Defining Construction Schedule Controls

Schedule controls refer to the processes, tools, and practices used to analyze and share the data held within a CPM schedule to support project controls.

You have some knowledge about construction schedule controls. Its roots go back to the 1950s when Critical Path Method (CPM) scheduling was introduced. An excerpt from the 1963 Harvard Business Review article, “The ABCs of the Critical Path Method,” highlights the intent behind the technique, noting the following:

“In essence, the tool provides a means of determining which jobs or activities, of the many that comprise a project, are ‘critical’ in their effect on total project time, and how best to schedule all jobs in the project in order to meet a target date at a minimum cost.”

In the early years of CPM, the idea of using computerized scheduling to control the activities that comprise a project was a hit. Eventually, because the timely completion of a project is of utmost importance, almost every construction contract started to include some scheduling requirements. 

However, somewhere along the way, nobody informed the industry of the best practices required for developing schedules specifically for construction projects. 

The result is an industry in which schedules are a necessity, but the practices required to ensure data accuracy and reliability have been largely ignored. This has greatly impacted the utility of schedule controls to support an overall project control process. Nonetheless, creating schedule controls is a relatively straightforward process—and it works. 

 

The Role of Schedule Controls in Project Controls

 

Project Controls refer to the processes, tools, and practices used to plan, monitor, and manage various aspects of a construction project. These activities include schedule, cost, risk, and quality, among others, to ensure that a project stays on track and successfully meets its objectives. 

In essence, project controls involve analyzing different data sets from your construction projects to make decisions regarding their trajectory. Each data set — cost, risk, document, quality, schedule, etc. — has its own set of controls that support project management’s primary function of directing and controlling the work. But one in particular ties them all together – the schedule.

 

 

Schedule controls have that particular function within project controls because CPM schedules are A) usually required on most construction projects and B) are the sole project document that links everything required to complete a project—from beginning to end—in one place.

 

What Are Schedule Controls? 

 

Schedule controls refer to the processes, tools, and practices used to analyze and share the data held within a CPM schedule to support project controls. They create processes that allow you to understand and manage project risks using data-driven controls. 

Using these controls, you can unlock the richest source of project data and deliver value to every stakeholder in the construction process. This requires consistently building quality schedules, reporting timely progress information, understanding and managing project risks, and communicating project status to stakeholders. 

To do so, you must follow a process that establishes checks and balances to ensure the schedule is feasible, trustworthy, and valuable. 

 

Tools and Best Practices

The Limitations of Scheduling Software

 

Industry-standard software, like Microsoft Project and Primavera P6, do not inherently include features to ensure schedules can be used to provide the necessary insights for effectively managing construction projects. Without standardized controls in place, schedules produced in these tools can lead to: 

  • Compressed schedules
  • Unrecognized delays
  • Overoptimistic timelines
  • An updating process managed by hope rather than data

This is not to say these tools are not worth using. In fact, CPM schedules, when appropriately managed, hold the key to controlling project outcomes.  For commercial construction projects, the problem is the scheduling process needs more than just a scheduling tool. It needs controls that sit on top of your existing processes. 

 

Analyzing Schedule Data with Schedule Controls

 

To create schedules worthy of managing a job, it’s essential to implement several schedule controls across all your projects that standard programs do not have. The schedule controls explored in this blog include: 

  1. Schedule Quality Controls
  2. Update Integrity Reviews
  3. Delay and Recovery Analysis
  4. Progress and Performance Analysis
  5. Milestone Tracking

Below are the steps every construction company should follow to manage its projects and business more effectively. 

 

Creating Construction Schedule Controls Phase 1: Schedule Quality Controls

 

Schedule quality is the foundation of all schedule controls. When defining schedule quality, sometimes it’s easier to discuss what it is NOT. Schedule quality is not a health metric or feasibility metric. It might play into those two types of metrics, but misconstruing schedule quality as a measure of how well your project is doing overall is a common mistake.

Schedule quality is, though, a reliability metric. Schedule quality controls should be designed around each individual project to ensure the data set, which is the CPM Schedule, is well-founded and suitable to be analyzed specific to the project. A well-thought-out schedule quality rubric will help ensure accuracy around critical paths, float paths, and progress updating, giving you a command of the project’s status.

