Owners Gain Visibility and Control Over Construction Schedules
by Roger Newman | October 16, 2020
Increase schedule visibility with a system specifically designed for the management of large scale construction projects, across all phases and activities
Your organization’s capital projects are continually being delivered months or even more than a year behind schedule. Your construction director, who manages a team of project managers, provides monthly progress reports on the status of every project in your portfolio, including a cash flow analysis of projected spend on each one. However, every one of those status reports has proven to be an unreliable predictor of when the projects will be completed. As a result, your finance department informs you that they cannot reasonably predict annual capital expenditures and cannot anticipate when these fixed assets will be placed into service.
When you investigate, you discover that this problem stems from a lack of an integrated project management and scheduling tool for the project managers. Each project manager uses their own method to schedule their projects. Some are using spreadsheets, others use Microsoft Project, and there are a few former contractor hires who manage their schedules in excruciating detail with Oracle’s Primavera P6. With all of these disparate scheduling tools, your director tells you, it is almost impossible to track common scheduling milestones against each major project phase (planning, design, permitting, procurement, construction, and occupancy), which is what the organization desperately needs to accurately predict capital spending.
With no single, consolidated schedule program that is easily accessible to those who need it, each project is vulnerable to productivity gaps and disrupted timelines, and the effects can be devastating. Not only do delays cost money, they can be ruinous to your organization’s reputation. The risks include higher costs, potential loss of revenues or financial incentives, limited information to predict cash flow needs, and difficulty in coordinating the work of vendors and subcontractors. Avoiding these risks requires a reliable and efficient system that gives you full transparency across every aspect of every project — one that can respond quickly to change.
The Problem: Old School Tools Aren’t Up to the Task
Traditional tools for construction scheduling aren’t capable of showing you the full status, resources and activity for a project in real-time. And a real-time view is what you need, especially when variances arise for critical-path activities and resources. Without this level of visibility, it’s much harder to achieve on-time and on-budget delivery of milestones and the project as a whole.
For example, although spreadsheets are commonly used for storing project information, they simply aren’t up to the task of tracking complex, multiparty schedules. Even though many contractors use project management software, the programs they use are contractor-centric and don’t necessarily provide the high-level view owners need. Adding to the complexity is the fact that every contractor and owner has their own software, and often the various programs don’t talk to each other. In fact, owners and contractors alike recognize the limitations of this situation. In a study conducted by e-Builder and Dodge Data & Analytics, 65% of owners and 51% of contractors see high or very high value in having a single data platform that all parties can use for collaboration and sharing.
To increase schedule visibility and control, look for a system that’s specifically designed for management of large-scale construction projects and for complete transparency across all activities. Only systems that provide integrated scheduling can deliver this needed visibility. Ideally, in a multiuser environment, no one person is responsible for managing schedules and forecasts — sharing responsibility and automating manual tasks leads to more accurate plans and forecasts. With integrated scheduling systems, you can proactively manage the entire project life cycle while also gaining improved predictability and control over project milestones, resource needs and allocation, and budget status and cash flow.
The Shakeup: Scheduling in the Age of a Pandemic
Schedule visibility and control has taken on a new importance as a result of the pandemic. The pandemic is creating many schedule setbacks, such as limitations on the number of workers in a space, and unexpected and rapidly changing constraints in the supply chain for even basic materials. Without a unified, integrated system of scheduling that provides end-to-end project visibility, addressing and recovering from these setbacks will continue to be a significant challenge.
“All of the assumptions that went into project plans originally have changed because of the pandemic,” says Dr. Fred Plotnick, professor at Drexel University. He notes that to restart construction and keep it moving, owners and contractors need the ability to jointly create a recovery schedule. “You may need to find new sources and identify how to best use the supplies you get when they come in, because you may not be able to get enough to continue with the original plan, such as finishing one floor at a time.”
Schedule transparency will also help owners as they reconsider the project vision in light of market changes that will endure beyond the pandemic. “The advantage of taking a fresh look is that you gain the flexibility to delay certain construction activities until the market demand is clear, or you can repurpose the building to meet new needs,” says Plotnick.
