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Digital Strategy Playbook: Construction Scheduling

Today, it can feel like construction delays are more common than not. For large projects, this is so common that, according to McKinsey & Company, 77% of megaprojects are at least 40% or more behind schedule. The global consulting firm also cites that large projects are delayed on average by 20 months. In other words, missing deadlines has turned into the norm rather than the exception when it comes to construction projects. Knowing this, it’s easy to understand why the next key performance indicator (KPI) in our 2020 Digital Construction Playbook series, construction scheduling, is essential to improve.

In our series so far, we’ve discussed foundational digital strategies to improve construction documents, RFIs, and change orders. So, why the focus on these specific construction processes? Last year, Autodesk and Dodge Data & Analytics surveyed hundreds of construction professionals to identify and analyze current processes for planning and executing projects. The study revealed the seven key activities companies are using to benchmark their overall performance. But before you dive into all the nitty-gritty details of building your digital strategy, it’s useful to first learn where your company stands when it comes to performance in these seven areas. Our Construction Health Check – a free 15-minute assessment – will help you do just that.  

Are you ready to learn how your team can improve construction scheduling in 2020? Let’s take a look. 

The Current State of Construction Scheduling 

In reality, construction schedules are constantly changing. With the number of moving parts and people to coordinate, something inevitably slips through the cracks. On the other hand, many external influences, such as inclement weather, can impact a project schedule. Nevertheless, the Dodge study specifically looked at how project schedules are updated, as in the frequency of updating schedules and other related activities and outcomes, including the impact of slippage.

When it comes to construction schedules, here’s how construction firms are currently measuring up:

construction scheduling statistics

Time Is Not of the Essence 

The Dodge study signaled a major red flag when it comes to updating schedules. Notably, only 42% of respondents reported that they update schedules daily or weekly. Of that percentage, just 20% said that they update the schedule within 1-2 days of becoming aware of a situation requiring schedule modification. Knowing how important it is to capture schedule changes promptly, this number is concerning. Real-time schedule changes are critical for understanding the status of a project as well as crucial for coordinating trades and other project activities that remain. 

The Impact of Slippage  

For construction projects, schedule delays are adding up according to the results from the Dodge report. In fact, 66% of general contractors reported that they are carrying added costs from overtime/second shifts on at least three-quarters of their projects due to schedule slippage. This is creating what is known as concurrent delays – when two or more delays happen at the same time and impact the original project schedule. As a result, 50% of these general contractors report having to extend the project end date, adding significant additional costs that eat away at extremely thin margins. 

Present-Focused Scheduling

When it comes to using overall and look ahead schedules, just over half of contractors surveyed (52%) indicated they use them on more than half of their projects. More than likely, these future-thinking respondents belong to companies that are adopting Lean practices on their construction projects, optimizing efficiency. 

We all know that schedule slippages occur for one reason or another. However, what’s important is the documenting and recording of the cause of the slippage. Was it due to a change order that caused a delay in labor? Was it due to inclimate weather? TheDodge study indicated that if companies increased the frequency of reviewing past information for these activities, they could potentially mitigate issues that occur during the build phase, on future similar projects. 

A Digital Strategy to Improve Construction Scheduling

Like other issues that arise during the construction process, being preemptive and proactive is the best way to handle potential schedule problems. Strategies like hiring the right people, setting up communication standards, investing in project-wide planning, as well as incorporating connected technology solutions, all help to mitigate some of the most common types of construction delays. 

We shouldn’t be discouraged as there are unique opportunities to improve and fine-tune current processes and create a winning digital strategy for construction scheduling in 2020. Schedule delays are going to happen, however, there are ways to either mitigate or lower their risk of impact.

1. Invest in Planning

Planning and scheduling are the essential backbones of any project. With methodical planning early in the project, companies can minimize delays and meet more aggressive schedules, as well as gain more control over budgets. When planning scheduling in a traditional construction environment, the responsibility often falls to a single or several individuals, tasked with outlining when each element of the construction project should be complete. Unfortunately, the original schedule doesn’t always get updated with all the details as the project proceeds, as confirmed in the results of the Dodge report. Additionally, those responsible for making sure teams perform to the schedule are often not included in the original scheduling process, which means the schedule might be too aggressive from the start.

As many know, effective production planning is the key to scheduling accountability- it’s putting this process into practice that many contractors find challenging. Including critical members in the original scheduling process will help devise a more realistic schedule from the start, and give the executing more of a sense of ownership in the project.

