Construction Scheduling. The Reality of a Project Schedule, (For Owners).

Do contractors and project owners view the project schedule differently?

Most of the time? You bet!

The contractor develops the schedule because the contract specifications require a project schedule or because they need a plan to manage the project execution or both. Does the contractor need the same degree of detail or planning as the project owner? Probably more.

The project owner wants the project schedule as assurance from the contractor that they have a plan and can execute the project. They also need the schedule to plan their own activities for the project and plan internal activities which may be separate from the project.

Most projects now require a CPM schedule. This forces the contractor to develop more detailed logic, with specific calendars. They cannot get by with a simple bar (Gantt) chart type of a schedule which simply lists the activities in the planned sequence. The contractor must develop a complex organization of finite activities with associated logic, calendars, constraints and best practices.

The project owner benefits from this, they can have a higher level of confidence in the schedule!

Or can they?

When you plan the project by breaking down the deliverables, verifying resources availability, acknowledging internal and external constraints, and planning the basic phasing and sequencing if the work, the required project completion date is a facet of the planning, but not the driver. We simply plan how we will schedule the project.

When we sequence the deliverables and add the supporting activities, based on our planning effort, we often find we will not finish the project by the contract completion date, as required.

We then consider adding resources to shorten activity durations and/or sequencing some work to run concurrently. We do this by attacking the current Longest Path, iteratively as the Longest Path keeps shifting until we have a schedule that meets the contract completion requirements.

As the project owner, you generally do not know about this exercise. You do not realize how much schedule risk has been added to the project. For larger and more sophisticated projects or owners, the use of risk management for cost, scope, and schedule is common. But, for many medium and some larger projects, there are not resources available for risk assessment and management.

For these projects, the owner believes the contractor can execute the project as planned. Often, the contractor is anxious and understands there is the additional risk and has analyzed the risk and provided a mitigation plan. However, the risk remains.

Any impact to the project schedule Critical or Near Critical Path can derail the project. There simply isn’t schedule contingency available to absorb any impact. Many owners believe the contractor has built-in contingency, just as they believe the contractor has a cost contingency. Usually, they have a cost contingency, but often it is negligible. They bid the project to win the project and keeping the contingency slim is part of winning….

Seldom is there any real schedule contingency. Contractors must address even slight impacts to the execution or sequencing of work. Owners believe the contractor should anticipate these and absorb them. It is all contractors can do to mitigate their own impact issues, much less absorb owner impacts.

How can we, as Planning and Schedule Professionals help?

I can only speak for myself…

When providing owner’s schedule oversight and management support, I try to identify the types of items in the schedule which would prevent the project team from using the schedule to accurately forecast and manage the work. It is in the best interest of all parties if the schedule is valid for use. Often, the contractors disagree and push back, but for the benefit of the project as a whole, we have to force the use of solid, valid CPM schedules.

Unfortunately, and far too often, the contract schedule requirements do not provide the support necessary to force the quality of schedule we need…. So, we do the best we can…

I’m sure many of you have comments or additional insight into this subject. Please share!

I’d love to hear what you think!

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Paul Epperson CCM, PMP, PSP, PMI-SP