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.