Construction managers are responsible for many tasks. They must draft a construction daily report, manage the workforce, submit bids, and handle construction document management, to name just a few. But perhaps the most important part is creating a schedule.
An accurate schedule is vital to the success of a firm. If you don't thoroughly research or properly deconflict and plan for certain tasks, you'll be doomed to scramble throughout the project as you attempt to handle constant delays.
The success of a project is determined in the planning, so take the time to schedule it. This guide will take you step by step through the process of doing that.
The nine steps to creating a construction project schedule:
- Choose a construction scheduling tool
- Conduct research
- List subcontractors
- List tasks
- Determine expected duration for each task
- Create a work breakdown structure (WBS)
- Go over the schedule with stakeholders
Step 1: Choose a construction scheduling tool
Creating a schedule for your project with a spreadsheet — or worse, pen and paper — is ill-advised. The Blueprint has reviewed plenty of worthwhile construction management software solutions with scheduling capabilities that will help you be more efficient and accurate with your scheduling.
Construction scheduling software tools will automate many tasks and make it easier to visualize and organize the project. These platforms let you use a construction schedule template or schedule chart to create an accurate construction timeline.
Experiment with software options: Not every software solution will be right for you. Read our reviews and sign up for trials of those that interest you before settling on one.
Step 2: Conduct research
Research everything about your project so you are armed with as much information as possible as you put together the schedule. Speak with inspectors and building code enforcement to find out what permits you must file and what the expected turnaround is.
Break down all materials needed for the job and when they must be available. Calculate available man hours and compile information on what days certain workers are available.
Don’t forget to consult your budget: Many actions in your schedule will require an expenditure, such as the purchase of materials. Take note of time-sensitive expenses in the budget and factor these expenditures into your schedule so they're made on time and don't delay the project.
Step 3: List subcontractors
Subcontractors must be factored into the schedule. Reach out to each subcontractor to find out how long it will take to do certain tasks, such as installing plumbing in the bathroom, or how long it will take for certain materials to arrive once they’re ordered.
Compile all of this information so it's ready when it comes time to make a schedule.
Don't trust the subcontractor's estimate: Human beings have a tendency to be overly optimistic when it comes to how quickly things can get done. Maybe the subcontractor is being realistic, and maybe they aren't, but don't take that chance; add some extra time to their estimates just in case.
Step 4: List tasks
Break up the project into tasks and describe each task in detail, such as what specific work it will take to complete it, estimated man hours, materials, equipment, and so on. This information provides context to the task that you will use to come up with an accurate duration estimate.
Don’t skimp on detail: A key ingredient in successful construction project management is being detail-oriented. Resist the temptation to just list the basics of a task and move on. Describe every aspect of a task in great detail so you can be confident when you try to work it into your schedule.
Step 5: Determine expected duration for each task
With a list of tasks in hand, examine each task in detail and make educated guesses on their duration, as well as when you will achieve key milestones along the way.
That way, if you miss an early milestone, you have advance notice to make some changes before the task itself becomes delayed, putting the rest of the project at risk. Create a few Plan Bs in case this happens so you’re ready.
Don't be overly optimistic: A task may take five days if everything goes right, but as anyone on the job site knows, that's not a given. Bad weather can wash out a few days at a time. Equipment can break down, causing delays. Give each task a little wiggle room — even if one task exceeds that extra time frame, you can draw time from other tasks that you also gave room to in order to make up the difference.
Step 6: Create a work breakdown structure (WBS)
A work breakdown schedule (WBS) will help you visualize all of your tasks and break them down so each one is easily digestible. It also shows you if there are any conflicts you must manage. Be as thorough as possible: The more detailed you are, the easier it will be when it comes time to execute.
Create a "tree" that separates each component of the project and breaks it down into individual sub-components. Keep breaking these down into smaller and smaller tasks until you can't break it down any further. Each final task is a "work package."
Observe the 100% rule: Every WBS degree should include 100% of all tasks required to meet the goal of the project. Do not leave anything out.
Step 7: Go over your schedule with stakeholders
It's time for a gut check, meaning your stakeholders should weigh in to ensure you're not missing anything and that your schedule is realistic. Call a meeting with everyone involved in executing the project, from the owner to the foreman, and describe the schedule to them.
Invite feedback so you can make adjustments. It's unlikely your schedule will be perfect on the first draft, so this step is critical to your project's success.
Be open to change: Listen with an open mind during the meeting, and don’t be too attached to your schedule. Changes are inevitable, and it isn’t a reflection on your ability to put together a schedule.
Step 8: Execute
With the schedule set, assign responsibilities to your crew, and set the schedule in motion. Continually monitor project progress and pay close attention to milestones.
Take immediate action whenever a milestone is missed or even in danger. Find out what has gone wrong and take mitigating actions to get the task back on track.
Pull from other tasks: If one task gets delayed, use your schedule to identify tasks that are running ahead of schedule. Pull resources such as manpower or equipment from these tasks to help get the underperforming task back on schedule.
Step 9: Review
Create an actual schedule as the project progresses so you can compare it to your initial schedule at project close. Once the project closes out, take time to review how you performed.
Which tasks were on time, and which ones needed major adjustments? Why did you see these results? What changes can you make next time to get a more accurate initial schedule that will change as little as possible over the course of the project?
Use software: Many construction software platforms track analytics and generate custom reports. Take advantage of these tools to break down your performance at the end of a project.
Carve out time to schedule your next project
Chances are, you’re in the thick of a project right now, so it doesn’t make sense to go back and rework the schedule now.
Instead, set aside some extra time right before your next project to ensure you’ll be able to properly research and craft a detailed and precise schedule that will put your future project on the path to success.
Don’t worry about getting it exactly right the first time — you’re bound to learn from trial and error. But by taking this significant step, your future projects are more likely to be on time and on budget — which will make you better at construction management in general.