Encore utilizes standard industry scheduling methods and software to monitor and report on the progression of construction projects so that our clients are informed quickly and accurately of project events, potential problems, and corrective actions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Recently I was involved in an attempt to collect damages for a client who suffered extensive cost and schedule overruns on a project.The scenario is common.The project manager kept insisting the project was doing well until about three months from substantial completion, when he quit to work elsewhere, leaving the executives with a big mess and about six months worth of work left to complete. None of the executives had been sufficiently in the loop to know how serious the issues were, much less give advice on how to resolve them. As is usual, neither party in the contract was completely innocent of the project’s problems, but my examination of the contractor’s case revealed that several issues had been resolved without due regard to what the actual impacts might be, much the worse for the contractor’s attempt to collect damages.
The moral of the story is: Project executives need to stay in the loop throughout a project’s duration, carefully monitor its progress, and seriously consider impacts to both the budget and the schedule.
In most cases informed project executives have the experience to identify problems early and find a sound resolution.Often, however, executives are not sufficiently involved to identify problems early and are brought in only after things have gotten out of hand. How many times have executives toured the project site and been told that all is well, only to find out later that all was not well. By the time the problems become evident it’s often too late to find a fair, cost-effective resolution.
Timely and accurate information helps close the gap between the executive and his project managers.But not just any information will do. The questions asked most often are “Are we on budget?” and “Are we on schedule?”. These questions can be answered by comparing progress against a baseline plan. In many cases the answers to these questions will coincide if you are on budget chances are you are on schedule and vice versa. However, in many cases the two diverge, making it necessary to track both the schedule and the budget, but especially the schedule. Let me explain.
Many construction companies rely on the budget alone to monitor progress. Project managers are expected to monitor and report on project budgets and projections. The resources usually tracked are materials and labor, yet one of the most crucial resources that executives and managers neglect is time.Materials and labor as resources are replaceable while time is not.Once a day is lost it cannot be recovered.In fact the value of all the resources are connected so closely with time that information is easily skewed when time is not monitored as well. I have seen material and labor resource numbers moved around and adjusted, making problems seem to vanish until they cannot be hidden any longer and it is too late to make project saving adjustments. Since time cannot be adjusted or manipulated, a schedule provides one of the best benchmarks for an executive to monitor project progress against an established project plan.