schedule that I had spent so much effort to prepare. To my knowledge, no one on the contractor’s project management team ever put together a comprehensive plan for completing the project in a timely and efficient manner. The contract targeted completion date was a ‘hope for’ goal with no basis for the assumed accomplishment. Since they had never really looked at my schedule, nor did they care to start, my task became increasingly an exercise in keeping up with what they were doing, and adjusting the schedule to show how their plan was deviating from mine. I also found myself trying to guess at what they might do in the future and make the appropriate adjustments in ‘my’ schedule. As the project slipped I would arbitrarily change relationships or durations to continue showing the project completion within the contract limits, which kept the cash flow coming from the owner. In no way did the schedule have any influence on the work performed. As the scheduler, I spent the majority of my effort trying to make the schedule match what was happening in the field,the project drove the schedule.

On the other side of the world, the owner reviewing my schedule never really looked at it as a tool for planning the project either. The only person who even looked at it on behalf of the owner was their expert scheduler, whose main objective was to make sure the schedule met the technical requirements of the contract specifications. The extent of the review was purely technical in nature. Did the numbers balance? Were the milestone dates aligned with the contract? Was the format of the schedule correct? The review and approval processes never included a review of whether or not the schedule was a valid plan or even whose plan it was. The only issue that seemed to matter was whether or not the document showed that the projected dates were being met. No one ever mentioned to me that the contractor was not following their (my) plan. I don’t believe anyone ever paid enough attention to it to really notice. The people who really knew how the project would have to be constructed did not care to look at the technical data generated by a computer that they saw as a threat to the world as they knew it. The schedule was simply a required exercise someone passed down from a lofty legal bureaucracy on a planet far, far, away. On the other hand, the two scheduling experts (including myself) were too busy trying to impress each other with our own schedule geek techno jargon, and philosophical homilies regarding schedules and like things pertaining to it, to think about coordinating our efforts with the less technical project management staff who oversaw the actual construction. Even from the owner’s side, the project drove the schedule.

The Benefits of Proactive Scheduling

On many projects over the years my schedules were completely separate from the construction process. Contractors submitted them but didn’t use them. Owners were often contractually separated from the process and had minimal enforcement capability in how a schedule was managed. Times haven’t changed much. But there is hope. I have seen it work. Planning and scheduling can be used in a proactive way to make a project move faster, more efficiently, and with much less management headache. There are four main aspects of proactive construction scheduling, if implemented, these will positively transform the project at all levels.

Coordination and Collaboration.

Though intertwined in practice, it is helpful to consider these separately. Coordination is bringing the various project participants into the planning process, securing their input and getting everyone to sign on to the project plan. The participants naturally include those actually building the project, including project managers, superintendents, subcontractors and yes, even the owner and their representatives. I often hear the first months of the project referred to as the ‘honeymoon’ phase. If agreements are going to be made and cooperative measures are to be coordinated for the project, this is the period most beneficial to meet those objectives. By coordinating through the planning and scheduling process, each aspect and phase of the project can be addressed and reviewed by the parties.

Collaboration is the ongoing use of the schedule throughout the project as a communication tool to identify, address, and resolve project issues. To accomplish this, the contractor’s project management must be committed to communication and a level of openness with the various project participants, including the owner. Owners are usually more open to the idea but have a difficult time enforcing collaboration.

Consistent Tracking and Analysis

Consistent tracking and analysis of progress requires a level of scheduling discipline that is often lacking, but where it exists the rewards are substantial. For example, it is much easier to prepare a lookahead schedule with a handwritten chart or spreadsheet application than it is to update a working CPM schedule. Excuses such as ‘The established schedule does not have the detail I need, or I only update the schedule for the submittal process, or ‘My schedule doesn’t match what I am doing’ are common. There is a simple response to such excuses: Adjust your schedule to reflect your plan so that you can use it to monitor your progress on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Using this proactive approach in a project meeting may meet resistance because of the accountability involved. The project accountability is a result of looking at what someone said they would do last week compared to what they are saying this week. Over time, however, such accountability serves to bring more consistent project planning and projections to the project. This level of project management tracking will also keep stakeholders aware of the project’s current critical path, which spreadsheet charts cannot do. One of the most important features of this proactive scheduling approach is the early identification of issues. Of course, early identification of issues promotes early resolution of issues, which is valuable in every project scenario.

