The Imperatives of the
Schedule and Estimate Connection
October 15, 2020
It seems like most projects sometimes boil down to a simple fact: Time is money and no one likes to be left holding the bag. Disputes about this age-old conflict bubble up on the back end when it comes time to figure out who should pay for that extra cost of time. If you’re building a house and the contractor suggests, “It’s going to take six months to finish the build.” More often than not that timeline expands, but worse, there is a cost implication of that change. This is all too common scenario inevitably leads to disagreements because someone has to pay the price for that additional time.
This scenario has been going on for centuries and begs the question: Why haven’t the vast majority of projects finally married up cost and schedule from the onset so this doesn’t happen? I believe the root cause centers around the divide between the two personas that are responsible for respectively developing the cost and schedule forecasts— cost estimators and schedulers. They work in different groups, and more importantly, they use different software.
Traditional Project Management Software Can Create a Disconnect
Project management software has been around for over 40 years and it has evolved for the most part as point solutions. Cost estimating tools and scheduling tools have advanced, but until recently, they’ve never truly converged.
A traditional schedule can be defined through a work breakdown structure (WBS). The scope of work gets paired down into chunks — digging the foundation, pouring the concrete, putting up the walls, etc. Cost estimating employs a cost breakdown structure (CBS) which is more material and labor based. While the WBS and the CBS may seem similar, they’re actually quite different. Basically, the WBS allows for distinct work items, while the CBS leans more towards grouping common cost types together without a crystal-clear breakdown of exactly where these items are being used in the schedule. This mismatch of stuff has been one of the biggest hurdles to overcome in order to marry up cost and schedule.
Connecting Estimators and Schedulers Through Smarter Software
Fortunately, this disconnect is finally being addressed through advanced software solutions. Even if things are grouped differently within cost and schedule, starting the planning process in a common platform, rather than point solutions, allows planners and cost estimators to work from a common thread and reach a unified and aligned goal while still maintaining their respective WBS and CBS structures. With point solutions, this is not possible. A common platform allows you to start in a common structure that can be branched off, but eventually, those project branches can be pulled back to converge at a common point. This represents a huge leap forward in tacking the age-old “time is money” problem.
But these advanced solutions aren’t the cure-all that will finally 100% unify schedulers and estimators. There’s also a human component — there needs to be a mindset change between the two groups. The estimators and the schedulers must realize they can no longer work in silos, given the enormous amount of money that is at stake in modern projects. They must learn to work more harmoniously for these solutions to truly and finally integrate schedule and cost.
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