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Fundementals for Stakeholder Schedule Buy-In
Construction schedulers are often asked by various project stakeholders for a schedule management framework to promote schedule buy-in by the project management team and subcontractors. Sometimes, this question surfaces with new general contractor (GC) or owner clients mid-course when their project has fallen behind and schedule management has become a focal point in need of remedy. Last month, I addressed the topic of schedule buy-in at the 2020 Advancing Construction Planning & Scheduling conference. Driving a schedule-centric culture requires a holistic approach that spans across a GC’s espoused core values, human capital and established procedures with a consciousness for the schedule management’s ramifications on the project’s outcomes.
Fundamentally, the project schedule should instruct the project management team and subcontractors as a practical management tool to build the job and to incorporate the impacts of change management events on the project’s downstream scope. However, to reap the schedule management’s academic utility predicated upon stakeholders’ schedule buy-in the project manager’s (PMs) and superintendent’s management styles, the subcontractors’ sophistication level and the weekly subcontractor meetings’ format require factoring for a build-to-suit framework that’s right for the team.
When schedules fall behind feedback from the project management team reveals a variety of both broad and technical schedule grievances in the form of schedule buy-in objections. The substance of these objections by PMs and superintendents is often indicative of varying management styles that first require recognition and understanding before a schedule management buy-in strategy can be devised. A few prominent management styles we routinely encounter in construction projects can be classified as; Technical, Delegator, Political and Rooted. Technical managers are problem solvers seeking to correct functional objections with the schedule’s scope, level-of-detail and sequencing so that the schedule reflects the reality in the field. Once their functional objections have been addressed the schedule is typically swiftly readopted as a practical management tool.
Delegators seek to manage the chores of activity statusing and subcontractor coordination by leveraging organizational hierarchy within their project management team and delegating to their support superintendents various portions of the project’s building elements; structure, envelope, rough-ins, finishes…etc. They require a bifurcated schedule management framework accountable to their authority that relies on subordinates’ data collection allowing them them to maintain their focus on the big picture.
Political managers are conscious of issues that impact the project management team’s ability to execute construction within the contract’s duration and are mindful of ensuring these constraints and limitations are programmed into the schedule. Integrating their concerns is paramount not only to illustrate to stakeholders’ delays outside the project management team’s control but to keep the schedule a relevant management tool and a narrative of project delays.
Rooted managers are typically experienced and somewhat introverted. They often rely on past experience and solutions for present problems and are resistant to change or to collaborations they perceive encroaching on their dominion. Because they’d prefer to manage the project without drawing unnecessary attention from upper management they walk a balancing act by coordinating schedule management as required with schedulers but simultaneously preserving their privacy and guarding access to the project management team and subcontractors. Finding a framework that’s least invasive and facilitates schedule collaboration is the preferred route with this management style.
Once a strategy has been devised for the PM’s and superintendent’s management styles the subcontractors’ schedule buy-in can be fostered through communicated expectations at subcontractor meetings and in the field. We recommend GC’s require subcontractors’ foremen to carry on-person a copy of the latest Look-Ahead Schedule in the field for reference, annotation and for instances the project management team walks the job to discuss subcontractor targets. Subcontractors should attend weekly meetings with their annotated field schedules and explain commitments that were targeted to start or to complete but that were otherwise delayed. The schedule should be the main management reference tool for collaboration at each weekly subcontractor meeting. Following the subcontractor meeting and when the schedule has been updated select subcontractors may benefit from the production of specific trade-filtered schedule reports that isolate their scopes or group them with collateral germane scopes but that otherwise reduce the schedule report into a more concise and engaging practical management tool.
Driving a schedule-centric culture and engineering a schedule management framework that engenders team buy-in requires a tailored approach that holistically comprises the project management team’s individual management profiles and subcontractors’ unique needs.
