Original article posted on the Ineight blog
Construction projects can get complicated. With so many contingencies and moving parts, creating schedule realism can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, construction scheduling software offers several benefits for project managers and their teams.
CONSTRUCTION SCHEDULING SOFTWARE TO BETTER PLAN CAPITAL PROJECTS
When you’re working on capital projects or any project of a massive or particularly complex nature, it’s no longer a matter of if you need construction scheduling software but what to look for when such a solution is needed that will best meet your company’s needs. While there’s no one universally perfect solution, there are several factors to consider when exploring all the options available to you. Construction scheduling software should have these essential features:
1. CLOUD TECHNOLOGIES
Having a cloud-hosted construction scheduling software means all parties — in the field, the back office, and other remote locations — have access to all schedule-related information. What makes cloud access stand out as a must-have feature is its ability to turn scheduling software into a collaborative tool so all users can work together on causes of and remedies for scheduling delays or deviations that demand attention and action.
Plus, cloud hosting is a more cost-effective option that doesn’t take up your existing IT staff’s time or require extra equipment. One thing to keep in mind is that with the cloud there may be security concerns, particularly if your scheduling software is integrated with other programs such as costing and estimating.
2. MOBILE ACCESS
Mobile access was made possible by the cloud and ensures everyone out in the field can still view and interact with the schedule using their smartphones anywhere on the job without having to go to a centrally located device on site. Sometimes the mobile version may have modified functionalities, so check that everyone will have access to the ones they need to do their jobs and that the data available to them is updated and synced frequently or in real-time. It could depend on whether the mobile option is available as a downloadable app or only via a web browser.
3. SCHEDULING CONFLICT ALERTS
One small scheduling error can have an unintended cascade effect, especially when organizing the thousands of tasks that make up a substantial capital project. So you want to make sure the right people are flagged when there are threats to the schedule — such as clashing timelines, out-of-sequence tasks, sudden schedule deviations, tasks at risk of being late, and double-booked equipment, site crews, or individual craftspeople. Effective construction scheduling software will have a notification feature. Alerts serve as an essential heads-up so timely decision-making and adjustments can be made.
4. FORECASTING WHAT-IF SCENARIOS
What if you’re assembling an estimate that considers factors that can impact the schedule? What if an event occurs in real time that wasn’t accounted for in the estimate? What if a requested change order is approved? Forecasting takes on simultaneous planning and risk management roles by enabling you to assess their respective impact and create contingency plans around them. Plus, it can be used to assess the trajectory of your schedule against the estimate. What if things are projected to run behind or ahead? Forecasting using ongoing schedule data entered from the field can help you monitor these trends so you can plan how to realign site crews, for example.
5. DASHBOARDS AND REPORTS
Could you use more insight into your schedule performance and keep everyone informed on progress and any developing issues? Look at what the data shows. Dashboards make your schedule (and other factors) easier to monitor through visually-formatted analytics that everyone can digest at a glance. Reports provide everyone transparency into ongoing performance — especially owners who will likely want regular reports to follow along on their capital project’s progress and keep everyone accountable.
6. EASE OF USE AND TRAINING
Your construction scheduling software should be relatively easy to learn and intuitive enough to use. Find out what kind of training as well as what ongoing support is available in the future. Odds are high you’ll have temporary subcontractors who need to access schedules, the learning curve should be short for their needs.
HOW CONSTRUCTION SCHEDULING SOFTWARE SUPPORTS PROJECT TEAMS
Labor, materials, and equipment are considered the three primary resources of any capital project. Let’s add a fourth one: time.
Although obviously not a physical entity, time nonetheless is a crucial element of every project, representing the intangible measure of how those other three resources are allocated along a project’s continuum. And that measure of time has been showing most construction projects finish beyond their target completion date. The prime culprit? How those resources are scheduled.