To further maintain accountability, production planning needs to be detailed and gain buy-in from all project stakeholders. This includes what needs to happen on the project, what tasks are expected from each team member, aligns their tasks with their skillset, and provides an avenue for them to make their updates (as timely as possible) as they complete their work. It is shown that when this process is completed in a digital project management or scheduling tool, it tends to provide greater transparency for all project members from the beginning to the end of the project. 

2. Qualify Your Trade Contractors

All construction professionals are keenly aware of the impact of the skilled labor shortage. Today’s companies need to maximize their labor resources as efficiently as possible to keep up with increasing market demands. But if the crew you have on site isn’t efficient, you could end up with real problems. The quality of your subcontractors varies significantly from company to company, and even person to person. While it’s easy to hire any subcontractor, your company has a relationship with or who submits the lowest bid, hiring on these two factors alone opens up your project and company to significant risk. In addition to mistakes and errors, it may take inefficient workers more working hours to complete something, resulting in schedule slippage.  

Inefficiency is a very real issue for a construction project and results in major delays, expenses, and even litigation that can be difficult to recover from. By prequalifying your subcontractors and tracking which companies are providing you with the most efficient staff, you can make better decisions about the partners you hire. Utilizing prequalification software is a massive opportunity here. Contractors can quickly and effectively assess a subcontractor’s financial condition, safety record, and insurance coverage – all factors will help you hire the best, and most effective, team for the job. 

3. Conduct Extensive Constructability Reviews

In practice, design teams don’t always understand what’s constructible in the field. Likewise, construction teams don’t usually have a hand in the design process, especially when entering into projects with contracts that discourage collaboration early in the project, such as design bid build. This is a basic misalignment that can result in excessive RFIs, potentially leading to significant delays.

No matter what type of contract your project falls under, we all know that constructability reviews are critical. Thanks to technology that enables collaboration between design and build teams, contractors can conduct constructability reviews virtually – during preconstruction. Using collaboration software, teams can create and view highly accurate and highly detailed visualizations and see how they fit together – or don’t.

As we mentioned above, taking a look at constructability issues on similar past projects is a valuable step to reduce potential schedule slippage. With the right technology, teams can leverage historical knowledge and access past project data to identify common errors and mistakes that can be avoidable in current and future ones of similar size and scope. 

4. Focus on Communication 

Without collaboration and up-to-date communication, it’s easy to fall behind on your construction project. If you’re using systems or processes that don’t reflect the latest changes, your project will be wide open for errors, rework, and delays. Using cloud-based software that centralizes communications and information, ensure all project members are on top of the latest schedule changes. It also helps ensure that collaboration is easy, and no one can claim that they were left out of the discussion when they needed to know something important about a particular project activity. While communication doesn’t guarantee that there won’t be delays, equipping entire project teams with real-time digital communication enables immediate documentation and delivery to the relevant parties so that it can be immediately responded to.

5. Utilize Project Management Software

Construction project management software provides visibility and increases trust across the project team. In the field, teams can see whether previous work is complete and if it’s safe to bring their crews on site. Additionally, with enhanced visibility and transparency for the GC, they can make the needed adjustments to set realistic schedules and hold the subs accountable to it. 

When selecting the right construction project management technology, look for platforms that have tools for advanced task tracking and progress insights. Your team should be able to have both granular and high-level views of specific activities and project progress as a whole. 

Only 3 More KPIs to Go!

We hope you found our deep dive for our 2020 Digital Construction Playbook series on construction scheduling useful. Next week, we’ll dive into our next KPI – software for safety and inspections. 

We’re always open to feedback and suggestions on this and other blog posts. Have something to share? Add a comment below! 

Kristen Sylva

Kristen Sylva

Manager, Customer Marketing, Autodesk Construction Solution

With a colorful 18-years of marketing experience ranging from sports and entertainment, to web design and healthcare, Kristen Sylva found the most excitement and passion for the construction industry. After putting on her first hard hat, safety vest, and boots in 2008 as a marketing manager at Topcon Positioning Group, she knew that an extensive career in construction technology was in her future. While at Topcon, Kristen oversaw sales-driven marketing programs and led customer symposiums that evangelized the adoption of construction hardware technology. In 2014 she made the transition from construction hardware to software and joined Autodesk as Construction Industry Marketing Manager. In her role, Kristen has the privilege of connecting with construction professionals and spearheading initiatives that showcase the innovative ways companies are using technology to digitize their construction projects and processes. She also leads initiatives that support lifting and building awareness for women in construction and serves on the board of Autodesk’s Women in Leadership organization. Kristen is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma (Boomer Sooner!) and currently resides in the East Bay of California with her husband, two kids, and two dogs.