female construction site manager in hard hat and reflective vest holding blueprint and pointing in distance surrounded by two male and one female construction worker
Process Improvement

Construction Scheduling: The Ultimate Guide

Written By: Joe Demski
April 1, 2022
12 min read

Construction scheduling can be seen as the key to any construction project. Having a well-thought out plan, the right materials, a strong team of workers, and an approved budget are all well and good, but without a tight and efficient schedule everything can go haywire.

Every construction organization, from the largest to the smallest, needs to think critically about their construction scheduling process and their project schedule. These days it’s no longer enough to handwrite out a rough timeline, or create an excel spreadsheet that lays dormant throughout the entirety of a project.

Modern construction firms need to implement specific construction management software and scheduling tools that equip them with what they need to plan and manage the perfect construction schedule.

What is Construction Scheduling?

Construction scheduling is a very straightforward term. It encompasses all of the different facets that go into planning, scheduling, and executing a construction job through a project schedule. Whether the information is presented in written format or visually, there needs to exist a central source-of-truth that all stakeholders can reference to ensure a project is on-schedule.

Time Management and Scheduling

Time management and scheduling is a critical aspect of any project planning. The Project Management Institute cites Project Time Management as one of the ten key areas for overall project management. Project managers have to consider how they will represent the schedule as part of their overall duties.

Similar to the way a project needs a budget estimate to understand the overall cost, project scheduling is an attempt to provide an estimate of the amount of time it will take to complete the project.

Importance of Construction Scheduling

Have you ever tried to bake a cake without a recipe? Or drive to a new destination without first looking at the instruction? Or, maybe most aptly, tried to assemble a piece of furniture after crumpling up the instructions and tossing them in the trash?

If you have tried those things then you know that trying any of those things is a failing proposition.

It would be the same thing if construction projects tried to move forward without a careful eye turned toward project schedules.

Of course, if your cake ends up tasting more like a biscuit that’s only a minor personal tragedy. If a major construction project goes sideways there can be massive fallout.

Avoiding Costly Delays

The reality is that the construction industry struggles with delivering on-time and on-budget. A study found that only 30% of jobs are finished on-time and on-budget.

Why does that happen?

The same study found that 70% of respondents cite poor project coordination as the major culprit.

If a construction project isn’t properly planned and scheduled then it becomes very likely that you will run into delays and increased costs.

Construction scheduling is a protective measure against those risks, and means your business can deliver on exactly what you promise.

The Benefits of Construction Project Scheduling

The benefits of construction project scheduling include:

  • Increase clarity into assigned roles

  • Better communication with key stakeholders

  • More accurate project budgeting

  • Insightful reporting

No matter the size of your organization—or the scale of your projects—you should focus on your scheduling process as one of your foundational keys to success.

Now that we’ve established why scheduling is so important let’s dive into some of the basics.

Construction Scheduling Basics

Because of how long construction has been an industry, and the sheer number of projects consistently going on, there are numerous ways to structure your scheduling.

In a field where even a small percentage increase in efficiency, or small reduction in spending, can make the difference in winning a bid, or delivering a successful project, there have been many different methods developed to improve scheduling.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common techniques and terms you may come across as you think about how to organize your scheduling processes.

Key Methods and Terms

Gantt Charts

Gantt charts are not necessarily unique to construction project scheduling, but they are a useful tool to help visualize your schedule.

Gantt charts were created by Henry Gantt, an engineer, in 1917 as a way to help visualize complex projects.

The Gantt chart is a simple graph with a vertical and horizontal axis. The horizontal axis represents the time of the project while the vertical axis will contain all of the tasks associated with your project.

This type of representation of data is very popular and has been folded into many modern project management softwares.

A Gantt chart is a good beginning step to start grouping together tasks and to get an understanding for how long each set of activities will take.

Most likely a Gantt chart will not be sufficient to fully represent the totality of your project. However it can be critical in helping you devise a critical path.

Critical Path Method

The “critical path method” in construction project scheduling is one of the most popular ways to structure a schedule—and rally all stakeholders around the items that drive the overall project toward completion.

As the name implies, the critical path method focuses on which tasks or activities will be mission critical to the completion of your construction project.

When following the critical path method, the project manager will identify the central “thrust” of the project and then build a schedule that keeps this critical path front of mind.

From the central pillar of the path there will be activities that branch off as prerequisites to complete the critical tasks, but your team will always have the critical activities as a guiding light.

Think of the critical path method as turning your project into a large tree. The trunk are the activities that are mission critical to your construction project. The branches are the rest of the tasks that make up your project.

The project can move forward without some branches, but there’s no tree without the main trunk.

To get started in utilizing this method you will need to do some pre-planning to ensure you have all the inputs necessary. A construction scheduling platform will help here.

Like most things in life, you only get out of this method what you put into it. Not considering every activity or task could end up with teams focusing on the wrong thing, or in aligning resources to the wrong area—and result in costly delays.

