Construction firms that choose not to schedule their jobs set themselves up for avoidable problems. By contrast, those that schedule every job are better able to bid, plan, manage, and execute well on a consistent basis. As a result, those firms tend to be more competitive and more profitable.
Teams that schedule every job perform better. Is your team taking advantage of scheduling to stay on track, or are you avoiding the creation of a schedule because you think it’s too complex or overkill for your projects? If so, you could be setting yourself up for avoidable problems later.
For the purpose of this article, scheduling refers solely to the construction activities themselves. Scheduling workers is another task which is critical to the success of a project; for now, however, we’ll define scheduling as entering and managing the timelines for the specific tasks and sub-tasks of a single project.
Schedules should not be seen as just a chore that you do only when required by contract terms. Instead, it should be considered an invaluable tool to help your team plan more strategically, manage with greater visibility, and control the countless moving parts of a busy jobsite.
While it does require some up-front time, a rock-solid schedule can pay dividends throughout the lifecycle of a project – from bidding to final invoice. Here are five key actions that can give you a rock-solid construction schedule and improve your project efficiency and profitability:
1. Bid correctly/ Set Reasonable Expectations
Some people like surprises, but not contractors who need to make a profit from their team’s work or the project owner who has plans for the building due to be completed by a certain date. A proper construction schedule can help ensure that the scope of work is do-able in the allotted time at the allotted price. You can be sure you’re charging a fair price, given the staff and other resources that need to be committed to the job. Additionally, a solid schedule shows your potential client that your firm is serious about project controls and likely to deliver.
That schedule also lets the owner know in advance when they will need to provide you with access to documents or other items required for your team to be able to complete the job.
2. Plan Resources
A detailed schedule allows you to visualize the many different tasks of a job and how those tasks, as well as the necessary workers, can most efficiently be sequenced. If your crews are on multiple jobs, for instance, schedules help you structure their task lists, so they focus more often on one job at a time and spend less time moving from site to site.
A scheduling tool also helps you avoid logistical conflicts like having the HVAC and drywall crews show up on the same day. Subcontractors can be given a more specific time window so they can plant their resources. As an added bonus, your ability to forecast when you will need them often means you are able to choose the better, more in-demand subs.
Delivery of materials can also be more easily coordinated with a schedule. The goal is to have the materials on site when needed but not so early that they get in the way or risk damage and theft.
3. Anticipate/ Manage Cash Flow
Some contractors fail simply because they don’t have enough cash on hand to manage a project until they can get reimbursed. As mentioned above, a resource plan gives you a chance to clearly understand your variable expenses (e.g., laborers and subs) at each stage so you can forecast cash flow accordingly.
Sometimes, however, a schedule may actually indicate you should avoid a project altogether if is too large for you or if it is not set up to pay in a timely manner. A schedule may help you establish more favorable payment terms based on milestones.
You can then easily prove to the owner when those milestones have been reached and another payment is due – it will be right there in black and white.
4. Collaborate/ Communicate Better
One of the most important benefits of a detailed schedule is as the ability to keep all project participants “in the loop.”
Construction scheduling systems allow your team to update the task completion status from the jobsite so progress data in the schedule is always current. Real-time progress reports are standard in most construction-grade scheduling software and easy to export for management and owners.
Some systems also include the ability to filter and share task lists with trades and subcontractors. A project schedule reduces the risk of misunderstandings as each sub will be able to clearly see how long they have to complete the job and the number of labor hours anticipated. This level of transparency will lead to fewer missed deadlines, fewer headaches for you, and fewer disputes or claims later.
Under the umbrella of collaboration and communication is the need to create milestones and daily goals. It is easy to lose track of the end-goal and how to get there if there are no clear targets or milestones. A schedule lets everyone on the project team know exactly what needs to be accomplished each day to meet the ultimate deadline. Project managers and superintendents can see both which tasks should be in process now as well as which activities they should be preparing for next so potential challenges can be spotted and mitigated before they occur.
5. React More Quickly
In construction, weather, a delayed materials delivery, or one of a thousand other things will inevitably go wrong, putting your project deadline at risk.
A good schedule helps you get out of the mess by conducting “what-if” scenario planning. You can determine how adding more resources or sequencing tasks differently would allow your team to recover for lost time and still make the project deadline – or at least significantly mitigate the delays. You may find that extra shifts or additional subcontractors are needed. In the case of a scope change from the owner, your revised schedule can help you negotiate a deadline extension if needed.