15: Game Changer …

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Extraordinary project outcomes require skill-sets that your staff does not have.  Extraordinary project outcomes include all of the following:

  1. Ahead of schedule finish/
  2. Under budget finish/
  3. Satisfied client that recommends your company to others/
  4. Low employee turnover/
  5. Low subcontractor turnover/
  6. No serious human or environmental casualties/

All of the six project attributes above are rooted in Advanced Project Controls.

Are you looking for ways to improve your staff’s performance? Are your project teams under-performing across the board? If so, it’s likely that the project control’s systems that they are working within are to blame. Do your projects outcomes range from mediocre (best case) to failure (worse case)? If so, your project controls systems need to be bolstered.

Extraordinary Project Outcomes Require Advanced Project Controls

There is a good reason why your staff does not have the skill sets required to produce extraordinary project outcomes.

Skill sets required for advanced project controls are varied and are not typically found in the same person. Yet, the work of building and updating CPM schedules is the work of one scheduler. And when that scheduler is dependent on others to design or develop baselines, or logic changes on schedule updates; the system is taxed, is clogged, and fails.

Collaboration is required between PM/CM teams and key contractors are needed. That is a fact. But the art and science of advanced project controls is comes down to a single practitioner.  That person;

  1. Has to have comprehensive  construction experience
  2. Has to be a Primavera expert
  3. Has to thoroughly understand CPM scheduling methodologies.

Advanced CPM Schedulers number so few, Statistically They Don’t Exist

The fact is that there are so few CPM schedulers about, that meet the three criteria above, that statistically they don’t exist. I have worked for international project controls firms, as well as contractors and owners.  Most of the guys/gals had civil engineering or construction management degrees and were Primavera software literate. They lacked extensive trade and even general construction experience. Others had architectural degrees and CM experience, usually on the owner’s side of the contract, but lacked Primavera and critical path methodology insights. Last, but not least is the few schedulers that came from the contractors side, they had superintendent or PM experience, but usually did not have strong software skills.

The fact is that hands on construction builder types, have aptitudes that are 180 degrees from the software jockey, analytical engineering types. Hence the two skill-sets rarely come together in one person.

There are exceptions. They are usually professionals that started their careers with extensive construction experience, and I mean actual trade experience. From there, they moved to construction management, usually on the contractor side, and then, once they realized the most concentrated and leveragable function within building operations is project controls, they settled into a project controls career. It is an uncommon career path; hence the relative skill-sets are equally uncommon.

How uncommon? In twenty three years, I have come across four schedulers that fit into this category. Three were working as consultants; one was working as a general Superintendent. But all you need is one to start your company’s transformation.

How Advanced Project Controls Found Me

My career in construction started out as an apprentice carpenter on commercial projects;  forming bridges and building foundations, framing office buildings, installing specialty doors and windows, and interior trim packages. When commercial work dried up in the late eighties, I built 130 homes (as a superintendent) for the nation’s largest home builder, and then returned to commercial construction, as a project superintendent.

As a lead superintendent and senior project manager, I muddled through, learning Suretrak, building and facilitating construction schedules. Progress was brutal. Still, it was steady. After five years, I was the most advanced scheduler that I knew. I was building in a major US market (Phoenix), working for a successful commercial GC that had 15 guys similar to me. He doubled his business in the two years that I worked for him, moving from 100M to 200M. That was 8 years ago and he has doubled twice since.

Then, I returned to Virginia to be close to family. Soon after, came the most important phone call of my career. I realized pretty quickly, the man on the phone knew more than anyone I had ever met about construction management.  I talked with him for an hour. More accurately, I listened to him talk for an hour.

He started emailing me white papers describing advanced project controls strategies. I applied what I learned to my then current projects. The results were nothing short of staggering. It was my first exposure to the last 30%, and to the extraordinary project outcomes that follow implementation. A few months later, I traveled to meet the man. As it turned out, he too, started out as a carpenter, progressed through the superintendent and PM positions and before embracing a career in project controls.

