In today’s day and age, there are many different platforms and tools that are designed to streamline construction project scheduling. With each platform comes it’s own unique pros and cons, but the general consensus is that most of them are likely better than the traditional way of scheduling. Not only do they help improve efficiency and the ability to track key metrics and milestones, they also are much more flexible when it comes to change, all while increasing transparency for all parties involved.
With scheduling being such an essential component in construction management, it’s important to take your time and assess which solution is right for your company. Below I’ve listed out some of the most common methods of scheduling found in construction, each with their own pros and cons.
1. The Critical Path Method (CPM)
The CPM is a ‘push’ focused method often used in large construction projects. The foundation of its design is based on the idea that your ability to complete any activity relies on a few essential constraints or resources.
This idea is often understood through the use of a sandwich as an analogy. Let's use making a turkey sandwich as an example, because who doesn't like turkey?
'You may have all the mayo, turkey, and cheese you need, but without bread, you can’t make a turkey sandwich.'
It is easy to see that, in the example above, the bread would be the constraint in the ‘turkey sandwich project’. Of course identifying the critical path and any related constraints isn't so cut and dry in the construction world but with some practice it can become second nature. In fact, this method is so popular that it is included in the curriculum for the PMP certification and is also often seen as a standard for measuring delays in the event of project disputes.
Pros of CPM
The critical path method is very helpful if you are looking for the best sequence of events that need to occur before tasks are completed. As the name suggests, it helps identify the most critical path within the sequences, allowing you to easily see which tasks are essential for project completion and which ones are purely supportive. This means you can place more attention on tasks that matter and allocate your resources accordingly. The ability to make smarter decisions means you also have the ability to increase profits and mitigate risks.
Cons of CPM
As with every method, there will always be a downside of using them as a one-size-fits-all approach and the CPM method is not something you should solely rely on. This method typically falls apart in projects where there are hundreds of independent tasks, making it difficult to see a clear picture of where resources need to be allocated. That’s why it is best used in combination with some of the other methods in this list.
2. Gantt Charts
Gantt charts are something I’m sure almost all of you have seen at some point or another in your careers. Unlike the CPM method, Gantt charts are more a tool than a methodology. They help you visualize the project schedule at various levels of detail, allowing you to estimate the duration of the project as well as identify the critical path.
Typically, Gantt charts consist of a calendar view with tasks and their dependencies illustrated by bars. The size of the bar is set by the start and end dates of each task, and the chart can even include milestones to help with prioritization. Through their ease of use and detailed structure, Gantt charts excel at creating a hierarchy within projects and help illustrate which tasks must be completed before others.
Pros of Gantt charts
The main pros of using Gantt charts is that they provide an accurate picture of the complexity of a project. They are very helpful for finding new ways to look at your project, which will help you identify the best path towards completion. They also simplify the management of projects that involve many overlapping activities. The bar layout makes it very easy to shuffle projects around if overlapping would prove to be an issue.
Cons of Gantt charts
The downside of using Gantt charts comes into fruition when projects have more than 100 or so activities. It starts getting a little difficult to visualize the overall project as more and more activities are added into the mix. As a result, problems that were persistent from before, such as the fact that Gantt charts require constant updates and time-consuming overhead to maintain, become even more problematic as the size of the project scales.
3. The Line of Balance Method (LOB)
The line of balance method is typically better suited for projects that have a lot of repetitive work. The way it works is that it breaks down your project into repetitive chunks, such as each floor on a 37 story building. Each line on the graph represents one of these repetitive tasks, with the x-axis representing time, and the y-axis representing the area of work such as each floor.
As workers progress through each task, the chart will reflect the duration of each iteration. With that, managers are able to effectively plan resources as they will be able to draw many similarities between areas.
Pros of LOB
The LOB method helps identify where projects go off-track by identifying the exact moments where any deviations may have occurred. It helps teams that are in charge of repetitive tasks make sure everyone is aware of the time certain activities should take, ultimately ensuring that schedules are strictly adhered to. With that said, if you have a project that can take advantage of repetition, then the LOB method will really help you keep things on track.
Cons of LOB
As mentioned above, the LOB method excels at scheduling projects that have a high number of repetitive tasks. For this same reason, it also is less desirable and effective to use on projects that have little to no repetition as insights learned from one task will likely not translate to useful data for any other tasks. This method also fails to give you a clear idea of the project’s critical path as it only focuses on individual activities.
4. Pull Planning
Pull planning is a unique form of scheduling in construction, where it takes a reverse engineering approach when it comes to scheduling a project. This approach involves gathering all stakeholders and team members to help identify key project milestones. Once the band is all together, the team works backwards from these key milestones and add in all the details to complete the plan.
You might be wondering though, what does "pull" mean in pull planning? This is likely due to the fact that pull planning is based on the idea that the planning of a project starts with future milestone in mind. Planners then 'pull' this information from that point to the start of the project, hence the name pull planning.
Pros of Pull Planning
The biggest advantage, and perhaps the reason why pull planning is becoming more and more popular, is that this process greatly increases the communication amongst all project stakeholders. Due to the nature of the planning sessions, the entire team is forced to talk to each other, and with communication (or the lack there of) being a constant struggle in construction, this really helps everyone to get talking well before the start of the project.
Another advantage is that most companies report an increase in efficiency and reduced waste and downtime as a result of pull planning. This is likely because all trades are collaborating on schedule, ultimately mitigating risks and identifying problems before they come to fruition.
Cons of Pull Planning
As this methodology involves a huge emphasis on team collaboration, teams without this skillset will greatly struggle at first to get things rolling. As a result, this system might exacerbate faults in your team's cohesion so you may want to focus on increasing collaboration in other areas before fully committing to this process.
The Bottom Line
Scheduling your project and the methods or tools you should use will greatly depend on the type of project you are working on. The key thing to look for though is a tool that places a strong emphasis on collaboration, as I believe that has been the missing link in every solution I've come across in my career.
With proper communication from all stakeholders, constraints, conflicts, and key milestones can be easily and promptly identified, ultimately leading to increased productivity for everyone involved. Everyone knows that a project schedule can make or break your profits, so it only makes sense that everyone involved should have a say in the sequence of events leading to project completion.
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