The role of CPM scheduling in the construction industry has increased significantly over the past couple decades. One reason for this is economic. Owners have become more demanding in their scheduling specifications in order to better monitor the project and meet funding requirements and budget projections. And tight competition and narrow profit margins have forced contractors to maximize efficiency through careful planning, scheduling, and coordination.
A second reason is liability. From claims preparation and dispute resolution to legal evidence in a trial, a well-designed and maintained CPM schedule can make or break the chances of recovering damages.
Most fundamentally, however, a well-designed and maintained CPM schedule is just good project management practice—it lays out the road map that tells you how to get from point A to point B, from project start to project completion.
Growing up in my family meant road-trip vacations every summer. And, of course, we asked all the typical questions children ask after sitting for hours in a back seat. The “How many more miles?” and “When are we going to get there?” questions were most often responded to with a map highlighted along the shortest path of travel (the “critical path”), and we were encouraged to figure out the answers ourselves. We learned that we could use the red numbers along the highway to measure progress and project our arrival time (duration). We could measure our average speed by counting the miles traveled divided by the hours on the road (production). Taking our average speed we could calculate our arrival time based on remaining miles (projections). What’s more, if my father made a wrong turn or we experienced mechanical difficulties, all we needed was the map to determine where we were when we went off course, how long we were off, and when we were safely back on the right path. From there we could measure the impact of the mishap.
These maps were great management tools. Not only did my parents use them to plan and make projections for the trip, they also were great for back seat management. The longer we went without getting the answers we needed the greater the noise level from the back seat. My parents learned early that an easy-to-read, clearly highlighted map kept us busy for hours and proved to be a good exercise in noise reduction and dispute management.
In any undertaking it is important to know where you are going, how you will get there, and what resources will be required to successfully achieve the goal. It is no different with any construction project. A successful project roadmap (a well-maintained construction plan) is an essential management tool for many of the same reasons that my parents learned in our vacation experiences.
A well thought-out plan and schedule will help in planning and allocating the five key resources on the project: time, money, personnel, equipment, and material. With that plan in place you only need to know three things to measure the impact of most delays: where you were on the critical path at the time of impact, how long you were off of the critical path, and when did you returned to full production on the critical activities. Finally, the well-prepared, easy-to-read plan is great for communication and noise management.