Technology

Top Five Worst Critical Path Management Scheduling Practices

Plan, execute and monitor each phase of a construction project, while understanding what puts a schedule at risk.
By Michael Pink
September 29, 2021
Topics
Technology

Scheduling is crucial in project management and it’s one of the most effective techniques for planning, executing and monitoring each phase of a construction project. While critical path management scheduling is widely used and offers plenty of best practices to help ensure a project’s success, the opposite is also true: The industry appears not to understand, or simply turns a blind eye to, numerous practices that put the effectiveness of the critical path management scheduling process at risk.

The following are the top five issues that, if corrected, would be game changing for any organization involved in construction.

Missing Logic

Generally speaking, it’s easy to miss logic in a schedule. The rule of thumb is that every activity should have at least one predecessor and one successor to ensure the schedule logic is complete and the critical path remains accurate. Missing logic is a silent killer in construction because typically it represents an erroneous critical path or it absorbs delays without causing a reaction to the end date when the delays occur. In fact, a high percentage of claims are pushed into litigation because missing logic makes the identification of delays arguable at best. This is fixed by educating the project manager and superintendents.

Finish Constraints

On the surface, finish constraints make sense and seem logical. They enable a scheduler or project manager to see multiple critical paths that drive various parts of the project toward differing (usually interim) milestones. But they also cause a lot of confusion. In a world where schedules have two color designations—red being critical and green being noncritical—their use is usually to decipher which critical path is driving an interim milestone and which is driving a completion-date milestone.

A run-of-the mill project manager or superintendent might say, “Why does it matter?” A scheduler might say the same thing. But people in-the-know understand there is a difference between end-date completion and interim-milestone completion: One results in added general conditions and the other does not. It’s important to know which is being managed to. Finish constraints make this hard to the “non-scheduling” types. This, too, is fixed by educating the project manager and superintendents.

Too Many Start Constraints

Entire series of construction activities often begin with a constraint. This means the scheduler is picking a date when an activity or a series of activities is supposed to start, with no predecessors to the activities driving or determining the start date. It’s more of an educated guess predetermined by the person who created the schedule. Often this approach is not realistic because activities and tasks are dependent on something else, and dates in the future are generally difficult to predict. Constraints are understandable once in a while, but problems arise when the constraints are outside a period that would be known with certainty—such as placing a constraint for structural steel to start on an arbitrary date 12 months down the line. This, too, is fixed by educating the project manager and superintendents.

Big Changes With Little Thought

The construction process comes with many uncertainties, along with risks due to unforeseen events. As a result, it’s a nightmare for people who can’t manage change properly. When schedules are developed, they are, at best, a guess for how a project will pan out, usually riddled with over-optimism from the get-go. Because of this, many changes are necessary. However, due to the nature of construction being a people industry, changes are made to overcome historical problems instead of being used as a means to effectively manage change—which comes at a bigger cost. Teaching project managers and superintendents how to effectively deal with change, and how to realistically incorporate into the schedule, adds significant value add to the process.

High Durations

Sometimes activities are placed in the schedule that contain a high duration, like more than two months. This is a problem because the activities are more difficult to status and accurately tie logic relationships to, and they are at a higher risk of erroneously overtaking the critical path. As a result of this risk, critical paths can be off track—sending project teams down a path that doesn’t actually help them manage to an end date. By adopting a process where the longest any activity can be is between five and 20 work days, this risk is greatly reduced.

While many factors can contribute to a project gone bad, these five practices are the usual suspects and must be rectified to get the most of a schedule management processes. They don’t show up because site teams are stubborn, but because the teams are busy and don’t yet have the information they need to implement scheduling best practices. If the process isn’t understood or appreciated by the people who are required to execute the plan, the process will be broken. A little education goes a long way, and it can transform organizations financially tied to the construction management process.

by Michael Pink
Michael Pink, PSP, CCE, MBA, is the CEO and founder of SmartPM Technologies, a SaaS software company headquartered in Atlanta. SmartPM is a cloud based, full-service schedule analytics and project controls platform designed by industry experts with one mission in mind: to provide stakeholders with a tool to evaluate project performance in real-time, identify critical risk issues, and reduce delays and potential disputes. For more information, visit https://smartpmtech.com.

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