How to Utilize the Critical Path Method

When setting up this method for your project take these steps:

  • Interview every major stakeholder to get a clear picture of the full project

  • Begin prioritizing tasks to get a rough idea of criticality

  • Start thinking about what type of technology you will need to utilize this method

  • Plan recurring meetings and check-ins to keep the whole team aligned

  • Write down the key data points you will need to track

Not only will these steps benefit you as the project manager in the long run, it will establish strong lines of communication early leading to better alignment.

Once you’ve implemented everything you need, you will realize why many construction projects utilize this method to handle their scheduling.

Benefits of the Critical Path Method

The benefits of this method include:

  • Clearly identifying main priorities

  • Setting clear goal posts to track progress

  • Easily align resources (schedules and costs)

  • Recognized as an industry standard in construction project scheduling method

Following this method will enable you to provide crystal clear status updates as it becomes very obvious which tasks need focus, and which aren’t as critical.

Resource Oriented Scheduling

Do you have limited time, budget, and resources? Most project managers will typically answer yes to this question for any project they’re working on.

The unfortunate reality of the world we live in is that you will always be strapped for something and feel like you don’t have enough of one particular thing.

Resource oriented scheduling attempts to solve the problem of having limited resources available.

Carnegie Mellon University lays out the advantages of this particular method, and why it’s necessary:

“Resource oriented scheduling is appropriate in cases in which unique resources are to be used. For example, scheduling excavation operations when one only excavator is available is simply a process of assigning work tasks or job segments on a day by day basis while insuring that appropriate precedence relationships are maintained. Even with more than one resource, this manual assignment process may be quite adequate.”

Resource oriented scheduling is another tool you can keep in your kit and deploy it at the opportune time.

Improving Your Project Scheduling Process

Now that you understand the basics of construction project scheduling, you’re probably asking yourself: how do I find an edge?

Because you know that most firms will understand the importance of scheduling for success, your teams need to be as efficient as possible—and utilize the right tools, like construction scheduling software to position your organization to win bids and deliver successfully.

Here are the areas to consider in your processes and how you can find that edge.

List Out Your Resources and Tools

Begin by listing out which partners you are going to bring into your construction project completion. Are there labor schedules that need to be accommodated? Specialty contractors that need to be brought on board?

In addition to understanding your resources, get a handle on the technologies and platforms that will be used throughout the project.

The platforms you use can be the difference between success and failure. Utilizing construction scheduling software that enables team members to quickly create the applications they need—while also integrating with existing technologies for seamless data sharing—can be a huge boost to productivity.

Collect and Focus on Tasks

With so many moving parts, it’s easy to miss crucial details. A huge part of planning out your construction project in advance, is to avoid those mistakes.. The best way to do this is by creating a large list of ALL the tasks.

Don’t skip over the little details! A common mistake is assuming your team will remember all the little things. Even the best of project managers can get caught up in the moment and miss some details. Prevent this by collecting a list of all the tasks, even as you keep planning.

Now we have a long list of the tasks required to complete your project. Next we need a structure to break down the size and scope of the project. We can do this by prioritizing our task list. This gives your team an effective construction schedule.

Add Duration for Construction Schedule

Knowing how long each task is going to take comes in handy when there are changes to the schedule. Like we’ve mentioned before, we know changes are going to happen. How can we best set up our schedule to accommodate?

By pre-planning the time duration, you can make adjustments in real-time. Completing this step will give you the basis for your schedule and you can move forward with preparing for the actual work.

Assign and Execute Tasks

How does each team member know which task is their responsibility? By assigning tasks to a specific team member. The construction planning schedule lists out who handles each task. This could be a specific team member or to a subcontractor. Either way, the team is able to look at the schedule and have direction on who to go to for each piece of the project.

Now there is a line of open communication. By assigning and executing tasks, the project can move along with ease.

Review, Review, Review

Once you've filled out your schedule, it doesn't mean the work is done. Your schedule should never go away Even after your start date, the project management team needs to check the schedule often.

There are many questions it can answer. Are deadlines being met? Are there potential bottlenecks? Teams should review the schedule daily to keep the project on track.

This review process shouldn’t only happen within your team. It’s important to review the schedule with subcontractors. Even partners should be in the loop. Keeping the open communication between all the departments is key.

FAQs

What is a construction project schedule?

The construction project schedule is a formal schedule that is often presented using a Gantt Chart as a basis, or represented in a software platform. A project schedule must be reviewable and allows each team member to execute their tasks.

What is a construction schedule called?

When planning your construction schedule, you may hear many terms. The most popular term is “Construction Scheduling.” Having your construction project scheduling available helps meet the deadlines of your project.

What should a construction schedule include?

There are a few pieces of info that your schedule should include. First is a list of resources, including workers and materials. Second, is a detailed list of which tasks need to be completed. Lastly, you want to determine a time duration for each task. The schedule should assign tasks to a specific team member. With this structure, your team is set up for success.

What is a Gantt chart?

A visual representation of the steps throughout your entire project using a horizontal and vertical axis. The horizontal axis represents the time of the project, and the vertical contains all the tasks.

What is the critical path method?

It identifies which tasks are crucial to the project and establishes a working path through them for construction projects.

Written By: Joe Demski

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