 

On the Importance of Data Accuracy for Float and Criticality

 

The most powerful aspect of a CPM scheduling tool is its ability to prioritize activities based on their influence on the project’s end date by calculating float (slack), which identifies each activity’s flexibility in the schedule. 

 

 

To trust float to make informed decisions, it is essential to build a schedule that A) accounts for all tasks with their proper durations and B) reflects the true relationships and dependencies between activities.

 

Without Construction Schedule Controls

 

Let’s say you have a schedule and rely on the total float values and the critical path, but the schedule is of poor quality. Without quality, you cannot accurately rely on float values and criticality to understand what drives a job to make good decisions – resulting in a misleading schedule, which is a problem for several reasons. 

Misleading schedules can result in: 

  • Misidentifying critical activities
  • Incorrectly estimating activity float
  • Erroneously placing high priority on non-driving areas
  • Blaming extraneous issues for delays

Quality control is just phase one—it continues into phase two. Schedule quality control is required throughout your project, as is maintaining data integrity, which is the next step in schedule controls. 

 

Schedule Controls Phase 2: Update Integrity Reviews

 

It’s well known that schedule updates should happen regularly (at least once a month), but bi-weekly is ideal. Regardless of frequency, each update captures progress and performance data at a specific point in time, allowing the plan to be recalculated based on activity progression since the job began.

CPM scheduling tools automatically recalculate float values based on user input, helping you understand changes in activity priority and how impacts have affected project timelines. However, if the input data is inaccurate, the progress information, critical path, or float values become unreliable – thereby putting the entire project at risk.

 

Key Reasons for Update Integrity Reviews

 

If schedule quality controls are about creating trustworthy data, update integrity reviews are about maintaining that trustworthiness by accurately telling the project’s story. These two schedule controls are closely related, but while one focuses on setting the project up for success, update integrity reviews ensure we faithfully measure against that plan.

Update integrity reviews ensure your schedule data is accurate, consistent, and reflective of actual progress and changes on the project from the previous update. By maintaining data integrity throughout every update, you can make more informed decisions, mitigate risks, and elevate the overall control of your project.

 

Conducting Schedule Update Reviews for Schedule Controls

 

First and foremost, whenever you receive a schedule update, you have two questions to answer: 

  1. Is the reported progress (actual starts, actual finishes, and percent completes) accurate?
  2. Has the sequence of the remaining work changed?

These questions are essential because schedule updates must reflect the project’s true status. Too often, schedules are adjusted to reflect optimism about meeting end dates rather than reality, leading to inaccurate progress data and incorrect assumptions about remaining activity execution. 

 

Managing Delays and Schedule Changes

 

Changes to the planned side of an updated schedule are a top risk to your schedule’s quality established in the baseline. Most of the time, changes are made to the schedule to overcome delays, and typically are more focused on maintaining an end date rather than a high-quality schedule. 

Problems arise when durations are shortened or sequencing is changed without discussing the reasons or implications of these changes. To avoid unilateral decisions, discuss the reasons for schedule changes, their implications, and possible alternatives with the team. This involvement helps get buy-in and commitment to the new plan. That said, adjusting schedules to reflect real-time changes and new information enhances predictability for future performance and potential issues. 

 

 

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still question the feasibility of these changes. Before finalizing any updates, ensure they are feasible and achievable within your project’s given resources and timeframe. 

 

Schedule Controls Phase 3: Delay and Recovery Analysis

 

In each update period, it’s essential to assess whether any activities have delayed the project and what recovery efforts have been implemented. This step is critical in schedule controls and underscores the importance of having a well-built and maintained schedule (Phases 1 and 2). A solid schedule helps you confidently identify your critical path activities.

A well-established critical path enables you to properly identify and quantify delays due to progress and understand the impact of any changes made to the remaining plan.

 

The Importance of Studying Critical Path Delay and Recovery

 

CPM schedules answer the question: What needs to happen today to avoid immediately impacting the project’s end date? CPM software is designed to answer that question day in and day out, but it comes with a responsibility. 

In addition to maintaining quality, you must understand the reasons behind impacts, delays, and recovery efforts. So, how do you get there? With delay and recovery analysis. Let me explain. 

Often, the end date variance from update to update is labeled as a “delay” or an “acceleration,” depending on the direction of the change. In reality, these changes are a combination of reported progress and modifications to the remaining plan. 

