Project scheduling software like Primavera P6 and Microsoft Projects have taken schedules to their next best level. Both use the critical path method, and they handle the heavy lifting of CPM formulas and algorithms. The software can’t do everything, though. User mistakes can render a project manager tool less effective as well. Here are some common ways users miss the point of the project scheduling software and tactics for using it smarter.
Don’t Skip Background Tasks (Behind-the-Scenes Work)
Many construction schedulers frown on overloading the schedule with tasks not directly affecting the critical path. But that is a fine line. If a specification doesn’t reach a crew before they start work, they might make mistakes. If that’s the case, it’s likely to cause rework, affecting the schedule.
While you would typically not include spec distribution on the schedule, there might be times when you should. For instance, you might list a task called “Deliver Specs” ahead of a concrete pour that needs additives in the mix.
As you consider the work breakdown for each activity, consider how each of the following affects it, and add a task if needed.
- Administrative extras for project management phases or specific activities with ambiguous scopes.
- Project management extras like increased supervision for specialized operations.
- Inspections that you wouldn’t normally use.
- Third-party quality checks you have no control over.
- Extra punch lists for unusual quality requirements.
Account for Work Needed to Move From One Activity to the Next
This work is integral to completing the activities they affect. It also is highly variable due to site conditions, crew sizes, equipment availability, and weather. As you use the project scheduling software, factor in time for these aspects so there are fewer surprises. Your project manager will also thank you.
- Mobilization is work that doesn’t directly contribute to completing an activity but is necessary before beginning the activity. Factors like site conditions and equipment availability might mean longer times for or more trouble getting started on tasks.
- Demobilization includes tasks like taking down scaffolding and moving crews and tools off an activity. Most of the time, these tasks are short enough to be absorbed by the time allowed for the activity. But, when you have aspects like a long distance between activities, or specialized equipment to move, it might be wise to allow extra time and cost.
- Equipment movement to the next task is affected by site conditions and availability. If you require rental equipment or a key piece of equipment must go down for maintenance, you’ll need extra time.
- Consider tasks for transferring workspace to the next crews, such as extra cleanups or removals of comfort and safety items.
Remove any Constraints Not Fixed by Owners
A construction scheduler might add constraints when asked by project participants. Maybe the windows will arrive on March 15, and the project manager wants a constraint added to have them installed on that date to avoid additional storage and handling. However, that subverts the logic of CPM.
Once added, the constraint determines activities instead of the critical path doing so. A better option is to tie ‘Window Installation’ to an activity named ‘Window Delivery.’ That way, if something delays the windows, you can simply recalculate the schedule.
Project-wide or activity constraints imposed by owners based on funding, taxes, or compliance issues can affect the project’s viability. So, they are valid constraints but try to avoid adding other constraints at the activity or task levels.
Address Project Management Hangers
The Project Management Institute lists hangers as a potential project schedule mistake. That’s when you have an activity without a predecessor or a successor. Every activity in a project, except for the first and last, must have either a predecessor or a successor.
These hangers mess with the CPM calculations and can make them incorrect. The answer to an activity without a successor or predecessor is to tie it to the ‘project complete’ milestone. That clearly shows the activity stands alone while keeping it within the CPM calculations. Note, however, this does not apply to summarized tasks.
Improve Your Own Scheduling and Project Scheduling Software Knowledge
Many people learn to use project scheduling software through tutorials, mentors, tool tips, and a healthy dose of experimentation. It’s a testament to self-learning that they become proficient enough to create schedules using the software. However, there is often a disconnect between their knowledge of CPM and how the software works. They also need to understand CPM, the differences between a ‘forward pass’ and a ‘backward pass,’ and how to calculate free float, among others.
You can move your schedules from questionable to highly accurate by getting just a little training on the deeper aspects of the CPM and the software you use for your schedules.
Make your Schedule Meaningful
Schedules are only as good as their availability, and many people would find an MS Project or Primavera schedule intimidating. So consider how you present your schedule to the workforce as critical to its effectiveness.
Most front-line crew members are more at ease with a calendar than a Gantt Chart. If you use a project manager tool like Procore’s scheduling integration, you can import your MS Project, Primavera, or some other schedule. Then, you can present your schedule in the calendar view to crews. When you update your schedule, the integrated calendar views update as well. You can also archive the schedule’s history and filter it by task, specialty contractor, and many other criteria.
The Procore scheduling tool is mobile friendly, so people can pull up the schedule on any smart device and from any connected location. Users can even search for relevant text to find specific aspects.
Even though project scheduling software often has guardrails to help you stay in the lane of good scheduling practices, it leaves you with enough flexibility to make mistakes that subvert the software’s smarts. When you understand the CPM process and how the software uses it, you can strike the best balance between user and technology.