Keeping a schedule on a construction project can be very similar to attempting to herd a litter of cats in the same direction.
A construction project has so many moving parts that it can be a daunting task to keep a project on schedule. Deliveries, employees, subcontractors, vendors and the dreaded but inevitable DELAYS all have to be planned for and kept track of during a project.
Today, we’ll discuss 3 key terms that you will want to remember and implement into your project schedules.
1 – Critical Path
When I first learned about a critical path method to a construction schedule, it was described to me as a redline method.
Basically, it is comprised of the redline tasks within the overall project that have a domino effect on each other.
The redline tasks get the highest priority.
In practical terms, the site work must be completed before the foundation can be poured and the foundation must be poured before the framing can begin and so on.
That example is a pretty broad stroke example with basic start-to-finish milestones.
When you have multiple trades and vendors involved at the same time, such as in the finish stages of a new build or during multiple stages of a renovation project, the schedule can easily become more complex.
If you are needing to determine who needs to be on site and what stage in the process, a critical path schedule can help you determine that. A critical path schedule can also help you determine how long a projects duration will be. OR if your customer has a set timeline, then it is a major guide towards determining the best path towards achieving that timeline.
First things First
Another way to describe this is to put first things first. You are basically placing the most important and relevant tasks as well as their correlation to each other on a straight line to the finish line. Now, granted there will be other non-redline tasks that have to be performed for the project to be completed on time, but you will have more float time allowed in those tasks being completed.
Knowing the critical path of a construction schedule, can help you determine not only who needs to be where & when, but it is also a guide on when customer selections should be made, orders finalized & placed, deliveries scheduled and any site meeting or measurements completed.
Customer Selection Schedule & Example
To determine when your customer will need to have their selections finalized, you can back into a date based on your critical path work flow schedule. Once you have all of the redline work items scheduled out correctly, you can then go back through the schedule and back into the date that certain materials need to be on site, and then in reverse order schedule the order date (based on given lead time), and the date the material needs to be selected by.
Example of process of customer selection schedule for tile for renovation project
Overall project timeline: June 4th – July 27th
Scheduled tile install: July 9th – July 14th
Tile needed on site: July 6th
Tile lead time from time of ordering at supplier: 10 business days
Latest date that tile can be ordered by supplier to be on site on time: June 22nd
Date that customer needs to make final tile selection: June 15th
*The week difference between supplier ordering and customer selection allows, time for final pricing, final decision making, and supplier/vendor processing paperwork processing time.
2 – Tracking
When I was playing baseball growing up, I was told to look for the One but adjust for the Two. In other words, look for the fastball but be ready to adjust for the curveball.
No matter how perfectly your original project schedule is planned out, it is inevitable that something will come up that will cause the original schedule to have to deviate. Sometimes this is a little hiccup, sometimes this can be a major detour. Keeping a firm handle on all of the moving parts of a schedule is key to keeping things on task and from falling behind when the inevitable happens.
When The Inevitable Happens
It never fails that employees will get sick at the last second, your truck will break down on the way to the jobsite, materials will be delayed, customers will change their minds mid-stream, vendors will overbook themselves and not show up when they say they will, and a myriad of other things that can and do happen.
Knowing your projects critical path and keeping track of and adjusting to these curveballs will enable you to be able to overcome them. Being able and willing adjust on the fly and keep a project on schedule despite the inevitable happening will help to keep your customers happy and will help your overhead from running over on a particular project.
3 – Communication
The overarching theme to both Critical Path & Tracking is COMMUNICATION.
Your initial plan must be solid, but it is also no good if you haven’t explained it and your reasoning to all parties involved.
Your ability to keep a project on schedule is only as good as your employees, vendors & trades and their willingness to keep it on schedule with you.
Explaining your reasoning for why you scheduled tasks a certain way will get them invested and make them more likely to take ownership of that same schedule and be willing to bend over backwards to help you & everyone else achieve the goal.
Keep your customer in the loop on any of the inevitable changes or delays in the schedule in a timely manner.
This line of communication will go a long ways in helping to build and sustain trust with them.
Communication is a two way street
As always, a major part of communication is LISTENING, so be willing to listen to any constraints or issues your customer might have with the schedule.
Also, be open to feedback or suggestions from your crews and then implement those suggestions as solutions to a problem that you didn’t even know you had.
Striking the balance between being in charge of a project and also willing to listen to suggestions of others can be a hard one to balance, but it is very important when you are leading a project or a business in general.
Punch list tip of the day
Keeping schedule in mind when estimating can create more accuracy on the front end.
For example, if you know that during a renovation project you will need an electrician on site for the whole demo process instead of just for a couple of hours, this can be properly relayed to the electrician for a more accurate up-front bid and reduce the possibility of a surprise bill later on.
Punch list tip of the day#2
Schedule vs cash flow.
One of the most important items to keeping your business healthy is good positive cash flow.
Keeping projects on schedule will not only keep your customers happy, but is a great way to help keep positive cash flowing through your business.