He was trying to convince me to do the same. A year later he was successful. He offered me a position that allowed me to work from home. I traveled to projects as required.

That was five years ago.  Chris Carson has since become the go-to guy for companies like Bechtel, to solve CM challenges that are beyond the competencies of their in-house staffs’. Chris travels around the world, working, speaking and teaching project controls.

By the time I took the position under Chris, I had been managing construction projects for 13 years. Yet, I knew that I had a lot more to learn about project controls.  I found out what I knew was about 70% of the trade.  Learning P3 and P6 simultaneously was difficult – even though I was an expert on SureTrak and MSP applications. Streamlining baseline and updating processes turned out to be key and enabled me to deliver tangible value to my clients on a weekly basis.

I was learning the last 30%. It took me three years of full time scheduling. I was working under an industry legend: Creating baselines and recovery schedules and updates for contractors, and performing schedule reviews for owners. When you’re scheduling full time, with multiple companies, your learning curve is accelerated. And still it took me 3 years to gain the last 30%.

Bringing the last 30% of project controls skill-sets to your staff would change the whole game.

Some call it the difference between a contractor scheduler and a professional technical scheduler. I don’t like to categorize, because I have not found two contractor schedulers or scheduling consultants, for that matter, that are created equal, when it comes to scheduling. In fact, I have met some schedulers working for contractors that are more skilled than most scheduling consultants.

What I see happening a lot with contractors is: Their staff schedulers are being guided and pressured by supers and PM’s to represent the projects in a certain way. That is backwards. It stunts the growth of schedulers, devalues the schedule and discredits the scheduler.

An accurate schedule designed and developed intuitively, and updated weekly,  is the ultimate tool for the superintendent to manage the day to day. It is also serves as the record and reason to support change management for the PM.

The only inputs that your CM staff should be giving your schedulers are those that would enhance the integrity of the schedules design/development/presentation/accuracy/etc. It is those qualities of the schedule that drive trust with the project stakeholders.

The last 30% is what transforms your project outcomes from mediocre to extraordinary. To really grasp how the last 30% effects; project atmosphere, employee retention, subcontractor retention, client retention and profit margin; you have to experience it.

What’s the Cost?

Zig Ziglar said that you don’t pay the price for good health, you enjoy the price of good health, and that you don’t pay the price to experience success in any worthwhile endeavor in life, you enjoy the price of success and achievement. The last 30% falls into that category. Most owners and contractors are focused on the initial cost of project controls, like the scheduling is just another job cost. They entirely miss the fact that there is another level of project management, driven by advanced project controls, that will set them free of the worries and hardships that plague the contracting masses.

The relatively few companies that have attained that level of management are not thinking that they paid the price for advanced project controls. Like Zig, they are too busy enjoying the fruits of Success. The price is overshadowed by the rewards. They are not broadcasting what they have discovered either. They are using advanced project controls to distinguish themselves from their competition to produce extraordinary project outcomes and win more contracts.

The last 30% cannot be skipped. When you take into account the comprehensive ripple effects that follow implementation, the return exceeds the investment many times over. The most exciting part is the realization that general contracting/construction management can be fun.

But what is the COST?

Do you agree that one fraction of 1% is a pittance, relative to the money spent on most projects in the fourth quarter on constructive acceleration? Acceleration that would not be required, if advanced project controls were implemented. I’m not even going to mention the negative ripple effects that occur from not having a valid always accurate (updated weekly) CPM schedule in place, and how that reflects on your company.

There are no real net costs to advanced project controls. The net financial effect of implementing advanced project controls is positive. This has to be the best kept secret in the industry. I have never seen it printed. Maybe that’s related to the fact that the number of advanced CPM schedulers about is so small, that many builders have not even encountered one. So they haven’t ever had the net gain experience. They probably have never experienced and extraordinary project outcome either.

Have you become construction site averse over the years? I used to be that way. I associated the project sites with stress and negative encounters.

