Planned vs Actual Progress Explained

By plotting the earned value curves in the schedule versus what is actually happening, you can reflect on durations with levels of risk, over-optimism bias, and planning fallacy.

Tracking planned vs actual progress is a foundational practice in construction project management. Doing so enables companies to maintain control over projects, improve outcomes, and enhance overall operational efficiency. 


Planned Schedule


The planned schedule, often called the baseline schedule, represents the original timeline agreed upon for project completion. It details when each task or activity should start and finish and includes milestones, task durations, and resource allocations.

The schedule comes to life after considering the scope of work, available resources, and various other constraints. Typically, once set and approved, the baseline schedule shouldn’t change. However, in some instances, like significant scope changes, it might be necessary to “re-baseline” the schedule.


Actual Progress


The actual aspect of construction scheduling refers to the project’s real-time progress–or the earned schedule. It records when tasks or activities actually started and finished. Any deviations from the planned schedule, whether through delays or ahead-of-schedule completions, are captured here. The actual data will change as the project progresses. As tasks finish or delays occur, this data is updated to reflect the project’s current status. 


Comparison and Analysis 


Comparing the planned schedule with the actual progress, project teams gain the insight they need to do the following.

  • Identify if the project is on track, ahead, or behind schedule. 
  • Forecast potential delays and determine their impact on project completion. 
  • Allocate resources more effectively based on current needs.
  • Make informed decisions about potential schedule compression (such as overtime or additional resources) to get things back on track.
  • Communicate project status with all stakeholders, including other team members, subcontractors, and project owners/representatives. 

There are myriad resources available on the internet about how to compute the variance between the planned schedule and actual progress. The goal here is to understand why these variances occur in the first place. Suppose your planned vs actual progress varies widely on your construction projects. In that case, tracking down the causes and refining your scheduling process to minimize variance is critical. 


The Consequences of Inadequate Scheduling


Insufficient scheduling leads to significant disparities between the planned project timeline and the actual delivery date. This causes budget overruns, subpar work quality, and potential legal disputes. The problem is exacerbated by various factors, with inefficient scheduling being a primary culprit, as indicated by industry reports and studies. 

Studies show inadequate planning and scheduling are responsible for delays in 30% to 50% of projects. This is especially true when combined with factors like poor supervision and communication. 

  • A Project Management Institute survey of over 40,000 global Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification holders in construction revealed that 72% frequently faced project delays.
  • In a 2022 Cornerstone Projects survey, 28% of respondents noted that over 50% of construction projects now experience delays. This is a stark increase from 15% in 2016.


Explaining the “Change of Plans”


Ineffective scheduling derives from a variety of sources. While there are likely more than what is listed here, these are the most frequently cited: 

  • Scheduling Skills: Too often, project schedulers are spread too thin. Many manage a portfolio of projects, others have never step foot on a job site. This issue lends itself to details being missed, insufficient planning, and a plethora of other risks. 
  • Substandard Data: Garbage in, garbage out. That mantra applies directly to the creation of a construction project schedule. When the data used from the schedule is incorrect, outdated, or incomplete, the plan is doomed from the start. 
  • Optimistic Estimations: Overly optimistic projections and timeframes arise for various reasons, such as underestimating the complexity of tasks, not adequately accounting for potential risks, or pressure to present aggressive timelines to win bids. 
  • Lack of Detailed Planning: A schedule without thorough planning may miss key tasks or dependencies, leading to conflicts and delays down the line. 
  • Lack of Regular Monitoring and Updates: A schedule is not a one-time document. It needs to be regularly reviewed and updated based on the project’s progress as well as any unforeseen events. 


Planned vs Actual Progress: Visualized & Automated:


Knowing how well you keep up with the original plan can take time and effort. However, doing planned vs. actual analysis can be done using something you already have– your schedule data. 

The utilization of visual representations of schedule data, such as the red curve indicating the baseline and the cumulative earned value over time, provides a clear comparison between the planned progress and the actual performance achieved. 

By delineating the gap between planned vs actual progress, you can assess how much your project is progressing over time according to the initial plan. Moreover, the introduction of predictive completion through the yellow item adds a layer of anticipation, allowing for the identification of potential spikes in performance or deviations from the planned schedule. 

This visual approach not only offers a tangible way to gauge the reasonableness of the project schedule but also serves as a proactive tool. For instance, SmartPM’s generative analysis, by amalgamating historical data and future plans, creates predictive models that indicate how the project will progress if the current performance trajectory is maintained. Such analyses help forecast project completion and enable you to assess whether the project is in alignment with industry best practices. This visual clarity not only aids in understanding the project’s current status but also empowers teams to make informed decisions, fostering efficiency and effectiveness in commercial construction projects.


The Value of Planned vs Actual Analysis


Simply by plotting the earned value curves in the schedule versus what is actually happening, you can reflect on durations with levels of risk, over-optimism bias, and planning fallacy. Furthermore, by watching how your project’s planned vs. actual curve changes at every update, you can detect problems early using this information.

Project delays, both preventable and unforeseen, are a fact of construction life. However, a platform like SmartPM can significantly minimize their impact by helping create an initial schedule that is accurate, realistic, and achievable. Further, it can keep projects on the straight and narrow regardless of what problems may arise.

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