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Is Construction Schedule
Realism Achievable?

As construction professionals, we’ve all experienced the “uh-oh” and “oh no, not again” scenarios. The ones that, despite our best efforts, seem to conspire to throw carefully developed construction schedules into disarray — weather events, supply chain hiccups, inventory shortages, last-minute change orders, even a pandemic, just to name a few. Given the extended timelines and complexity of most capital projects, there is certainly plenty of opportunity for any and all such events to play out.

So how can you create schedule accuracy while allowing for flexibility? Aim for realism. It isn’t as elusive as it might seem, and today, you really have more control over it than you may realize. Here are some ways to work toward achieving construction schedule realism in your capital projects going forward.

 

Learn from how past projects have played out

You’re likely sitting on a goldmine of historical data from your portfolio of prior projects. All that data represents an accurate account of what it actually took to complete those projects — from the things that went well to those that didn’t go as planned. When planning future projects, why not leverage the lessons and insights from how similar projects have fared when schedule-impacting factors surfaced?

They can provide clues as to what schedule realism should have looked like had the things that threw off the schedule been addressed more completely. Zero in on them as they will help inform more accurate estimates as well as more realistic construction schedules for crews on the jobsite. What risk events were unaccounted for that should be included going forward? What was the extent of the impact on the schedule? Were contingency plans in place and how well did they keep things on track?

 

Forecast for potential risks and create backup plans

For all the planning that goes into a capital project, schedule realism can still end up undervalued. One reason could be that the possible risks and their impact on the timeline are themselves underestimated, which could have an influence on the number of projects that sail past their original completion date.

Construction schedule realism takes risk exposure into account. This requires flexibility for when events occur that threaten to push out timelines by days or weeks or even longer. How you navigate around or through them can determine how well the overall schedule is preserved. A good risk management strategy not only anticipates them and forecasts their impact, but creates backup plans to avoid or mitigate the impact when those risks occur.

Let’s look at that past project data. We all know the typical risk scenarios that capital projects endure that are likely to disrupt progress. Those are the ones that may be easier to plan for because they’ve occurred before, but still require forecasting. If earned value management (EVM) performance metrics were being tracked, how did they respond, i.e., was the timeline impact sudden or gradual? Were contingency plans that were created adequate? How did they impact EVM metrics to show whether those plans were sufficient in correcting course? How will these lessons affect how you plan out more realistic schedules for future projects?

Now look to those risk events for which there were no contingency plans and ask yourself why this happened. Could optimism bias have played a role in not acknowledging their potential occurrence or severity? Was the risk so unique (think pandemic) that there was no way to plan for it? If mitigating efforts were developed on the spot for any of them, how well did they work? Could they have been stronger? Are these risks likely to appear again in future projects under similar circumstances?

 

Know what your SPI is really telling you

Data has become just as much a tool in the construction project toolbox as the manual and power tools. And SPI (schedule performance index), a performance metric reflecting the percentage of work completed, is one of the key pieces of data contractors and project managers follow. As the volume of and reliance on such metrics grow, it can be tempting to operate under the assumption that each one is telling the full story of what it’s measuring. Where it relates to construction schedule realism is in its ability to detect trends as they’re developing, whether it’s a sudden spike or plummet or the gradual rise and fall of its fluctuating numeric value. SPI becomes a guide for making better decisions and having more control over adjusting the schedule in real time — especially when taken in context with other performance metrics within the EVM family.

 

Recognize and remove any optimism bias

Optimism and realism are not mutually exclusive. But to make sure this overconfidence doesn’t backfire and lead to schedule delays, take a look at the SPI metric’s journey. It’s about as objective and responsive a measure as you can get. If observing this in past projects, you can see when and how something affected the timeline, which can be used to inform risk-adjusted construction schedules for projects down the road. If monitoring the SPI in real time through dashboards and proactive alerts, the metric is sensitive enough to give you time to collaborate with project team members on a corrective measure, rather than waiting for it to work itself out or go away.

 

Migrate to industry-specific scheduling software

Each of the above methods can be supported by scheduling software created specifically for the construction industry. That means freeing your teams from dependence on Excel spreadsheets or other business-based project management software. Construction scheduling software can incorporate past project data, including its performance metrics, to deliver evidence-based scheduling capabilities — even far in advance for long, complicated capital projects involving simultaneous phases and tasks. Non-industry-based technology isn’t able to account for all these complex scheduling considerations. So, they also won’t be able to create realistic schedules that incorporate the flexibility necessary to accommodate risk factors.

The software is somewhat of a multitasker, encompassing planning and risk-management roles so you can digitalize both the forecasting process — whether for project estimates or for real-time risk assessment and contingency planning — and the reporting process that proactively keeps everyone on the project team in the loop on ongoing schedule progress.

 

Explore AI-based construction scheduling software

This is similar to the scheduling software above, but with the ability to learn from the data it receives. Where a human scheduling professional can process and decipher only so much incoming data, an artificial intelligence-based option instead says, “bring all you’ve got.” But wait. Something labeled “artificial” creating something more real? Absolutely. This is because it takes the information it’s fed, picking up patterns and consistencies in order to suggest more accurate — and realistic — schedules for labor, materials, equipment and time resources for each project. In fact, this is ideally suited for highly involved capital projects, lending a much higher degree of project certainty that other software simply can’t attain.

Yet AI will not, and should not, do all the work for you. The suggestions it produces become even more fine-tuned and realistic as the project team members bring their expertise to collaborate on the suggestions to accept or reject. Artificial and human intelligence work together to create a more feasible and realistic schedule.

These can help build more assurance and certainty into construction schedules, taking some of the guesswork out of what is essentially an art form and a science. Technology like InEight construction scheduling can help you plan for what you can. It uses AI to capture and apply past data, so you wind up with a more predictive, risk-adjusted, realistic schedule. Curious how this works? Schedule a demo so we can show you.

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