Schedule compression often leads to mistakes, quality problems, and rework. That’s not to say you can’t accelerate a construction project schedule, but you must account for all the variables that can make your best efforts futile. That’s a tall order on all but the simplest projects.
There are at least 90 different ways to speed up a project. Many of them apply to acceleration before construction begins. Using building information modeling or fast-tracking a project during the design stage can change a project’s duration to meet owner needs. Speeding up a project before ground break is less risky than doing it once construction is underway.
Once construction is underway, it’s riskier to refine schedules because it’s tougher to balance cost with time. Plus, you’re already juggling a lot of moving parts.
A typical construction project schedule definition goes like this: Activities and required resources that are organized on a timeline to deliver a project within the desired timeframe. When creating a schedule, construction companies often use a schedule tool like Microsoft Project or Primavera P6. The critical path method, or CPM, helps schedulers design efficient schedules. CPM also guides their decisions when they decide to speed up a schedule. In the book “Construction Project Scheduling and Control,” the author highlights these five widely used approaches to schedule compression.
Check for Scheduling Errors
Linear thinking, prevalent in construction, causes people to design almost all activities as finish-to-start. However, unless there’s a good reason for avoiding lags, you can gain a lot of days in your schedule by using start-to-start activities with lags where needed.
In a multi-room building, you don’t have to finish all the drywall in all the rooms before you start painting. You are not confined to setting concrete forms only when all excavation is complete. Relying solely on finish-to-start activity relationships can hide errors in logic and thus reduce your options.
To avoid multiple finish-to-start and start-to-start activities with lags, you could turn predecessor activities into finish-to-start by splitting them. As you review your schedule, you can also question the assigned constraints. When using CPM, convenience constraints disrupt schedule calculations.
Labor on any project is about half the cost. When speeding up a project, you have three primary ways to adjust labor.
1. More Hours
Multiple studies suggest that overtime reduces individual productivity. In a review of three studies, people working 60 hours a week had declining productivity each week until at week 16 they were producing half of what they were producing at the start of overtime. That, coupled with the increased cost of overtime pay, makes overtime a better bet only for short periods.
2. More Motivation
Contractors often have built-in incentives in their contracts for project acceleration, but these benefits are not necessarily passed down to the work crews. One idea is to encourage increased productivity through incentives at the work crew level. Money, time off, tool accessories, apparel, and events are common. However, it’s even more effective to tailor the incentive to the interests of the crews or the individuals.
3. More People
You can add more workers in a variety of ways. Besides adding them to existing crews, you might add more crews. Or, you might hire people to work on extra shifts.
The challenge is to balance the extra cost and the potential congestion. Stacking the trades is a risky business because it can create poor work environments. Congestion reduces productivity, increases mistakes, and impacts safety, leaving you with quality issues, rework, and maybe even accidents and injuries. For this reason, adding more people works best when you can stagger their shifts or where you have lots of room.
Change Up Materials, Methods, and Equipment
There is always more than one way to do something in construction. When you don’t have specifications, you have the “generally accepted” clause. It allows you to choose materials and methods based on the situation and your experience. As you look for options to accelerate a schedule, consider how you can substitute materials and methods.
Just because you have to build 400 feet of wall per day, it doesn’t mean it must be done exactly where the wall will stand or even on the jobsite. You could set up a sheltered prefabrication place where you have a second crew building entire wall sections you deploy as needed. Installing pre-hung doors requires an extra step when they arrive without locksets. But by having the supplier install the locksets before delivery, you eliminate a task.
Certain sizes and types of equipment work more efficiently in specific conditions. On slick ground, you would prefer a tracked skid-steer loader instead of a wheeled one. Getting the right machine could easily speed up an activity that’s key to acceleration.
Adjust Management or Supervision
As projects wear on, management can become strained, especially when things aren’t going as planned. Effective management stays on track by getting beyond personalities and focusing on getting the best project outcomes. Sometimes, it’s better to realign your management forces than to endure the status quo. You can be most successful at this by reevaluating the skills of each supervisor and manager while looking for ways to match their skill sets to the new demands of a sped-up schedule. Other times, you might decide to reassign supervision or augment it.
Submittals, RFIs, shop specifications, and change orders are sticky little project parts with big effects. That’s because they all require multiple people to do something. Without excellent collaboration, you face delays in the paperwork, which, in turn, cause delays in the work. You can do a couple of things to adopt and use cloud-based project management software and invite your project partners to join in. By improving communications through better collaboration, you will instantly improve operations.