Having an effective time management and tracking system is essential for any project executive. While most everybody has a system, very frequently it is not an effective system, or not nearly as effective a system as it could be if properly implemented. For project management one of the most potentially effective systems is a CPM (critical path method) schedule, a time-scaled project “to do” list driven by task relationships and/or resources and prioritized by impact on project completion. I say that it is one of the most “potentially” effective systems because, like any tool, its effectiveness depends on how well you use it.
Here are some suggestions on how to get the most out of your CPM schedule.
Most of the clients I have had over the years have viewed the CPM schedule as fulfilling just another contract submittal requirement. Accordingly, only a minimum amount of effort is put into building and maintaining an effective schedule. This attitude is generally self-reinforcing. A perfunctorily prepared schedule is often useless as a management tool, useless for anything, that is, except satisfying a contract requirement.
It is my experience, however, that a carefully thought out and diligently maintained and monitored CPM schedule can frequently cut more than 10% off the project’s duration. Considering the daily operating costs of a construction project, twenty or so less working days for a year-long project is a significant savings.
In many cases, different project personnel each have a somewhat different project vision, usually centered around what seems most important to them right now. This generally means, and in very large projects guarantees, than no one individual has a broad enough and deep enough perspective on the project’s status to accurately appreciate the effect of impacts and to allocate resources in the most efficient manner. The result is that project management becomes more reactive than proactive.
The most successful projects I have seen have developed CPM schedules with input from all the key players–project managers and staff, estimators, subcontractors, and Owners. A good CPM scheduler is more than a software technician. For me, the value of a consulting engagement is bringing the parties together, coordinating a plan that everyone can stand behind and that can be used for monitoring, accountability, budgeting, and issue analysis.
An often overlooked or underemphasized task is maintaining the schedule with consistent and regular updating. Companies often hire me to assist in preparation of a baseline plan, but then put little emphasis on tracking the progress against the plan. Once again, time is the best early warning system. If a project is not meeting its time projections, chances are that the budget is impacted as well. A regularly updated schedule will inform of overages the day the activity goes past the planned finish date. Without consistent updating, delay impacts cannot be properly assessed and issues will not get the early attention required for speedy resolution.
Executives would not consider relying on financial statements if they could not rely on the consistency of data. Most project data makes it to the financials too late to be pro-active with the outcome. Good schedule reporting systems across the organization allows executives to identify and resolve problems early before it hits the financials. It is especially important to report on the comparison between planned vs. actual progress for executive review.