As a leader in your organization, one of the biggest mistakes that you can make in terms of construction scheduling software is focusing on a tool as JUST a time management solution. While having the right solution at your side can certainly help you make sure that a project finishes on time and on budget, the overall functionality of today’s construction scheduling software runs a great deal deeper than that. Construction scheduling software can aid with everything from cost estimating, project management planning, quality management, resource management, even document management and more – provided that you know how to get the most out of your chosen solution in the first place.
I know you’ve heard this a million times….
“What gets measured gets managed.”
….but it really is true. Most of us understand that construction scheduling software does “scheduling”. And most of us build schedules in software and use software to track starts and finishes. But can you gain more insight from your projects by leveraging more features of your tool, whatever tool you chose.
Construction Scheduling Software – 7 Features To Take Advantage Of
I’ve just come back from attending AACEi’s Annual General Meeting here in Toronto last week. Having spent a lot of time on the tradeshow floor where Plan Academy had a booth (our 1st booth & 1st time at AACE’s conference), I had a chance to see a many construction scheduling software packages. And there are many. But they all do mainly the same thing at their core – CPM Scheduling. So the key differentiators are what other features the vendor has wrapped around a CPM Scheduling engine.
Right, wrong or indifferent, I believe that companies invest a lot of time and money into their planning & project management tools, not to mention training and education on those tools. Too often companies invest in construction scheduling software, but don’t get a great return for lack of going deep with their software.
The reasons for diving deeper into a software package are many but often include:
- lack of training or understanding
- lack of time
- features add too much complexity
- lack of staff
- “this is how we’ve always done it”
Let me start by exploring some of the most basic features of most tools that many organizations fail to take advantage of.
1) Project Resource Management
Every construction project uses and employs resources and on every project they are a scarce commodity. You can benefit from insight into your project’s resources by adding them to your schedule – or resource-loading your schedule in industry jargon. Almost every construction scheduling software package has some sort of resource management features built-in, giving you graphs, charts and warnings for when your resources are over-allocated. Often resources are broken into categories like labor, equipment and material, giving you much functionality around managing your project’s resources.
Not only that, optimizing resources and checking for resource over-allocations is an essential step in the development of a project schedule. But it’s one that is too often left undone, whereby companies prefer to focus on timelines and dates and ignore the potential schedule impacts from resource constraints, especially constraints that occur mid-project.
The benefits are many. Track your trades and disciplines in terms of hours, analyze peak demand periods, clearly see conflicts and overallocation situations and track resource productivity. These are just some of the advantages of invoking resource management features in your software. Resource management that is aligned with your schedule provides you with data and intelligence that you otherwise would not have at your fingertips.
2) Risk Register
Risk analysis & risk management used to be reserved only for large multi-billion dollar construction initiatives. But that’s no longer the case. Many owners & clients are requesting at a minimum a list of risks and a plan for mitigating them, which is a basic risk register. Even if your client isn’t requesting this, it’s still in your best interest to do even a little risk analysis, identification & management.
Some construction scheduling packages, like Primavera P6 Professional, have a basic risk register built-in that you can easily put to good use. Identify a top ten list of potential risks on your project, assign each a probability of occurrence and link them to a task on the schedule. Most risk registers will enable you to spell out the impacts of the risk.
Since usually the impact of a risk is either an unplanned cost or a delay likely resulting in an expense, doing some sort of risk management will potentially save you money in the long term. So break out your calculator, put on your stats cap and re-watch “Money Ball” to get in the mood. Then take a stab at your project’s risk register. There’s a 70% chance with a 90% confidence interval that you won’t regret you did.
3) Historical Reporting
So few of us know how to leverage the huge archive of project data we’ve accumulated over the years. But any “Big Data” evangelist will tell you that your mountain of project data is pure bullion. But not unlike Alaskan gold, you have to go digging to find it.
When you’re looking at historical data from past projects, you’ll absolutely want to focus on trends. Not all construction scheduling software package are set up with this in mind, but all have some sort of reporting and often you can run a report on a group of projects. Trends that will offer you insight might include:
- How often did key milestones finish on time?
- At finish, what was the average deviation from the baseline?
- What were the longest activities?
- What were the average costs of x type activities?
I know, you probably don’t have time for a make-work project like this. But hypothetically, if you did, what do you think you would find? A repeated project inefficiency that could improved upon? A common trouble spot that could be avoided on the next project? A renewed focus on better planning based on actual historical data? Cost savings? The opportunities are endless here. You might want to watch “Money Ball” again before starting.
4) Cloud & Mobile Access
Ok, I know. We’re not all there yet. Not all solutions are cloud-enabled and have a mobile app for updates from the field. But man, do we want this soon.
At last week’s AACE conference I saw a demo from one vendor in the turnaround and shutdown space that has a fully-integrated real-time scheduling solution; yes I said REAL-TIME. But it’s real-time because they have wi-fi connected kiosks placed throughout the plant where trades people can, through a simplified yes/no interface, provide updates on tasks from the floor as they happen. Foremen have apps on their phones for updates. The updates are automatically feed into the project schedule and the schedule is automatically updated (or scheduled) to provide management a real-time dashboard via a cloud-based app. Wow! I was impressed. This is the future of project tracking.
The construction scheduling software world is large and vast and there are some solutions, like projectplace.com that are built natively as applications in the cloud, accessible anywhere on any device. If your scheduling tool of choice has those capabilities, leverage them and the incredible convenience and flexibility they offer. Or perhaps it is time to switch.
Large projects involving multiple contractors and stakeholders are already complex. So why add to the fire by having everyone work independently in their own tool. Most construction scheduling software packages are enterprise tools and have a database backend. The thinking in this design was to allow for collaboration between users.
Why keep shuttling project files back and forth? Why not let everyone work in the same database and avoid the hassle of constant exporting / importing, verifying, cleaning, etc?
A few years back, I consulted for a company that was setting up a Primavera P6 installation for a large airport renewal project in western Canada. The client had decided to enforce all contractors to work in a single install of Primavera P6. Everyone was provided appropriate access and security was set up so the contractors didn’t interfere with each other’s schedules in the tool. The result was a much smoother and transparent project controls experience for everyone. And much less time finagling with xer files and updates – there’s always some poor savvy P6 user that has to deal with xer files, imports and the mess of changes between updates (I know because that’s been me on more than a few occasions!).
Leverage your scheduling tool’s collaboration features. Let go of the fear and protectionism and opt for a more transparent experience.
The suggestions above are just a few of the key ways that you can make sure you’re getting the most out of your construction scheduling software. Remember that an investment in this type of solution isn’t JUST an investment in the task at hand – it’s an investment in the future of your business. This is the type of software deployment that can and SHOULD continue to serve you for years to come.