14: Primavera Blues: Why CPM Schedules Fail and What You Can Do to Stop the Insanity

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Is Primavera scheduling software that hard to learn? I don’t know if Primavera is really that hard to learn or not. I used to think it was. Now, I am starting to wonder. And Primavera 6 (P6) is quite different from Primavera 3 (P3). A couple of months ago, I overheard a colleague teaching two junior schedulers, that P6, like its predecessor P3, did not have an undo feature,  unlike most other modern computer applications. This is not true. Although P6 disappointed many CPM schedulers and Primavera users; one thing we all are thankful for (at least all of us that realize it) is that P6 does have an undo button … thank you Primavera.

Does the undo button make Primavera easier to learn? It surely makes returning to a previous state in the schedule more possible – which makes keystroke mistakes easier to fix. However, designing intuitive baselines and developing schedules that cover the projects scope in a balanced, well organized, intuitive way, requires more than an undo button. It requires more than mastery of Primavera scheduling software, for that matter.

There is a formula for using Primavera schedules to facilitate extraordinary project outcomes. It works amazingly well. Yet few can grasp it … and still fewer can implement it. I can’t explain why that is. My friend told me that you can’t give your experience away to another person. I think that has something to do with it. Or maybe in my case, it is my inability to articulate the formula. I am going to try again. Here it is.

1.       Build a valid baseline. A valid baseline has to model the building approach, at a level of detail that allows the CPM schedule to be the tool for day to day project management. Break the activities down to an average of 7 day durations. Make sure to include all the major phases of the project: If the project is a Design/Build, include: design/buyout/submittals/fabrication/delivery/construction/commissioning/closeout  phases. Make sure that activity logic runs back through the phases to its origin.

2.       Install this baseline early in the project. It does not have to be perfect; but it does have to be installed early in the project. The baseline will be refined over time. Get it installed! If you don’t install the baseline at the inception of the project, you are undermining your ability to build and sustain trade momentum on-site.

3.       Update the CPM Schedule weekly. If you choose to update the CPM Schedule monthly, you are sabotaging your project. I don’t care what the contract specification requires. CPM schedules that are updated monthly are worthless for day to day management … absolutely worthless. What good is a schedule that is 5, 10, 15, even 20 workdays (which is 30 calendar days) off?  That is why nobody is using CPM schedules to manage day to day work on-site. That is why folks are using excel spreadsheets (to-do lists) to manage complex projects. That is why contractors are banging their heads against the wall, only to achieve mediocre project outcomes, and that is best case scenario (if their lucky). And that is why the CPM schedules are not respected by project stakeholders. That is why CPM Schedules have been reduced to expensive schedules of value (SOV), used only to foster invoices.

We have streamlined the updating process and can assist your staff by completing a valid CPM schedule update in only 2-4 hrs.

4.       Use the weekly updates to build and sustain trade momentum on-site. Facilitate an environment on-site that rewards participation. Seek out the most competent subcontractor foremen and owners, and ask for their insights, and suggestions for optimizing the building approach. Identify weak link subcontractors and provide them with additional attention, bolster their forces, strengthen your weakest links. There is no substitute for real leadership. Take responsibility. When it comes right down to it, building and sustaining momentum on-site requires building and sustaining trusted relationships. On a construction project, that starts with trade foreman in weekly scheduling / safety meetings.

There you have it – 4 steps to extraordinary project outcomes.  Are you thinking; if it was only that easy? I can tell you with certainty that it is.

I have  used these same strategies successfully, as both a superintendent and as a PM. Additionally, as a project controls consultant, I have used these same strategies to recover lagging and failing projects. So believe me when I say these strategies are not on trial. They are proven.

If your projects are not going smoothly, I am sure that you’re PM /CM teams are not following the four steps above. They probably did  not have a valid CPM baseline schedule to start with, and probably have not been updating (refining the CPM  schedule) weekly and using the CPM schedule to manage the project.

More likely, they are using to-do lists to manage complex projects and updating the CPM schedule, only to foster pay applications. That is the problem. It is a reoccurring problem. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Transformation requires change.

We can train your existing teams to follow the four steps outlined above. Installing those processes into your projects will transform your project outcomes. Don’t wait until you start new projects. The transformation has to start now. These strategies can be implemented at any project phase.  The best time to start is right now. You will see results immediately, you won’t have to be patient or even have faith. The proof will be on-site, and will be right away.

The twist is that advanced project controls cost nothing. In fact, they pay you. Consider that you spend 20, 40, 60, even 100% of your profit margin on constructive acceleration in the 4th quarter in attempt to finish on time. Advanced project controls can be installed for a fraction of typical acceleration costs … not to mention additional overhead and penalty fees associated with late finishes.

The ripple effects of managing smooth projects are comprehensive and far reaching, as are the ripple effects of poor finishes. Imagine doubling your take home margin without increasing your forces. Imagine doubling your revenue with increasing your forces. I have seen companies do both, by embedding the four processes outlined above into their projects.

Get in touch with Don

One thought on “14: Primavera Blues: Why CPM Schedules Fail and What You Can Do to Stop the Insanity

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