Also, important to consider: A pandemic isn’t the only disruption that can halt or delay a construction project. Having full insight into all project resources and schedules — as well as the technology tools to easily adjust schedules as needed — enables a faster, easier, targeted response to any project-impacting event.
The Answer: An Integrated Scheduling Solution
An integrated scheduling system addresses the challenges of everyone involved in a project, with a particular focus on the needs and interests of owners and construction managers. When considering an integrated scheduling system, look for these key capabilities:
A cloud-based, multiuser design. Scheduling systems that run in the cloud can support updates by multiple users in real-time. The cloud also supports secure data sharing, consistent reporting, and ease for entering updates and tracking outcomes against summary milestones.
Tracking capabilities. The system should let you set a schedule baseline and track and report performance, progress, and critical-path variances for each project milestone. A further capability to look for is support for linking global milestones or tasks to the appropriate tasks on each schedule so that your portfolio reports reveal how every project is tracking against these global milestones. This tracking gives you an early signal when deliverable dates are at risk, allowing you to respond proactively and dive into addressing the outliers. You can provide meaningful leadership when you can manage outcomes at the milestone level across multiple projects.
Schedules that link with other systems, including finance. When your project schedule and budget are linked and continually updated, you can maintain accurate estimates for cost-to-completion and cash flow. Key capabilities to look for in this linkage include:
- A system that allows you to assign resources to any task in a schedule and that provides real resource costs instead of forcing you to estimate those costs with “rule-of-thumb” percentages
- Links from resources and schedule tasks to line items in the project budget to provide accurate cost tracking and forecasts, including total project cost at completion
Owner-centric scheduling. Contractors and owners need different things when it comes to schedules. Contractors need deep details, while owners require a summary view. Look for solutions that will directly import data from other solutions such as Oracle’s Primavera P6 or Microsoft Project, allowing owners to manage the milestones they need with the team.
Templates. You’ll get ongoing value from your scheduling system when you can create templates that scale and standardize processes and information across multiple projects. These templates support consistency in reporting, milestones, and staff performance, and give project managers a good place to start.
Better Scheduling for Project Success
A successful construction project requires a constant focus on what’s happening, and what matters — such as the resources and activities that put the project at risk or create problems, extra costs, and delays. Owners can be leaders throughout the entire life cycle of a project when they can track progress and budgets, minimizing risk and committing budget to where it is needed most.
An integrated scheduling system gives owners the visibility they need to be active leaders in managing the entire construction effort. e-Builder Enterprise provides you with the real-time, end-to-end schedule visibility that today’s complex construction projects demand. With e-Builder Enterprise, you get:
- A user-friendly scheduling tool with drag-and-drop capability to define task durations and dependencies
- Configurable views of multiple tasks assigned to different resources on multiple projects, with real-time schedule status in a format that makes sense to you and the organization
- Out-of-the-box reports with schedule and cash flow data, plus the ability to build your own schedule reports
- The ability to highlight critical-path tasks and to drill down into the details of any task
- Support for rollup tasks and summary tasks for ease of tracking global milestones across the portfolio
- Accurate, real-time monitoring and forecasts on all projects to avoid surprises
- On-demand dashboards that deliver true insight into project performance
- Automated workflows and business processes that enforce consistency and enable faster communications and approvals, keeping change orders to a minimum
- Early identification of problems and concerns, before their impact jeopardizes the project
Plotnick says, “While the pandemic slowdown is with us, this is the time to figure out where you are and start building a plan and a recovery schedule. Don’t merely try to restart — do it better than you did it before.”
With an intuitive and easily customizable dashboard, e-Builder Enterprise gives each user access to the information they need, when they need it. e-Builder Enterprise cloud-based construction management software delivers trusted insight into activities across the entire life cycle of your project, reducing your risk and improving your performance.
Learn how e-Builder Enterprise can give you the integrated, full scheduling visibility to drive better planning and decision-making across all your projects.
Key Topics Covered: Construction Project Management, Construction Schedule, Schedule