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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Creating a Project Schedule that Works!

A ROADMAP THAT INCLUDES CHECKPOINTS, RISK MITIGATION, AND CROSS-FUNCTIONAL TEAM BUY-IN

The quintessential goal of facility development projects revolve around completing the objective on time and within budget while meeting the established quality requirements and other specifications. To do this however, requires creating a sound plan, gaining cross-function team consensus, and an obsessive adherence to the project plan and control systems.

A plan establishes goals for a project’s schedule, cost, and resource use, as well as the tasks and methods for carrying out the work. A control system collects actual data (feedback) on a project’s schedule, cost, and resource use; compares existing progress to the planned schedule (analysis) to highlight potential problem areas needing special attention; and makes decisions based on analysis results. While the majority of facility development projects employ some planning and control method to manage schedule goals, many projects suffer from ineffective controls due to inefficient flow of information.

Constructing a building is similar to baking a cake: the ingredients are fairly common, but the blending, sequence, and durations could determine the final product quality. For example, a typical building will flow as follow:

1. Earthwork

a. Underground Utilities
b. Foundations (Paving)
c. Footings & Grade Beams

2. Superstructure

a. Pour elevated decks
b. Install Columns & Beams

3. Fire-proof Structural Members

4. Waterproof Exterior Sheathing

5. Establish Walls & Columns

6. MEP Rough-in

7. Buildout

a. Furniture, Fixtures, & Equipment

8. Commissioning

9. Regulatory Approvals & Closeout

10. Warranty Phase

SUCCESSFUL PROJECT SCHEDULES TEND TO SHARE THE FOLLOWING COMMON TRAITS:

1. Integrated Development & Buy-In (Owner, Project Management, Design & Construction Consultants)
2. Risk Mitigation Plan
3. Communication Plan

INTEGRATED DEVELOPMENT & BUY-IN

The Owner typically has a completion goal in mind – though they might have reservations about whether their desired completion milestone is realistic. The consultants leverage historical data and have their own idea regarding durations for any given project (normally they vary with the project manager believing in the shortest schedule and the construction manager endorsing the longest schedule). To gain a team consensus, many invoke a group schedule-building session (often referred to as a “Table-Cloth” or a “Charrette” process). In this session, the team huddles around a master calendar (spread across a wall) that itemizes the schedule into bite size increments (weeks, months, quarters, etc.). Each participant is given sticky notepads and is asked to itemize and post them onto the calendar; listing their critical activities along with any constraints (lead-time, predecessor schedule events, external constraints like regulatory approvals, etc.). From their, the team collectively troubleshoots each constraint to alleviate – or substantially mitigate – each risk. Next, the Project Manager will link the activities to obtain the critical path. During this linking exercise, the team is encouraged to collaboratively challenge the schedule sequence in hopes to identify any flaws. Finally, the team collectively agrees on the amount of contingency (schedule float allowance) to build into the overall schedule for items like unforeseen underground conditions, regulatory delays, weather delays, and lead-time overruns for critical path equipment. The final product is a schedule that has cross-functional team endorsement.

RISK MITIGATION PLAN

The Charrette process should identify all known project risks. From there, the team must collectively weigh and prioritize each risk for further analysis. For example, a company building a beach hotel might want to accelerate construction so the hotel can open in time for vacation season. In this example, the opportunity cost of revenue loss might warrant the need to put the project on a “fast-track”.

Traditionally, design documents are completed with as much detail as possible prior to procurement and construction kickoff. In a typical fast-track project, however, the ideal sequence is changed, with actual construction beginning while final design plans are still being drawn.

Here’s another example: An owner building a distribution center might plan a fast-track approach to avoid expected future inventory price increases.

In both cases, the fast-track method was the proposed risk mitigation solution. However, the project risk could include internal and/or external individuals or groups. For example, a core team member might be opposed to the project execution plan and refuse to signoff on the budget without extensive review and debate. This delay could become critical and eventually compromise the overall completion milestone.

Knowing your risk and developing a sound plan to address them in advance – as well as planning around the worst case scenario – keeps the project team focused on the common goal to deliver results on time.

COMMUNICATION PLAN

It is often said that communication accounts for about 90% of the daily function of a successful project manager. The benefits of a communication plan are as follows:

1. The communication plan establishes “rules-of-engagement” for routine project updates, issue resolution status, and the instruments to be used to execute and store all correspondence
2. Stakeholders are aware of necessary decisions requiring their approval in advance (including a pros/cons analysis to help facilitate a sound decision)
3. The stakeholders know when to expect routine comprehensive diagnostic updates for their presentations and executive-level reports on project status
4. The consultants and general contractors understand the guidelines for when to expect feedback on Request for Information (RFI) responses, change order approvals, and monthly invoice payments, etc.

In summary, a successful project schedule includes buy-in from the cross-functional team (including key stakeholders); a plan to mitigate Murphy’s Law, established rules-for-engagement, and sound quality control checkpoints to ensure the team sticks to the plan!

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Author: Troi Taylor
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