That explains why 53% of respondents from InEight’s Global Capital Projects Outlook report indicated that planning and scheduling is the most impactful factor in on-time and on-budget project delivery. And 54% say that software adoption is key. That’s in line with the slow but steady digital transformation within the industry, with contractors increasingly turning to construction scheduling software to make the scheduling process more effective, transparent, and collaborative.
While it can improve the process, what about the project teams? After all, construction is still a human-dependent business despite all the technology and automation proliferating in the industry. Let’s look at how construction scheduling software supports the people part of the project equation.
SCHEDULE REALISM FROM PAST PROJECT DATA INFORMS NEW SCHEDULES FOR SITE CREWS
Resources have limits. Labor, materials, and equipment are all in limited supply and availability. Time, on the other hand, is infinite, but not when it comes to construction. Industry-wide, there’s plenty of past project data that prove on-time project completion rarely happens according to plan. However, history can be the best teacher. That history, in the form of project data stored in construction scheduling software, can serve as a guide for how schedules should look realistically. So current projects can leverage the standards set by prior ones when creating accurate schedules because they’re based on real-world-informed data. The same goes for the things that didn’t go as planned. When risk-adjusted within the software for factors that impacted similar projects, it helps to manage timeline expectations at the outset for everyone on the project team.
It’s this risk-management ability within construction scheduling software that can keep history from repeating itself. Forecasting the impact of not only these previous what-if scenarios but also unaccounted-for factors occurring in real-time is a key benefit for contractors, owners, and other stakeholders as they make better-informed, consensus-driven scheduling decisions armed with this data. For contractors and owners, it creates more project outcome certainty, but teams get a bit more control over them.
And the direct benefit for the field-based team of the overall software and its risk management capabilities? Eased pressure to meet ambitious task delivery timelines. Subcontractors and craftspeople have a better chance to be more efficient when executing against a better-informed schedule. Quality and productivity are likely to improve, which can be reflected in individual job performance.
But construction scheduling software also can deliver a secondary benefit for site crews that may be even more compelling: reducing the risks that play out when under pressure to hit task deadlines. That can include mistakes and non-standard workmanship that can later result in rework that threatens their retention payments; missed safety protocols that can cause injury, and long shifts leading to fatigue that further compromises their safety.
SCHEDULE VISIBILITY PROMOTES COLLABORATION AND TRUST
Accessibility is what puts schedule visibility within equal reach of everyone on the project team. And visibility, in turn, encourages communication through information-sharing and dialogue — something that’s notoriously been lacking in the industry.
Particularly with cloud-based software, on-site and remote project team members are literally on the same page, able to see where things are going well and where attention and action are needed. With layers of schedules and hundreds of resources to organize, capital projects especially benefit from the level of visibility found in construction scheduling software. Even with all the complexity inherent in such projects, visibility makes it easier to collaborate quickly, when necessary, whether it’s between Google Sheets, Excel , lesser-known construction schedule templates, or other mainstays. For example, contractors and key stakeholders are better able to sync up on reviewing and managing schedule-impacting changes and constraints. That way timely decisions and any contingency plans can be agreed upon, implemented, and shared with the broader team to keep them in the loop.
But interacting with schedules this closely isn’t the only way to see what’s on track or not. Construction scheduling software also offers visibility in the form of dashboards — as well as the more formal, in-depth reports — for at-a-glance insight into project health via earned value management (EVM) metrics, specifically schedule performance index (SPI) and schedule variance (SV) values. Proactively accessing the dashboard ensures everyone — from subcontractors to contractors to owners — stay informed on progress. In fact, monitoring these metrics can provide an early sign of when things may be deviating or falling behind schedule. The parties most impacted or involved can become problem solvers determining the source of any sudden spikes or gradual deviations to schedule progress, forecasting the effects of possible course corrections, and taking the necessary action steps to bring the metric values within a safe operating range.
The benefit of all this transparency and collaboration across the board is trust — trust among the team as they work together to solve a challenge, and trust by the owner in the team demonstrating accountability to complete the project on time.
ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) CAPABILITIES IMPROVE TEAM EFFECTIVENESS AND SCHEDULE FEASIBILITY
Let’s go back to the historical data from your past projects. If your construction scheduling software has AI capability, it can create risk-mitigated, realistic schedules. How? By relying on human input and interaction — specifically that of project team members — to think and learn. As AI pulls in this data and begins to understand how past schedules have been assembled and what risks they encountered, it can start to pick up on consistencies and irregularities. The more data it’s fed from past and current projects, the more it learns, and the more accurate its generated schedules will be as it suggests ways to make optimal use of all resources: labor, materials, equipment, and, of course, time.
So how do project teams benefit from all of this? Because AI is meant to provide insights and recommendations, rather than firm answers, you and your team are spared from assembling every detail of your project’s schedule — itself a risk-laden adventure. Instead, AI helps you understand your project and its scheduling better. It enables you to assess any risks it noted, and adjust plans based not just on its suggestions but the real-life expertise of the team.
TYPES OF CONSTRUCTION SCHEDULES AND SCHEDULE TEMPLATES
Even when construction companies specialize in a particular type of project, it doesn’t mean all their projects are the same. There will always be different requirements, timetables and resource availabilities to deal with. Because of this, it doesn’t really make sense to use the same schedule template to manage them all.
Several proven scheduling options are popular within the construction industry. While each has its own capabilities, benefits, and drawbacks, a common thread among them is that they each present schedules, workflows and task progress in relatively easy-to-understand visual formats. And many are supported by today’s advanced construction scheduling software.
But don’t think you’re limited to using just one. It’s common to rely on several types of construction schedules for different needs within a single project. Let’s explore some of the top choices:
1. CRITICAL PATH METHOD (CPM)
As one of the most detail-oriented scheduling techniques, CPM lends itself quite well to larger, more complex builds because it can account for the thousands of action items involved.
What is meant by a “critical path?” It’s a set of activities that must occur in a particular sequence to complete a project. This path, showing the steps before and after each task, illustrates the dependent relationships between tasks as a network or web, reflecting the duration of not only individual tasks but the overall project.
Start and finish dates and times are assigned to each task, allowing CPM’s algorithm to outline the critical path. The beauty of this method is it provides insight into the impact of a single schedule change on all dependent tasks.
With the critical path mapped out, project managers can determine how resources — such as labor or equipment — should be distributed for the highest level of efficiency. But because this method doesn’t directly address allocation, you may want to look at combining CPM with one of the other methods below.
2. RESOURCE-ORIENTED SCHEDULING
Think of this type of scheduling as an RSVP system for project resources. The idea here is to allocate limited yet high-demand resources — such as equipment, labor, or office space — where they’re most critically needed across the project life cycle. Scheduling is based on priority rather than time in this instance.
This prioritizing helps maintain productivity as it reduces project bottlenecks and the delays that often come from waiting around for unavailable resources. And there’s less likelihood of being forced to secure extra resources on short notice; an activity which often comes with a premium price tag.
Resource-oriented scheduling would make a good companion to CPM to account for resource allocation, yet it can become unwieldy if too many resources need to be allocated. In addition, it may not work quite so well for projects in which resources are required for simultaneous activities. However, it is ideal for smaller projects with few resources to assign to keep projects moving forward while reducing delays.
3. LINE OF BALANCE
Maybe you have a project that involves blocks of repetitive work — road construction, tunnels, multiple dwelling units, etc. — as single activities within your project. Like the priority-based purpose behind resource-oriented scheduling, the line of balance method uses a line graph to show how resources are distributed according to the order in which they’re needed on the job site.
Visually, the graph for this method is often represented by a series of upward-slanting lines, with X and Y axes measuring variables such as unit quantity, time, or cost. The distance between these individual lines indicates the variance in the rate of completion of a particular activity rather than the duration of time. Maintaining equal distance means things are going smoothly at a steady pace and are on track for on-time completion while widening distances reveal a slowdown in the process that could impact subsequent activities and resource availability.
