Construction Scheduling. What do Small Contractors really want from CPM Schedule Consultants?

Many smaller general contractors do not need, nor can they afford a full-time planner or CPM scheduler on their staff. They seldom choose to use professional planning and CPM schedule consultants. But if they did, what do they really need from scheduling consultants?

We know larger general contractors typically have full-time planners and schedulers on staff and need those to meet the contract specification schedule requirements found in most large project Requests for Proposal (RFP’s). Smaller contractors do not typically see such stringent CPM schedule requirements in the RFP’s they propose on. (Whether there should be more stringent CPM schedule specification requirements in small project RFP is another topic…) For the sake of argument, let’s assume there is not a stringent requirement for CPM scheduling in the RFP the small general contractor is proposing on.

It is not unusual for general contractors to assign the project planning and schedule development responsibilities to the Project Manager (PM).  This is how they have been managing their work for many years.  The problem with this is that the PM is pulled in many different directions and, the addition of more technology has actually complicated their role. On today’s projects, there is more information to be managed than ever before. Many PM’s may not have specialized training and expertise in CPM schedule theory and the specialized scheduling software operation. They can make do utilizing Microsoft Project but only if a simple Gantt Chart is all that’s required.

Times change.  Project administration is more complex. There is more data and information to manage and assigning a project supporting role to your project leader is not the best use of their time. Most PM’s are in desperate need of assistance. If there is also a requirement for resource loading, actual Critical Path Method (CPM), special calendars or activity coding, it is not realistic to expect the PM to have the time or expertise to devote to the schedule development and management. But even if there is not a requirement for these items, doesn’t it make sense to utilize CPM scheduling consultants? This frees up the PM to manage other tasks, even though they will still have to work closely with the CPM schedule consultant through the development and during each update. This will produce a professional CPM schedule the contractor can effectively use to manage the project efficiently.

That said, what does a smaller contractor really need from a planning and CPM schedule consultant? How about basic best practices such as assistance with breaking the Statement of Work (SOW) down into a useful Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?  Then further breaking the work down into detailed activities which support the WBS deliverables? Many PM’s do not realize how much detail is necessary to build a valid CPM schedule. Because of this, they end up with generalized activities and then have no way of making most logic work correctly. A professional can help with this. They can also model the plan in the scheduling software much more efficiently than someone that does not work with schedules and the software program(s) every day. If all you have the professional planner and CPM scheduler do is help with the WBS development, activity decomposition, and computer modeling of the plan, based on the PM team’s input for logic and durations, a general contractor can work with a schedule they can plan and manage with.

Of course, regular periodic updates of actual progress and revisions to model the plan to execute the remaining work is necessary, but not time-consuming for the PM and planning and CPM schedule professional to manage. This provides a schedule that remains valid for the entire project. This allows the PM to support change order time extension requests with documentation the owner will be comfortable negotiating with.  This will have a side benefit of maintaining the positive relationship you need to have with your owner.

Do these smaller projects need to have fully resource and cost loaded schedules like larger projects typically utilize? They could benefit from managing the invoicing if resource and costs were added. They would also be able to measure the progress of their work against the baseline plan and subsequent updates to track trends and identify potentials problems. That is basically what we use the fully functional CPM schedules for on larger projects. We use Earned Value Management Systems, EVMS, and other performance measuring practices on larger projects. That would certainly benefit smaller projects and contractors. But trying to do too much too soon may be what is keeping many small contractors from taking the next step in the professional planning and CPM schedule support process.

So maybe we provide a simpler planning and CPM schedule approach to show them just how much better they can manage their projects. They already use schedules. They already understand the need. They just need planning and CPM schedule professionals that will help them develop valid CPM schedules they can use to manage work. Then maybe they will want to try managing the resources or invoicing this way as well.

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

I’d love to hear what you think!

Please visit to learn more about basic schedule concepts.

Please visit my LinkedIn account to learn more about me.

Please visit my “The Blue Book” ProView.

Paul Epperson CCM, PMP, PSP, PMI-SP