Kicking the Habit:
4 Planning Tactics to Avoid Now
By Nate St. John
October 03, 2019
If the overarching objective of construction project planning is to establish a model that best reflects what we believe will be a reality, why are CPM tools still not enabling us to achieve this goal? It could be because the use of these tools has taught us some bad planning habits – habits that we need to break. Removing the following four poor planning tactics from your playbook will jumpstart you to better plans now.
#1 Start-From-Scratch Planning
What do you see when you fire up a CPM tool and start to build a new project? Typically, a blank workbook into which you are expected to start building out your masterpiece schedule. With today’s technology isn’t it a bit strange that this is the case? Wouldn’t we be better off somehow telling the computer a little bit about the context of what we are building and let the computer guide us through the building of our plan?
Organizations are getting more and more concerned with losing project expertise through conditions such as workforce retirement. This points to the need for helping organizations capture expertise, store it, and then re-use it to the benefit of the upcoming generation of planners. This would overcome concerns like brain-drain as well as leapfrog us away from feeling like we have to start-from-scratch- each time we build a new project schedule. By avoiding this planning pitfall, we can move away from “start-from-scratch planning” and head towards “knowledge-driven planning.”
#2 Work-Driven Planning
Traditional planning theory talks about defining a top-down project scope, breaking that down into deliverables, and then figuring out what is needed to achieve those deliverables. The work needed to achieve deliverables is modeled in CPM using activities and logic links. Together they allow us to calculate when the project will be completed. CPM tools do a great job of allowing us to build these very detailed work-driven models, but they don’t do a good job of telling us whether the work is an effective means of delivering these products, assets, or deliverables. Wouldn’t it make more sense to first start with properly defining what it is we are being asked to build (the scope) and then figuring out how to build it (the work)?
By enforcing separation of scope and work during the planning process, we, as planners, can then subsequently better report to the executives and stakeholders what matters most to them – what it is we are producing – the deliverable, product or asset.
Missing scope or detail in a plan is as bad as getting the included estimates wrong. If we adopt more of a “deliverable-based planning” approach, then the tools should also be able to tell us where we have missed scope and associated work in our plan too. Doing planning this way will help explain the ‘what’ and not just the ‘how’ as well as ensure our model truly reflects and includes all of the scope we are being asked to build.
#3 Off-the-Cuff Planning
This type of planning pertains to the gut feeling, rather than science, of estimating the future. While each project is a unique endeavor, if you break down the scope of a project into enough detail, then projects absolutely do start to share commonalities. Ideally, though, we should be looking back at previous or analogous projects and benchmarking not just our durations and costs, but also things like the sequence of work and common issues or risks that have arisen.
Re-invention isn’t smart, but leveraging what we’ve already learned to better innovate is smart, and that needs to be applied to project planning. Templating needs to be much more than traditional copy-paste of sub-nets, though. Templating needs to be smarter than that, accounting for differences such as geographical location or quantity variances. If you are creating a 20-story building, you don’t want a template based on a 100-story building without suggesting some degree of factoring where relevant.
#4 Siloed Planning
Lead planners carry a tremendous amount of responsibility on a project. As CPM experts they plan and schedule with an understanding of how to properly use the vast array of CPM building blocks. They are also expected to be domain experts – knowing how long, how much, and in what order project execution should be carried out. That’s a lot to ask. Not only that but if a plan isn’t reflective of team-member buy-in upfront, then your CPM schedule is going to be shot down the first time it comes under any scrutiny by project stakeholders.
It is better to have consensus that an element in a plan is wrong than to have wildly differing opinions and partial buy-in among your team. Consensus is a very powerful measure of realism. Rather than having a plan be represented by a single individual (the lead planner), we should better enable those who carry first-hand knowledge on actually building the project to give their input and then make their input count.
The non-siloed approach also removes any planning bias, i.e., the most senior person wins, during interactive planning sessions and schedule reviews. If the suggested durations and sequence of work is backed by a high degree of expert consensus, then other stakeholders will find it hard to push back on a plan that makes good sense to the majority.
A Brighter Future
Like any object of value, CPM needs both sound form and sound function. It needs to provide realistic schedule forecasts, and it needs to do so in a manner that is understandable to those who are subscribing to the information that it provides.
The process of building CPM schedules needs to be more efficient and more reliable for it to really obtain the credibility it truly deserves. Enabling CPM to do its best job by adopting better planning habits now will enable you to do your best planning now and in the future.
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