Creating a schedule and carefully monitoring and sticking to it throughout construction will lead to better outcomes
By Kristy Wolfe
Anyone in the construction industry is well aware that the main objective in construction is safely completing a quality product on time and under budget. So, if we all understand the goal, why does it seem so difficult to achieve at times? When we examine the four elements of any project- time, budget, safety, and quality- we must understand how dramatically the time factor can affect how much a project will cost (budget), how safely it can be built, and to what quality standards.
So how do we create a schedule that will help ensure success on a project? Let us start with the business owner or construction client. First, establish a realistic goal answering critical questions, such as how much will this really cost and how long is it really going to take to build? Realistic expectations with adequate financial support are the first step in schedule success.
Next, we incorporate the contractors. Too often, the general contractor creates the project schedule with little or no input from the subcontractors. This can lead to unrealistic expectations in terms of time and money. In other cases, the general contractor may have a solid schedule, but there is a failure to communicate and disseminate that information to the appropriate parties, whether that be subcontractors, suppliers, or even the owner.
Realistic expectations with adequate financial support are the first step in schedule success.
As for subcontractors, it is crucial that your input be heard. You are the experts in your particular field and know best what resources are required to complete your portion of the work. In addition, when a subcontractor provides resource information to the general contractor, a sense of responsibility is established. For example, if the subcontractor says they can complete their portion of the work in ten days, the subcontractor is more vested in that time. Therefore, rather than being force-fed unrealistic completion dates or budgets, subcontractors should communicate with the general contractors to ensure their voice is heard. In an ideal world the owner, general contractor, and subcontractors would all contribute input for the project schedule.
Communication is a key element to producing a schedule that will be a useful project control tool for your job. Producing a realistic schedule is really step one to ensuring project success. Keep in mind that a multitude of factors such as quality/experience of workforce, understanding of the job at hand, construction techniques, and management, can all affect the time factor of any job.
While input is important in terms of communication, we must also communicate the final schedule of a project. If we have a plan but fail to disseminate that plan, it is useless. Especially in the general contracting and subcontracting roles, it is important to know who to provide information to and to what extent. For example, a carpenter does not need to know when the steel will be completed, but the carpenter should understand when their work is to begin and what their expected completion date is.
I mentioned that a schedule is a project control tool and like any tool, if not properly maintained it will not be useful. If a contractor creates a schedule at the beginning of a project and then never uses it again, it is essentially worthless. Project managers or other personnel must update schedules regularly to ensure projects remain on time.
A myriad of different schedule types exist from a daily look ahead to a Gantt chart to an in-depth Critical Path Method (CPM) schedule. Depending on who you are and whom you wish to communicate the information to will determine what type of schedule will be most useful. A daily or weekly look ahead schedule would be perfect for a carpentry crew, but a superintendent needs to be more concerned with the overall project so a Gantt chart or CPM would be more appropriate.
Another element that all too often exists in construction is litigation. A construction schedule will help reduce litigation claims which cost both time and money. Litigation claims can also damage trust and relationships that are critical to business success, not just project success.
Schedules are tools that if used properly can help ensure project success by providing a baseline from which to measure. However, the key is to start with a realistic, solid plan, communicate that plan, and finally control that plan throughout the duration of the project. If we can do this, the money, safety, and quality are sure to follow!
Kristy Wolfe is an Assistant Professor in Residence at Bradley University, teaching a wide array of construction management courses. Kristy’s background includes work with the United States Army Corps of Engineers as well as Caterpillar, Inc. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.