The difference between successful and unsuccessful construction project management comes down to planning and scheduling. As the old saying goes, "People don't plan to fail; they fail to plan."
If you're fed up with managing construction projects that constantly run into problems — costing you money and clients — it's time to redouble your efforts in the planning and scheduling phase.
This guide breaks down what you must understand about the process and how to reform the way you plan projects.
What is construction planning and scheduling?
Construction planning and scheduling refers to the process through which a construction business maps out exactly what will take place during a project, what resources are needed, when key activities will take place, which personnel will be involved, and anything else pertinent to the project.
This is the key process that sets the groundwork for a construction project, and if insufficient work is put into this phase, a project is likely to go awry due to unforeseen obstacles.
Why is construction planning and scheduling important?
Construction planning and scheduling is vital for three principal reasons:
1. It helps you prevent delays
Delays are the bane of any construction project. Fortunately, most are avoidable — but only if you do the proper planning beforehand. By working hard at pre-project planning and scheduling, you'll set realistic deadlines and avoid over-promising and under-delivering to a client.
2. It helps you avoid budget overruns
Budget overruns are a frequent source of consternation to a construction manager because they lead to unhappy clients and shrinking profit margins. By putting in enough work before the project to plan it out, you'll accurately forecast costs and plan your budget. You’ll also spot opportunities for savings.
3. It helps you spot hidden risks
Each construction project is fraught with risks. This could include risks to your crew's safety, potential snafus with permitting, or a subcontractor who wasn't available when you expected them to be.
A construction manager who diligently plans and schedules will look into all externalities that could affect the project and identify these potential risks — and either proactively prevent them or create a mitigation plan should they occur.
What does construction planning entail?
Construction planning refers to the process of laying out all details of a construction project beforehand.
A construction plan may include a project scope detailing what the project will involve, construction resource management, construction asset management, a schedule of events and milestones, and anything else a construction manager must know to successfully execute a project.
The 3 goals of construction planning
Construction planning has many purposes, but these three goals are central:
- Flesh out project scope: The plan should describe in detail what is to be accomplished in the project.
- Identify resources: The plan should identify what resources will be needed from start to completion.
- Determine budget: The plan should determine a budget sufficient to procure the necessary resources and make sure the project is completed on time.
What does construction scheduling entail?
Construction scheduling is a subset of construction planning. Drafting a construction schedule involves creating a construction workflow and determining which activities will happen at certain dates and times.
Construction schedules should be tied to resources such as materials, labor, and equipment to ensure maximum efficiency in a construction project.
The 3 goals of construction scheduling
Construction scheduling seeks to accomplish three goals in particular:
- Identify milestones: The construction schedule should set dates when you should reach milestones to make sure the project finishes on time.
- Allocate resources properly: The schedule allows construction managers to determine when resources should be available based on which milestone is scheduled for completion.
- Define activities: The schedule should specifically list which workers will be needed for what activities on which days so there is no confusion.
How to successfully plan and schedule a construction project
You’re probably wondering how to even get started with the mammoth task of planning and scheduling a construction project. Don’t feel overwhelmed — you can break up the process into six simple steps.
Step 1: Draft a project initiation document and scope statement
Create a project initiation document that lays out the business case on how you will accomplish the project. First draft a scope of work that describes exactly what the project will involve and what must be accomplished. Go into as much detail as possible.
Then include information such as which workers you'll need and any subcontractors, what materials will be necessary, what your budget is, and so on.
Create a list of project baselines, which are essentially performance measures that show you are accomplishing objectives and making progress such as "finish foundation" or “set up site office.”
Step 2: Assign roles and responsibilities
With the basic structure of the project laid out, now you must identify all key stakeholders and assign them roles and responsibilities to make sure the baselines you've established are met.
Some stakeholders could include the client, the project sponsor, the project manager, county inspectors, or anyone else who has an interest in the project. For those stakeholders who work for you, assign them the responsibility of making sure that a baseline is accomplished.
Step 3: Schedule key events and milestones
Draft a schedule that describes when you must accomplish certain baselines. Attach resources, assets, and workers to each milestone so that you know what you need and when you need it.
Include some buffer in the schedule to account for unforeseen complications. Monitor the schedule constantly throughout the project and design enough flexibility into the schedule so you can move things around if need be.
Step 4: Conduct a risk assessment
Conduct an analysis to identify risks to the project schedule and budget. For example, will a subcontractor be available when you need them to be at a critical phase in the project? Could a shipment of materials take longer to arrive at a certain time of year? Do you have aging equipment at risk of breaking down?
Assess potential risks, assign a probability of failure to each, draft a plan to address them now to hopefully prevent the problem from arising, and make a plan to deal with the issue if it happens in order to minimize risk to the project.
Step 5: Meet with the team
With the plan mostly laid out, now you need a reality check. Meet with all the stakeholders in your team to talk over the plan and discuss any blind spots you may have.
Your workers can tell you if certain milestones are unrealistic or if there are any resources they need that you haven't included. With their input, modify the plan and get signoffs from everyone involved.
Step 6: Gather data
Use construction management software to gather data and produce a construction daily report over the course of the project. When the project is over, take these data and use it to judge the performance of the project and how you can improve your planning and scheduling on the next one.
Key data points to track include change orders, adjustments to the project schedule, safety incidents, projected versus final budget figures, project defects, and so on.
Software can help with construction planning and scheduling work
Construction management is challenging, and planning and scheduling is certainly one of the most difficult parts of the job. But if you’re willing to put in the work, doing this process properly will go a long way to making sure your next project is on schedule and on budget.
Construction software will make the process a lot easier. Whether it's creating a construction schedule template or helping with drafting initial construction plans, software automates many manual tasks and makes you more organized.
Look for construction project management or construction scheduling software that fits your business and use it to create your next scheduling plan.