By Paul Levin, PSP
In August 2015 while on a trip to Colorado, I ended up in the Boulder Community Hospital over concerns of labored breathing and other symptoms. During the course of that visit, the cardiologist on call came into my room, looked at my report and said: “This is a bad EKG!” To make a long story short, we obtained a copy of a recent EKG performed on my previous checkup that showed what looked to be an abnormal EKG represented a normal one for me. Thus convinced, the hospital released me with a diagnosis of a bad case of high altitude fever. So what’s this have to do with a bad schedule?
As time goes by, construction projects become increasingly complex. Even small projects have additional requirements – environmental compliance, government regulations and LEED certification – that must be considered during the planning and scheduling process. Today's critical path method (CPM) software has also become more complex, there's just no getting around it. With powerful features such as cost and resource loading, multiple calendars and multiple set-up options that control the way schedule values are calculated, those charged with developing schedules must not only understand construction, but be both well-trained in the application itself and possess semi-professional IT skills. Add to this the pressure of meeting deadlines for baseline and update approvals, scheduling can become an arduous task indeed. Not surprisingly, this creates an environment where it is easy to make mistakes that can result in schedules that may be misleading, difficult to understand or patently incorrect. But do these issues actually make the schedule “bad?”
It is not uncommon for the individual charged with creating a schedule for a contractor to unknowingly employ software features or schedule techniques that have hidden effects on how the schedule is calculated. For example, “open ends,” activities without a predecessor or successor, or the use of multiple calendars for different activities, can affect what activities appear on the critical path. Whether the use of such “features” is the result of misunderstanding the software or is a deliberate misuse intended to control outcomes, such as the impact of possible delays, the resulting schedule is still not necessarily defined as bad. Another thought to ponder – is it the schedule software that’s bad or the resulting schedule? Many schedulers with experience using sophisticated CPM software on complex projects will summarily reject Microsoft Project as not capable of producing workable schedules.
As someone who has worked with hundreds of schedules over the past 40+ years, I would say the criteria for a good schedule is that the contractor has produced the schedule, and actively uses it, for the purpose of actually planning and managing the project. While an individual may create a schedule with a spreadsheet, Microsoft Project, or another tool that does scheduling but does not calculate a critical path, if the person actually sits down and thinks through how he is going to do the job, tracks actual progress and continues to update the schedule for ongoing project management, that person gets credit for creating a “good” schedule. Then the question becomes less of whether or not a schedule is bad, but whether or not it is of sufficient quality that it serves its intended purpose and does not provide unwelcome surprises.
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About the Author
Paul Levin, PSP, has been involved in the construction industry since 1969 and has worked on major power and transportation projects as well as consulted on dozens of other projects including commercial, military, entertainment, manufacturing and infrastructure. Also during this period, Mr. Levin has been a partner in several newsletter and online educational companies providing specialized content to the construction industry.
Mr. Levin has written or co-written numerous articles, papers, and several books on construction topics including scheduling, project controls, building information modeling (BIM), claims and drones in construction. He has spoken nationally at construction trade conferences and is an active member of the AACE Planning and Scheduling and Contract Disputes Resolution committees.