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Q&A: Scheduling for Managerial Control

More than 60 AEC industry professionals gathered at CIFE this summer for a half-day “straight talk” on why current scheduling practices need to change. (Photo by Lyzz Schwegler)

More than 60 architecture/engineering/construction (AEC) industry professionals gathered this summer for a half-day “straight talk” on why current scheduling practices need to change, based on a study recently conducted by Stanford University’s Center for Integrated Facility Management (CIFE). CIFE’s research evaluated critical path method (CPM) scheduling and production planning on two large-scale projects, one more than a billion dollars and the other more than $90 million.

Overall, the research concluded that while there is high agreement among owners and the project team that the current multi-tiered scheduling practice—the summary level master schedule in tandem with production schedules—clearly has value, there is also opportunity for improvement. Some of those improvements include:

  • Evaluating the possibility of using metrics to increase visibility into costs;
  • Defining hand-off points and milestone descriptions and sharing those with the project team;
  • Creating clear, shared goals to define the level of detail of each of those schedules; and
  • Increasing input from subcontractors during preconstruction.

In addition to detailed research results, presentations were given on: the history of CPM scheduling and its evolution, both the team’s and owner’s perspectives on scheduling specifications, and insights into master and short-interval production scheduling.

After the presentations, attendees, including owners, contractors, architects, and subcontractors, participated in a breakout session, and formed groups to answer scheduling questions. The following is a summary of some of the questions and responses.

Why is the master schedule valuable?

“From the owner’s side, the master schedule is very, very valuable. People’s careers depend on it; the business planning depends on it.”

“It lets the owner know when they can occupy the facility. Without it, you can’t communicate about the project on a business level.”

“It’s a communication tool to identify constraints, end date, milestones. It’s a place to gather information in one spot and develop trust amongst the team.”

What changes would improve the master schedule?

“Every stakeholder in the project should get involved as early as humanly possible. Then, stay integrated and involved in every single decision.”

“No cost loading, no resource loading.”

“Schedules currently are part of project selection. They are aggressive and there are incentives for gamesmanship. Remove the schedule as a factor of selection. Once selection is made and the team is on board, then attack it.”

Why is the production schedule valuable?

“It’s invaluable. There could be mayhem if you don’t have a good production schedule. It’s how the team sequences the work. It’s the heartbeat of the project, from the sub’s perspective.”

“It tests that everyone is ready and makes the work clash-free.”

What changes would improve the production schedule?

“Get input from subcontractors before the production schedule is built or even during bid times.”

“Clear metrics.”

What are the most important measurable schedule-related outcome objectives on all projects?

“Repeat business is the No. 1 measurable outcome.”

“Predictability.”

What schedule-related metrics should be established to achieve these objectives?

“Track milestone completion, find out causes of delays, and measure decision latency. If all parties are using the schedule, then we know everyone believes in it.”

“There is currently no real industry standardization around metrics or benchmarks. If we build a broad industry database, we might get a more reliable understanding.”

How do these metrics help in managing the schedule?

“Catch problems earlier, find results and solutions, find who needs to be pushed.”

“Schedule optimization.”