Three key factors to improve Project Management Performance

The idea of a Project Manager running a construction project without an up-to-date schedule sounds unlikely in today’s business world. But in reality, it is a common event...

Having a continuous and accurate oversight of your project provides:

  • An immediate analysis of project delivery,
  • Prevents schedule delays,
  • Make you able to proactive monitor time and cost factors,
  • Puts you in a stronger negotiating position with sub-contractors and
  • Gives you timely communication opportunities

A comprehensive, accurate and functional schedule is essential for the performance of successful Project Management. Although the advantages are clear, many small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s) struggle with project scheduling. Several SME’s were asked the following question during a survey:

Half of the surveyed SME’s felt that scheduling was the most important area for project optimization, either at project level or at program/portfolio level. A quarter of all respondents would improve their resource planning, where scheduling is an essential input. The survey results indicate that 75% of the most valued project management improvements are directly related to scheduling. Are you planning a construction project? Be sure to look for the following three optimization steps!

STEP 1: OF COURSE, I WILL HAVE A SCHEDULE IN PLACE. FIRST, I NEED TO WORK OUT MORE DETAILS.

People are by nature afraid of making mistakes. Every engineer is trained to calculate outcomes precisely, and to only give advice with 100% confidence levels. Sorry to break the news to all the engineering-minded, but uncertainty is what makes a project a project.Failing to develop and incorporate assumptions from the start, will create ongoing challenges for the project. You may have read the comments at the sponsors site:

  • Is there anyone who knows the initial timing? Or perhaps more embarrassingly, initial budget?
  • Why didn’t anyone escalate the issue that the deadline wasn’t realistic from the start?
  • So there’s a delay, but what’s the impact?

There are numerous projects where people were already drawing detailed concepts, spending budgets to subcontractors, publishing bids and so on. All, without a project schedule. What started as working out some details, turned into actually doing the project. The train is already rolling, unfortunately, without any control.

Tips:

  • Dare to make assumptions. Having an estimate is better then loosing control from the start.
  • Communicate about the uncertainty. Let stakeholders know that estimates (in an early stage) can vary from -75% to +300% in high risk projects. Don’t assume they have the PM maturity to know.

STEP 2: THE MORE DETAILED, THE BETTER RIGHT?

Scheduling every minute or every micro-activity of a construction project will fail. It would only result in an enormous and confusing number of activities, and project overview will be lost. A critical function of the schedule is to maintain a clear and accurate overview of project progress and delivery. Making a gigantic checklist is not the way to do this. And it sure is not scheduling.

Look before you leap. Divide the work to be done in manageable parts, or in Project Management terms, work packages. No one likes to read a book without chapters anyway. The work packages can, if necessary, be further subdivided into more detailed work packages or activities.

But when should I stop detailing? The typical consulting answer: “it depends”. This question can be answered by common sense. Ask yourself how frequently you will need to update your schedule? If only every month, what will be the added value of scheduling every 1d task?

Tips:

  • Don’t focus on or lose yourself in details.
  • Avoid scheduling too many activities that take less than a day or more than 15 days.
  • Once full responsibility of a work package is given to someone (e.g. a subcontractor), stop detailing.

STEP 3: UPDATING SCHEDULES? NO TIME FOR THAT!

The purpose of scheduling is not (only) having a clear project start, but also being a powerful tool to assist you in delivering the project on time. Using a schedule gives you the possibility and opportunity, when delays occur, to undertake corrective actions in a timely fashion, because the impact of the delay can be interpreted. When a schedule isn’t updated frequently, it may lose the purpose for which it was built.

Many construction projects encounter the situation as shown in the figure below:

In the starting phase of the project, deadlines often seem too far away and delays are temporarily allowed. Suddenly, as the project passes some scheduled milestones, a change of mind appears. The deadline is approaching and all activities must be done as quickly as possible. At this point, choices need to be made to deliver on time, usually by increasing the amount of resources, with the related consequences:

  • Quality will be less than planned
  • Final budget will increase

To avoid this, the schedule should be updated and communicated on a regular basis, for example every week or fortnight, depending on the duration and intention of the project. In that way, the impact of delays is immediately evaluated and actions can be quickly undertaken to get the project back on track. The earlier a delay is detected, the faster corrective actions can be undertaken, the lower the impact on cost or quality will be. Additionally, when the construction is completed, it represents the ‘as build’ timeline. This information is a powerful legal instrument if managing claims from stakeholders or subcontractors.

Tips:

  • Update your schedule on a frequent basis.
  • In case schedule adjustments were required to get the project back on track: COMMUNICATE! A schedule remains a tool, it will not manage your project.

Now, are you ready to get your construction project delivered successfully? Good luck!

Sven B. 

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