Schedule Management. Why should a General Contractor invest in the use of Critical Path Method, (CPM) Scheduling when they have gotten by with “Schedule by Date” bar charts for so long?

Many contractors I’ve worked with in my role as a planning and schedule professional consultant, had been developing their schedules in-house using their Project Managers, (PM’s) or Superintendents. Who better knows the project requirements! They had been using the basic functions of a simple schedule program and had been setting “milestone dates” for the completion of major pieces of the work. They used some logic, but not complete logic. They inadvertently set constrained dates for most of the activities. They let the program use the default calendar, whatever that was. They did not do any coding. They did not have a schedule driven by the durations and relationships of the work. They also did not have a schedule management process.

Basically, they had a list of tasks and milestone goals and they managed their work to that plan. They made adjustments to the dates and progress as they went along, and believed they were managing the schedule and the project. If it isn’t broke don’t fix it, right?

This is definitely not schedule management!

Why not, at the very least, consider what stepping up to CPM scheduling could do for your project control and management?

If your project team is encouraged to learn more about Critical path Method, (CPM) scheduling, it will only help them see ways they can better manage their work. My most recent client, (like most of my clients), considered going through the SOW to verify all work was in the schedule to be very familiar. But they enjoyed the intensive exercise of building all the activities to support the execution of each piece of the project and then adding the relationships to “plan” how the work will be sequenced. They always remark that it makes them look at the project differently. They like how developing the complete logic for the schedule forces them and other project team members to really think about how the coordination of the various trades and deliveries and sequential logic for the submission/deliver/construct sequences impacted other areas they had not considered. They also enjoy having more direct control over their execution plan and having the ability to easily see when work is slipping, and which corrective actions will actually help maintain the project completion date.

Having the control over their planning and scheduling of the project has given these PM’s and Superintendents and their project teams much greater control over the project execution and their ability to proactively manage their work. It’s much better to proactively manage potential issues than spend your time putting out the fires that aren’t apparent until that specific trade is at a log jam in the work flow.

These PM’s and Superintendents don’t have the time to learn a new skill set specific to planning and scheduling. They already understand how logic works and how the activity relationships affect the sequencing of the work. What they don’t have is the specialized training and experience to understand how the calendars, resource assignments, and schedule calculation options work behind the scenes to deliver the schedule model they need. That is why they need the assistance of a planning and schedule professional to work with them as a schedule consultant to develop and manage the schedule. A good schedule consultant will work with your project team to model the project and set the calendars, resources and schedule calculations settings specific to your project. This relieves your project team of the burden of trying to make a software program they are not experts with work to fit their contract requirements and provides you with an as-needed expert resource for this specific skill set.

Having the true CPM schedule will allow your project team to identify slippage or trends in a particular trade or in a specific area and model what corrective action is best for the mitigation of this event. No guess work, no just tell them to “get back on schedule”. Your project team can actually analyze which options will produce the most efficient use of resources and obtain the required result. This is an important part of the Schedule Management process.

It does however, require a good bit of up front work during the CPM schedule development phase, but this work actually helps to identify missing scope and helps with the initial coordination of your work forces. Owners are also held accountable with a CPM schedule. The schedule includes activities for all work or deliverables for which the owner is responsible. This allows them to better plan their involvement and allows you to better coordinate this work. A well-maintained CPM schedule is also critical for managing change orders and delays to work. Once both parties agree on how the additional work or delay should be inserted into the most current updated and accepted schedule, there isn’t much to negotiate. The schedule either supports the impact claim or it does not.

The bottom line is that there is no really good reason not to plan and schedule your work with a CPM schedule. It aids in the planning, scope validation, execution management and change order/delay management. If the schedule is also cost loaded, it makes invoicing easier as well. There is a reason almost all large general contractors and large projects require the use of CPM schedules. They work.

I recommend any general contractor not currently using CPM planning and scheduling for their projects, at least, talk to a planning and schedule professional. It can’t hurt and you might be surprised at how much using a CPM schedule approach and having a schedule management process will help your projects succeed.

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Paul Epperson CCM, PMP, PSP, PMI-SP