Accurate Schedules Require Upfront Investment: 5 Best Practices for Developing Reliable Project Timelines

June 10, 2016


Technology advancements have drastically changed the scheduling process in the last thirty years. The slow, methodical longhand required to create detailed construction schedules has largely been replaced by software that allows us to perform calculations, build illustrations, view data in multiple ways, re-sequence activities and analyze schedule changes in a fraction of the time.

Without doubt, these tools are extremely useful. Unfortunately, the industry’s reliance on them has resulted in imprecise schedules, not because of the tools but because of the bad information put into them.

The key to building a reliable, accurate schedule, with or without technology tools, is to put in the work upfront to understand the full scope of the project and determine the most efficient way to build it.

At Brasfield & Gorrie, our scheduling department and project teams follow five best practices to ensure that our schedules will provide the most accurate, efficient and economical sequence of work for our projects:

1)    Know the contract.
Every project team member, from estimators and schedulers to project managers and superintendents, should read the contract and understand the parameters for executing it successfully. Everyone is accountable for understanding how the contract requirements influence the means and methods used to build the project.

2)    Understand the project.
As a team, the schedulers and project leaders should review the drawings and identify the different phases and areas of work, marking them on the drawings. Performing this exercise, starting with the site work and proceeding through the finishes, will ensure that everyone on the team understands the full scope and has a hand in developing the project’s key plan. This process is labor-intensive, but completing it without shortcuts will help the team to get the schedule right the first time.

3)    Analyze the individual scopes of work per trade and identify their phases for completion.
The team should plan the work as the project will be constructed, noting all the activities in each phase and area that were identified in the previous step. To avoid missing information, our teams typically list all of the activities before attempting to sequence them. This list allows us to define activities with detailed, consistent descriptions and assign each activity to one responsible trade. Through this assessment, we are able to sequence work appropriately.

4)    Estimate quantities for each activity and use them to determine appropriate durations.
Neither schedulers nor project teams can estimate reliable durations without knowing exactly how much must be done. At Brasfield & Gorrie, we developed a tool called PlanSmart to equip us with reliable duration data. The application allows our teams to calculate duration based on the average production rates and crew sizes anticipated for the quantities collected per activity.

5)    Monitor project performance regularly to determine the schedule’s quality.
After a schedule has been set in motion, the scheduling and project team should evaluate the schedule they built. At Brasfield & Gorrie, we use a custom reporting tool to assess performance and schedule quality on every project on an ongoing basis. If the project begins to fall behind, the team should consider whether inadequate scheduling techniques contributed to this issue and simultaneously work together to develop the best solution for getting the project back on track.

Our goal is always to provide our clients with the exceptional facilities they have envisioned, and a big part of achieving that goal is delivering projects on time. While technology goes a long way to help us succeed, putting in a truly comprehensive effort upfront—which often means pulling out pencils and paper and perusing drawings until the team can nearly sketch them from memory—is the only way to lay the groundwork for being on time every time.

Ricky Benefield is director of planning and scheduling at Brasfield & Gorrie.