Commercial construction is a tough, complex business. There are literally tons of moving parts to any sizable job – building materials, excavation equipment, lifts and cranes, concrete trucks and so on.
If those items show up to the job too late, your firm could loose productivity and money with missed target bonuses and late fines. Too early and you then have to find a secure place to store the items without them getting in the way. If that’s rental equipment, you still have to pay for the days it sits idle. The same is true with subcontractors. Your firm will often have to pay for their time whether the area for them to work is ready or not.
With so much at stake, construction firms need to take advantage of every opportunity to be competitive.
One of the ways many businesses are improving their operational efficiency and overall profitability is through better project scheduling and management. Firms that develop a strategic approach to on-time job delivery are better able to get all those 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.
Status Quo is a Poor Option
To paraphrase the old adage, when your firm keeps doing the same thing it has always done, you can expect a similar result. If that status quo means less-than-ideal project controls, you will likely see less-than- ideal outcomes, including:
- Costly mix-ups on the job site
- 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 your project managers are able to deploy their team and subcontractors more efficiently, your 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)
- Improved client communications to keep the client informed of progress
- Enhanced documentation to support claims in the event of contract disputes and/or litigation
- More consistent cash flow as your firm is able to bill for the portion of work that can be proven to be complete
Establishing a Strategic PM Approach
Once you’ve made the decision to get strategic about your firm’s project scheduling and controls, the first step should be to define a process that works for your team going forward. Consider your 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 like 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 your firm’s project scheduling process.
The newly established process should be applied consistently an on every project the company undertakes. Construction project scheduling software tools 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 your firm is doing complex builds, it likely makes sense to use a tool made specifically for the industry. To ensure better usage, look for a tool that gives your 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 you find the balance of features and flexibility that works for your team:
- 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?
- Do you need to be able to make project updates from the job site?
- Is managerial reporting a key requirement?
- Do you want to be able to make and use templates to speed up the scheduling for future jobs?
- Does the software allow you to take advantage of emerging trends in design and construction management (e.g. BIM/4D modeling)?
- Is technical support readily available if needed?
As with any new process and related software system, plan to provide some initial training and ongoing support for users. We typically recommend a one- or two-day training session to 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 your project controls process periodically to ensure it is still performing as expected.
A strategic approach to project controls does take work but the results are well worth it as your firm consistently performs better than the competition, maximizes efficiency, and increases its profits.
For more information, visit Asta Powerproject on the web.