While perfect for tracking individual tasks at a glance, just be aware that it doesn’t provide the level of detail that CPM does, which is why it often makes a nice companion to CPM.
Perhaps the simplest and most recognizable of the scheduling methods, bar charts map out on a timeline the start, duration, and end of a project (or portion of it). Bars can be stacked vertically to show the individual resources necessary to complete a certain task.
So, if you like the detail behind CPM but prefer something simpler, a linked bar chart connecting current tasks to previous and subsequent ones will provide a clear display of what has to be done before another activity can begin.
Within this broader category are several other well-known breakout bar charts:
1. GANTT CHART
Gantt charts are chart templates with horizontal lines, or bars, of varying lengths, plotted along a timetable. Anchored by the start date and ending with the finish date, each line represents a specific task’s duration to complete. Each can fall under a bigger task, indicating a hierarchy of activities for a certain part of the project. Much like CPM, Gantt charts can show relationships to other tasks, with linked predecessor and successor activities, but not with such a fine level of detail. And it’s able to account for resource allocation, a known limitation of CPM.
One of the strengths of a Gantt chart is its at-a-glance flexibility, and how it can be utilized across various platforms like Google Sheets and Microsoft Excel. If a client or high-level stakeholder wants to gauge overall progress, they’ll be able to pan out for a broad project view. Similarly, for anyone needing a more granular view, zeroing in shows a narrower timeline and more specific tasks. For even more detail, progress bars indicate the completion percentage of a task, giving insight into potential delays and providing an opportunity to take corrective action.
2. Q SCHEDULING
It’s not just the site crews that have to be at a certain point at a certain time. All the different materials they’ll need must be there as well. And that’s what Q (Quantitative) scheduling tracks. By focusing specifically on materials scheduling, contractors can ensure everything is ordered and delivered on time where and when it’s needed.
Even though it is another bar chart method, Q scheduling is also quite similar in purpose to the line of balance scheduling with its focus on materials distribution, though it’s not based on task repetition. So, this chart template is applicable to most construction projects.
“Q” also has another meaning, as in queue. In this usage, Q scheduling revolves around the intentional sequencing of specialized or trade work activities so there’s no interruption from overlapping schedules, which often trigger delays and create extra costs. In fact, it’s the only scheduling technique that tracks costs related to the job sequence.
As you consider which scheduling methods will work best for your projects, keep in mind the construction scheduling software you use to run them is equally important. InEight’s planning and scheduling software enhance project predictability and performance at the same time. Plus, it integrates with our entire suite of software solutions created especially for the construction industry to make your build more successful.
REASONS TO USE SOFTWARE TO MAKE A SCHEDULE
1. SIMPLIFY WITH A CUSTOM DASHBOARD
Will you want to view multiple projects at the same time? Having a dashboard with a summary view of your projects can help save you time bouncing between different projects for basic scheduling status information.
2. TASK TEMPLATES FOR CONSISTENCY
Do you work on projects with repeatable, predictable tasks? The ability to create a library of task templates (with the right amount of required labor, materials, and equipment) that you can drop into the schedule ensures all associated subtasks and timelines are consistent.
3. COMPATIBILITY FOR EFFICIENCY & ACCURACY
Do you plan on integrating it with other point solutions? Make sure they can “speak” to each other and share information easily without data loss or distortion. Especially if you track project performance through earned value management, you’ll want to make sure it’s integrated with costing and reporting software.
4. CRITICAL PATH METHOD, GANTT, TIMELINE, AND BEYOND
Do you need multiple ways to view scheduling information? You might need to use the critical path method, Gantt, timeline, or other format based on the type and amount of data you need to track. Find out if the construction software you’re considering can support the scheduling methods you rely on.
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