Analyze schedule buy-in objections to assess the project team’s management profiles and their needs
Communicate and adopt a schedule-centric format at subcontractor meetings and in the field
Devise schedule reports that are simple and useful for subcontractors to follow in the field
Project Schedule Level of Detail
A project schedule’s level of detail should be engineered in proportion to its intended function and accordingly, numerous schedules of varying detail levels are progressively developed for the same project. Typically, the initial project schedule referred to as a Level-1 summary schedule, factors large blocks of time to illustrate the planned duration of the project’s Work Breakdown Structure’s building elements commonly including; Sitework, Site Utilities, Building Pad and Underground Rough-ins, Foundations, Vertical Structure, Building Envelope, Interior Rough-ins, Finishes, Landscape and Hardscape and Final Inspections/Turnover. Summary schedules are a product of the Preconstruction and project management team’s best estimate at the project’s overall duration including a delay risk buffer and are routinely used by development teams for financing/equity purposes and by some General Contractors (GCs) as bid schedules.
Level-3 schedules are either enhanced from Level-1 schedules’ established timelines or are programmed organically to encompass a detailed logic network of construction tasks designed to furnish the project team and subcontractors with a practical management tool to build the job. More conservative GCs use these more detailed for filed use schedules as their bid schedules, but in either case the contract agreement between the GC and the owner provides a time allowance from the Notice to Proceed for the GC’s detailed baseline schedule development and owner’s acceptance. In addition to defined completion strings and among a host of other schedule integrity items, these schedules should at minimum contain an expansive milestone dashboard with primary and intermediary milestones for stakeholders’ quick reference between updates and a robust procurement section to track a variety of key materials from their buy-out to their fabrication and delivery where the latter task is tied to the first installation task for CPM criticality. A common problem we routinely encounter when reviewing third-party project schedules is a tendency to summarize scoped work rather than to program it in the schedule as it will occur in the field.
Consider a vertical structure hotel project for example. We typically audit schedules that sequence a generic plumbing rough-in task that follows an interior framing task in some fashion. In as much, the programmer has accounted for the plumber’s work on a given floor in the schedule with a catch-all task but is that really the way the plumber will build the job? What about core drilling which takes place as soon as layout is complete and the storm/sanitary risers that can and often begin prior to interior framing? And what about the waterline rough-in itself and the manner in which it will be completed? Typically, the framers begin with the floor’s exterior walls and proceed to interior walls. These crews will make their way up the guest-room floors and will usually only later be succeeded by other crews who will come back to frame the bathroom ceilings. Standard hotel plumbing design requires the waterline rough-in can only complete when the framed ceilings are in-place because the waterlines require connection from framed walls through the framed bathroom ceilings and because the shower drain’s under-slab plumbing located at the below floor’s ceiling often requires the framed ceiling must first be in place. Hence, the constructability sequence indicates the plumber’s work will in reality be staggered at each guest-room floor in at least three distinct waves not adequately accounted for by a single summarized plumbing rough-in task.
Further examples of interior rough-in tasks requiring bifurcation for accurate schedule management are represented by work that that can be installed prior to and after a dry-in environment. Mechanical and electrical subcontractors can install overhead hard duct and run ceiling and wall conduits prior to dry-in but may only install duct board and pull wire once dry-in has been achieved. These and numerous other examples illustrate the need to program into the project schedule subcontractors’ tasks as they will transpire in the field rather than in summarized form.
Of course, even thoroughly planned schedules have their detail limitations with regard to every single construction activity and in particular short duration tasks that require sequence augmentation. This is why Superintendents often maintain an even more detailed three week look-ahead excel schedule utilized at weekly subcontractor meetings as a companion commentary on the project’s master schedule. The relationship between these detailed Superintendent schedules and the project’s master schedule must remain reciprocal. In instances subcontractor meetings determine the workflow requires meaningful re-sequencing or enhancing these modifications should be processed into the project’s master schedule for revised published stakeholder commitments and tracking.
Build a schedule to suit its purpose
Account for scopes in the schedule as they will occur in the field
Routinely incorporate substantive changes into the master schedule to keep it accurate
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