For instance, if a project experiences ten days of critical progress delay in a period, the end date variance might only be five days because a critical path activity in the future was shortened by five days to compensate. 

The progress delay side of the end date variance equation must be understood so that conversations can be had about what is currently impacting the project’s timeline and how to remedy the situation. 

Moreover, as changes happen to mitigate delays without recovery analysis, the risk of overall schedule mismanagement rises, inevitably resulting in more delays, inefficiencies, overruns, and the likelihood of a dispute.

 

Schedule Controls Phase 4: Progress and Performance Analysis

 

In order to use your schedule to control project outcomes, you have to have a mechanism to gauge risk. Every commercial construction project involves countless tasks that must be completed on time—and schedule data is the best source for understanding what these tasks are and when they need to happen. 

 

Factoring in Risk as the Project Progresses

 

When project plans are initially built into the schedule, they may or may not factor in risk. Even if they do, such risk assessments are often hypothetical. Furthermore, these assessments typically do not account for real-world developments as the project progresses, nor do they incorporate these developments to enhance the understanding of what the identified risks mean for the project’s schedule or budget. 

Consequently, teams often find themselves managing projects without truly incorporating lessons learned on risk, leaving them less equipped to identify and implement the necessary actions to mitigate these risks effectively. However, by analyzing historical progress and performance data, you can understand if your project is trending in the right direction. 

 

How to Analyze Progress and Performance

 

By understanding how you are performing against your plan, you can determine what future issues will impact your ability to finish on time and on budget. Several performance indicators can help support your overall schedule control process, including: 

  • Planned vs. Actual Curves
  • Should Start/Should Finish Report
  • Interactive Gantt Charts

 

Planned vs. Actual Curves

 

By plotting planned vs. actual progress over time, you can identify deviations from your schedule early, allowing for timely corrective actions. Using tools like SmartPM, which provides early and late start date curves alongside actual and predictive progress, you gain a more realistic picture of the entire project’s progress and an achievable delivery date.

 

Should Start / Should Finish Report

 

A Should Start / Should Finish report outlines the planned start and finish dates for every activity between updates, serving as a benchmark for expected performance against actual progress. SmartPM automatically generates this report for any timeframe in your project lifecycle, identifying late starts and finishes aligned with key milestones. 

 

Interactive Gantt Charts

 

Having access to an interactive Gantt chart is invaluable. These dynamic tools provide a comprehensive view of your schedule. SmartPM’s Web-Based Gantt Chart allows you to visualize performance, potential outcomes, and “what-if scenarios” with detailed views of every project’s entire history and trajectory. 

 

Schedule Controls Phase 5: Milestone Tracking

 

Now that you have secured and maintained trustworthy schedule data and noted changes, delays, acceleration, and causation, it’s time to do the same for your key milestones.

Milestones mark specific activities or dates in schedules. Most construction projects have many key milestones that need to be achieved at a certain point. Typical examples include completing interior finishes, utility installations, or building enclosures. 

Tracking key milestones at every update allows you to better understand the risks surrounding milestone achievement. The best way to do this is to isolate each milestone as if it were its own schedule, allowing you to see its critical path. Furthermore, if tracked at every update, you can see the progress, delays, and changes affecting specific phases of your project. 

We serve for: General Contractors & Construction Management Firms

 

The Pathway to Maximizing Your Data Starts with Schedule Controls

 

Many construction companies struggle to anticipate project challenges due to a lack of high-level visibility into project progress. This leads to uncertainty about which projects may encounter difficulties, the timing of issues, and potential cost implications. However, with the right schedule controls in place, you can do just that.

Schedule controls certify that the CPM schedule remains an accurate reflection of project timelines and dependencies. They help you confirm that your schedule is practical, considering all changes and their impacts on the overall timeline. This proactive approach allows you to address issues early in the construction process. 

SmartPM is the tool that makes this possible. It applies and interprets the data from your schedule, providing a holistic system for continuous monitoring and oversight. With SmartPM, you can be confident that your schedule reflects reality, changes are accounted for, and their impacts are understood. But that’s not all… 

If you’d like to see all the controls SmartPM can provide you, request a demo, and we’ll show you how you can leverage the data you have to better your business. 

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