What You’re Really Missing by Using a Scheduling Point Solution
November 29, 2021
If you were asked to name a famous trio from pop culture, what would come to mind first?
Maybe Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin, aka The Triplets, winning three Super Bowls for Dallas in four years? How about Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb (you know, The Bee Gees) cranking out hit after hit? Or if movies are your thing, you might choose Luke, Leia and Han, the world’s favorite Rebels. But no matter your choice, one thing’s for sure; remove one member and you diminish their impact on history (not to mention sealing the fate of the galaxy).
What does all of this have to do with construction? Well, when it comes to managing capital projects, there is a similarly balanced trio that is responsible for all project success. Just like the greatness of each pop trio does not lie with any one member, upsetting the delicate balance of scope, cost and schedule can place the outcome of any construction project in serious jeopardy very quickly.
So then, how great is the loss when scheduling is broken off into a single point solution to be managed in a silo?
If you’re anything like me, you probably cannot recall the last time you focused on scheduling alone. Why? Because the sequencing and timing of operations is too important to a project to be separated from other project management functions. If you’re using a point solution, how do you solve for this? Interestingly enough, the typical answer has been to integrate just two parts of this essential trio into its own solution. Let’s take a look at some possible outcomes.
The Cost-Loaded Schedule
For years now we have seen numerous examples of the “cost-loaded schedule” in contractual requirements on construction projects. As a result, this has become the most common way to break down silos with scheduling point solutions. Whether forcing a manual import of cost data or leaning on limited APIs for a more automated update, dates and dollars must be connected. Even if left out of the contract, many companies will work to compare budget versus actual cost curves as a key measurement for project health. In fact, it is difficult to find a trailer in the field without one of these charts on the wall.
But even if you can utilize integrations between solutions for cost and scheduling, the challenge quickly shifts to the differences in data structures. The mapping exercise of cost granularity to the activity level in a schedule is a tedious process. One incorrect assumption directly impacts multiple activities, and suddenly the reliability of the information becomes suspect. In addition, the timing and frequency of updates to keep reports current becomes a full-time job.
Because of this effect, often the alternative is utilizing the schedule as a detailed planning tool in conjunction with work packages and quantities. The activities in scheduling tend to better align with construction work packages on the project, so connecting data at the package level allows for associated components to drive the percent-complete. Commodity curves supplement, or even replace, the cost curves on the wall and project health becomes a quantity-driven metric. In many cases though, this is a more manual process than cost-loading, as integrated scheduling and planning solutions are relatively new to the industry.
Even with all of that in mind, utilizing a cutting-edge solution to connect these two processes quickly presents many of the same challenges as before. Managing granularity, understanding assumptions and coordinating updates remains a significant task. More importantly, though, when using packages and scheduling as the primary planning mechanism, anything can go “faster.” Without the consideration of cost or resource impacts, any adjustments to the time a package takes are only partially complete.
Getting the Band Back Together
This takes us back to square one, where the fundamental essence of project controls is the continual balance of scope, cost and schedule. While historically, one may have been able to stitch two pieces of the puzzle together with point solutions, the real power of integrated project controls is built on a connected platform with inherent data mapping capabilities.
Say, for example, an issue pops up and an activity needs to slide a week. You’ll need to see the effects on sequential packages and resource allocation as it moves. Entertaining the idea of working double shifts to close the gap? Why not make that decision with a complete picture of the cost impacts from the second group? And of course, facilitate all this right-now analysis to complete the scope while keeping an eye on the long-term forecast (both cost and scheduling) for the project.
This is what you’re really missing by using a scheduling point solution. Like trying to take down the Death Star without a dedicated wingman, trying to piece together siloed project controls data through outdated manual processes decreases your chances for success.
Look for a solution that keeps this inseparable trio together so that you have the tools necessary to make the most informed decisions and keep your capital projects on the path to completion for more project wins, more often.