Effective Reporting

Effective project reporting keeps senior management, the key decision makers and problem solvers, in the loop. Many project issues get out of control before senior management, or those with the most experience in resolving issues, ever get involved. This results from delays in identifying and communicating issues. A carefully monitored project plan and schedule will identify most issues as, or even before, they surface. An effective reporting procedure will keep executives in the loop to proactively resolves the issues before they become serious or get out of control.

Risk Management and Early Resolution of Conflicts.

Risk management and early resolution of conflicts may be catchy industry buzz-phrases, but they are very important. This aspect of proactive construction scheduling depends on the implementation of the previous three proactive scheduling techniques. Without collaborative coordination, consistent tracking and analysis, and effective reporting, issues will often not be identified early enough for a quick resolution, and even when they are, the lack of a healthy cooperative atmosphere may impede that resolution. Part of updating the schedule regularly and proactively includes incorporating impacts immediately into the schedule to demonstrate their effects on the progress, and ultimately the completion of the project. This sometimes meets resistance. I have been requested not to put an impact into the schedule until the change or delay is approved. My response to this is simply, “Do you want the current project schedule, that we all are trying to work from, to be accurate or inaccurate?” If you want it to be accurate then what is going on in the field should be reflected in the schedule. I have yet to have someone tell me, “I would rather the construction schedule be inaccurate.” By incorporating issues into the schedule immediately it is much easier to see the impact and come to an early resolution.

Proactive Scheduling Pays

Ultimately, there is a cost factor to the proactive approach. It takes commitment from the involved parties and often it takes more management budget, especially if an experienced scheduler is brought in to assist in the process. However, the benefits from a successful implementation of the proactive approach usually far outweigh the costs associated with it. Managing the critical path effectively nearly always saves time on the project. Given the daily overhead costs of a project multiplied by the number of days saved by good planning and execution, this also saves money. Furthermore, regular planning and coordination brings a positive partnering atmosphere to the project. Reviewing a schedule is a great forum for structured discussion of every aspect of the project, since a good, proactive schedule will include every aspect. Finally, proactive scheduling is very effective in early resolution of disputes, maximizing recovery of cost impacts as well reducing the cost of prosecuting claims.

Project Execution – Start with Experience
Written by John Jackson
Sep 5, 2016

Projec Execution – Start with Experience

Advancements in technology continue to stretch construction 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.

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 anything to ease their pain. There is no doubt however that the competitive nature of construction and development, both public and private, continues to force a resistant 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 technologies, certain elements should not be overlooked, like the importance of 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:

Mr. Tinker, 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 Tinker 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.

Over time the overall company production has not increased significantly with the new product. Our Tinker 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 Tinker and his hammer selection process and say “It’s your carpenters, stupid.” You can purchase the best hammer, but in the hands of inexperience, even the best tools will bring little benefit to a 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 a 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 lack of a quality tool for a lack of quality performance. Experience, on the other hand, provides quality with the available tools. A change or upgrades 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 experience and expertise first – then review technology.

Scheduling Technology or Experience – Which is Most Important?
Written by John Jackson
Apr 11, 2016

Scheduling Technology or Experience – Which is Most Important?

Advancements in technology continue to stretch construction 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.

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 anything to ease their pain. There is no doubt however that the competitive nature of construction and development, both public and private, continues to force a resistant 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 technologies, certain elements should not be overlooked, like the importance of 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:

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.

Over time the overall company production has not increased significantly with the new product. 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 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 a 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.

2 Rules of Engagement in Resolving Construction Delays
Created by John Jackson
Mar 8, 2016

2 Rule of Engagement in Resolving Construction Delays

Most disputes remain unresolved for one or more of the following reasons: 1) the delay entitlement has not been settled (acknowledgement of who is responsible for a particular issue), and/or 2) the understanding of delay resolution concepts is not understood (see the article on concurrent delays), and/or 3) there is no understanding of the Rules of Engagement in the delay resolution process.

There are two fundamental Rules of Engagement that must be followed in order to resolve the dispute over delays: 1) agreement to the method of delay analysis, or which Time Impact Analysis (TIA) to use for evaluating the delay impacts, and 2) once the method is selected, agree to adhere to the guidelines built into the particular evaluation method. Both are essential. It is not enough to establish an analysis method. Both parties must agree to work within its parameters.

I have two children, and as angelic as I want to believe they are, I constantly have to 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.

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. Through the process we came to the conclusion 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.

In attempting to resolve delay issues on construction projects, the same reasoning will typically apply. It helps to start with the best 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 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

One delay analysis method does not fit every situation. Over the past 20 years I have reviewed court cases that have supported all of these analyses methods, and I have worked with contracts that specified which method to use. Although the most effective method in measuring and resolving delays, in most disputes, is the “Contemporaneous Time-Frame Analysis”, it is only effective when the schedule has been updated and managed contemporaneously with the project. Even though this method is the most favorable, if the schedule has not been managed and/or maintained properly, then it may not be the best method. It can be difficult when Agencies, Owners, and/or their consultants try to limit resolution to one type of Delay analysis technique. They should be reminded that one method does not always fit every situation. So, with the several evaluation methods that are available, the key is to find the best one to fit the project situation and be consistent in the review as it favors one party on one issue and the other party when other issues are evaluated.

As an example, I was recently involved in a delay resolution scenario where the Owner had determined that the only acceptable method for analyzing delays to the project would be based on “the sequential evaluations of the approved schedule submittals”. The only problem was that no updated schedules had been submitted. The baseline had not been approved until 14 months into the project for various reasons, and there were no updates available until the fifteenth month.

In an initial effort to resolve the delay issues that occurred prior to the first update, a series of Time Impact Analyses for delays were prepared by inserting the delay activities into the approved baseline schedule based upon an adjusted “as-planned” or baseline schedule methodology. These TIAs were rejected with a comment that this method of evaluating delays was unacceptable, as if there was no more than one method of evaluation. The Owner stated that the only “acceptable” method of analyzing delays was with “updated monthly progress schedules for the sequential and chronological evaluation of events and determination of the controlling critical path activities, at the time of the delay event.” This description defined the “contemporaneous time-frame analysis”. However, the only scenario where this method should be the only acceptable method is when there are truly “contemporaneous” updates. In this case it was not possible since the baseline schedule was approved after significant changes and delays were already occurring on the project. The owner suggested that the Contractor recreate updates for each month prior to the approval of the baseline schedule and prepare analyses based on those updates. As a result, the contractor was preparing updates and fragnets to appear “contemporaneous” with sequential data dates, when in fact they were not. This was an exercise at overlaying as-built information into a baseline schedule that was already old when it was approved – hardly contemporaneous, and probably not the best delay analysis methodology for that particular situation.

Each delay analysis method includes certain evaluation guidelines. For this analysis method (which the Owner had determined as the ONLY acceptable method) to be effective, each submittal had to be reviewed sequentially since each was built upon the previous submittal, and acceptance or rejection of any one submittal in the sequence impacted subsequent analyses. Those are part of the guidelines that are consistent with the “contemporaneous time-frame” analysis methodology.

2) Working within the Guidelines of the Established Methodology

Although the “contemporaneous time-frame” methodology may not have been the best methodology in this scenario, it could work if the appropriate guidelines were adhered to. Once again, the Contractor had to submit one schedule (update or TIA) at a time, have it reviewed to the point of acceptance, and then, based on the accepted submittal, prepare and submit the next one in sequence. This would obviously be a long arduous task, but it is the process that goes along with this method of analysis. In my example, all the parties, including the contractor, were under such pressure to get the issues submitted that the process immediately veered outside of the guidelines of the prescribed methodology by submitting schedules prior to the previous submittal response. The series of updates, schedule revisions, and fragnets were submitted in sequential order to provide a “sequential and chronological evaluation of events” per the owner’s request. But since the review process was being overlooked in the sequence, multiple submittals were being submitted prior to review of the previous ones. So, initially both parties began to work outside the guidelines of the established methodology.

Since there were multiple concurrent owner delay issues, some of the delay evaluations resulted in zero days of impact. In other words, other issues were driving the critical path in that particular schedule and it only got worse. The owner did not review the issues in chronological order, and the issues including request for days were rejected, while issues with no days requested, because of concurrent delays, were accepted. The Owner either failed to see, or intentionally ignored the fact that if one issue in the sequence was rejected, then all subsequent submittals needed to be revised.

At this point, there was no valuable response to the Owner’s rejection comments since the reviews were not performed “sequentially” according to the prescribed methodology.

Both parties in dispute must adhere to the same guidelines. If the Owner determines the only “acceptable” method for preparing the analyses, it is imperative that their review be based on the guidelines appropriate for the same method they prescribe for the Contractor. In this case, not only did the Owner review the submittals out of sequence, they drew data for rejection comments from “as-built” conditions in the field, unrelated schedule submittals, and a broad range of other project data. While they limited the Contractor’s methodology and base of information to prepare their analyses, they left their own review parameters wide open and undefined. If the Owner’s review methodology does not follow the same methodology the Contractor is constrained to in preparation of the delay analysis, it is easy to use the established guidelines, or rules when convenient, but when it is not convenient, it becomes easy to find something else to bring into the process to keep the dispute unresolved. An excuse to deny a time extension can always be discovered if the rules of engagement are left undefined.

Here is the bottom line. It is not enough just to select that appropriate methodology for preparing the analyses. Unless an Owner is willing to live by the guidelines of preparation and review that they deem “acceptable”, there is not much hope that the delay issues will be resolved with2out lengthy dispute.

Ultimately, the best method is dependent on the individual situation. Owners and Contractors should realize that what may work in your favor for one scenario may work against you in another, no matter what method is used. As long as both can agree to work within the consistent and acceptable guidelines of the agreed upon methodology, then resolution can be possible and reasonable.

4 Reasons Project Schedules Don’t Get Updated
Created by John Jackson
Feb 20, 2016

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:

  • 1) No schedule updates are required (or if it is required, the owner is not requesting it).
  • 2) The project management team doesn’t have the time to devote to the schedule.
  • 3) The organization doesn’t use a schedule to monitor projects.
  • 4) The baseline schedule no longer reflects what is going on in the project.
  • 5) 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.

3 Executive Strategies for Successful Project Execution
Created by John Jackson
Feb 10, 2016

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@encgrp.com.

CPM Scheduling – Why a Project Roadmap Is So Important
Written by John Jackson
Feb 2, 2016

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.

4 Suggestions for Maximizing Value in your CPM Schedule

4 Suggestions for Maximizing Value in your CPM Schedule

Having an effective time management and tracking system is essential for any project executive. While most everyone has a system, very frequently it is not an effective system, or not nearly as effective a system as it could be if properly implemented. For project management one of the most potentially effective systems is a CPM (critical path method) schedule, a time-scaled project “to do” list driven by task relationships and/or resources and prioritized by impact on project completion. I say that it is one of the most “potentially” effective systems because, like any tool, its effectiveness depends on how well you use it. Here are some suggestions on how to get the most out of your CPM schedule.

1. Understand the Value of the CPM Schedule

Many of the clients I have had over the years have viewed the CPM schedule as fulfilling just another contract submittal requirement. Accordingly, only a minimum amount of effort is put into building and maintaining an effective schedule. This attitude is generally self-reinforcing. A perfunctorily prepared schedule is often useless as a management tool, useless for anything, for that matter, except satisfying a contract requirement.
It is my experience, however, that a carefully thought out and diligently maintained and monitored CPM schedule can frequently cut more than 10% off the project’s duration. Considering the daily operating costs of a construction project, twenty or so less working days for a year-long project is a significant savings.

2. Plan Collaboratively

In many cases, different project personnel each have a somewhat different project vision, usually centered around what seems most important to them right now. This generally means, and in very large projects guarantees, than no one individual has a broad enough and deep enough perspective on the project’s status to accurately appreciate the effect of impacts and to allocate resources in the most efficient manner. The result is that project management becomes more reactive than proactive.

The most successful projects I have seen have developed CPM schedules with input from all the key players–project managers and staff, estimators, subcontractors, and Owners. A good CPM scheduler is more than a software technician. For me, the value of a consulting engagement is bringing the parties together, coordinating a plan that everyone can stand behind and that can be used for monitoring, accountability, budgeting, and issue analysis.

3. Maintain an Accurate Schedule

An often overlooked or underemphasized task is maintaining the schedule with consistent and regular updating. Companies often hire me to assist in preparation of a baseline plan, but then put little emphasis on tracking the progress against the plan. Once again, time is the best early warning system. If a project is not meeting its time projections, chances are that the budget is impacted as well. A regularly updated schedule will inform of overages the day the activity goes past the planned finish date. Without consistent updating, delay impacts cannot be properly assessed and issues will not get the early attention required for speedy resolution.

4. Monitor with Good Reporting

Executives would not consider relying on financial statements if they could not rely on the consistency of data. Most project data makes it to the financials too late to be pro-active with the outcome. Good schedule reporting systems across the organization allows executives to identify and resolve problems early before it hits the financials. It is especially important to report on the comparison between planned vs. actual progress for executive review.

Identify the 2 Potential Driving Factors for Your Project
John Jackson
Created by John Jackson
Dec 10, 2015

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.

When delays occur, it is important to clarify what the owner’s driving factor is in order to resolve 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.

CPM Scheduling – Effective Project Management
Written by John Jackson
Nov 2, 2015

CPM Scheduling – Effective Project Management

Having an effective time management and tracking system is essential for any project executive. While most everybody has a system, very frequently it is not an effective system, or not nearly as effective a system as it could be if properly implemented. For project management one of the most potentially effective systems is a CPM (critical path method) schedule, a time-scaled project “to do” list driven by task relationships and/or resources and prioritized by impact on project completion. I say that it is one of the most “potentially” effective systems because, like any tool, its effectiveness depends on how well you use it.

Here are some suggestions on how to get the most out of your CPM schedule.

1. Understand the Value of the CPM Schedule

Most of the clients I have had over the years have viewed the CPM schedule as fulfilling just another contract submittal requirement. Accordingly, only a minimum amount of effort is put into building and maintaining an effective schedule. This attitude is generally self-reinforcing. A perfunctorily prepared schedule is often useless as a management tool, useless for anything, that is, except satisfying a contract requirement.
It is my experience, however, that a carefully thought out and diligently maintained and monitored CPM schedule can frequently cut more than 10% off the project’s duration. Considering the daily operating costs of a construction project, twenty or so less working days for a year-long project is a significant savings.

2. Plan Collaboratively

In many cases, different project personnel each have a somewhat different project vision, usually centered around what seems most important to them right now. This generally means, and in very large projects guarantees, than no one individual has a broad enough and deep enough perspective on the project’s status to accurately appreciate the effect of impacts and to allocate resources in the most efficient manner. The result is that project management becomes more reactive than proactive.

The most successful projects I have seen have developed CPM schedules with input from all the key players–project managers and staff, estimators, subcontractors, and Owners. A good CPM scheduler is more than a software technician. For me, the value of a consulting engagement is bringing the parties together, coordinating a plan that everyone can stand behind and that can be used for monitoring, accountability, budgeting, and issue analysis.

3. Maintain an Accurate Schedule

An often overlooked or underemphasized task is maintaining the schedule with consistent and regular updating. Companies often hire me to assist in preparation of a baseline plan, but then put little emphasis on tracking the progress against the plan. Once again, time is the best early warning system. If a project is not meeting its time projections, chances are that the budget is impacted as well. A regularly updated schedule will inform of overages the day the activity goes past the planned finish date. Without consistent updating, delay impacts cannot be properly assessed and issues will not get the early attention required for speedy resolution.

4. Monitor with Good Reporting

Executives would not consider relying on financial statements if they could not rely on the consistency of data. Most project data makes it to the financials too late to be pro-active with the outcome. Good schedule reporting systems across the organization allows executives to identify and resolve problems early before it hits the financials. It is especially important to report on the comparison between planned vs. actual progress for executive review.