That happens when you’re work load outpaces your ability to acquire skill-sets. Luckily, I was able to put on the brakes and catch-up my skill-sets. I see the same thing happening to many superintendents and project managers today. Some call it burn-out. I think more accurately, we should call it pushed past. Just say he’s been pushed past the point where his current skill sets allow him to be productive.

There is no better way to get these employees caught-up than to embed advanced project controls processes into their projects. As the advanced project controls take hold, the atmosphere onsite transforms, and the pressure on the employees subsides. And by osmosis they learn advanced CPM scheduling methodologies and the any site adversity is reversed.

For me, the whole construction site aversity changed after acquiring the last 30%. Now I enjoy being on-site. I am talking about a 180 degree transformation. When you can foresee problems and provide solutions in advance, when the CPM schedule is always accurate and used to manage the day to day trade-work on-site; the jobsite becomes a positive place to be for all the stake-holders.

You can cash-in on everything else that you have done across your whole career by teaming-up with CPM Schedules Corp.  You can leverage the efforts that you have made with employees, subcontractors, and clients, when you implement the last 30% of project controls insights/skill-sets?

Project management differences are subtle but the ramifications on-site are profound

The vast majority of Owners and Contractors do not realize that the last 30% even exists. It’s not that it is a secret (although most professionals are protective of what they know). It’s more that even most project controls practitioners don’t understand (even when they’re told) the profound effect of the last 30%.

I don’t think you can fully understand it, unless you have been a superintendent.  It is that experience of trying to wrap my arms around a complex project without having a system in place to do it, that made me realize the power of the CPM schedule, and the power of the weekly update.

Unless the schedule is updated weekly, it’s worthless for day to day management. And once you stop using it for day to day management, the schedule is relegated to an expensive SOV; updated monthly, only meet the project specification, to foster pay applications.  And then your complex project is being managed by a to-do list … you know it’s true.

If I had not been recruited by Chris, I would have fallen into the same trap. I did fall into the same trap as a superintendent and even as a PM prior to that call. And I’m sure that if I had not seen the power up – close, executing projects (especially recovering failing projects) I would not be so passionate about what seems to so many others to be an unexciting profession.

CPM methodologies enable skilled practitioners to model building approaches in the same way that architectural drawings model building designs.

Have you ever considered that? A CPM schedule is to the building approach what the construction drawing is to the building design. Look what we do to document construction drawing changes. Look what we do to document schedule changes …

Yet, to pull it off, the scheduler has to:

1.       Effectively model and continuously remodel the building approach because it changes

2.       Design and develop the schedule intuitively

3.       Capture the entire project scope

4.       Update the schedules progress and logic weekly

5.       Keep the schedule, the contract, and the project in-sync

Unfortunately that eliminates most project teams and or approaches. But let’s say you have that scheduler (or can find one). He/she knows how to design and develop a schedule. The activities cover the project scope, the organization is intuitive, and models a plausible approach for building the project.

You know that a valid baseline updated and archived weekly has the ability to model and mirror the project and to be the ultimate tool for driving and sustaining momentum on-site.

Yet, you are hesitant to bring a scheduling expert from outside the company. In your defense, many so-called experts are no more skilled than your in-house staff. I will give you that. But there is another dynamic playing out in the industry. That is, PM/CM/even owners that are insecure and think bringing in a competent scheduler from the outside makes them look incompetent.

To you I would like to say; first, fear not, because although your peers may know a bit more (or less) than you do relative to CPM scheduling, the difference is inconsequential. The industry at large does not know enough about CPM scheduling to produce extraordinary project outcomes. Let’s face it, recount your project experiences. Look around.  Second, keep your eye on the ball. If you can find a competent consultant, use his/her as a tool to drive successful projects.

Successful projects enhance the careers of the stakeholders involved in them

Don’t worry about sharing the credit for any one project. If you are involved with enough successful projects, your career will surely be a reflection of those projects. In fact, after a few successful projects with the same consultant, you can use your relationship with the consultant on the front end of the business cycle to win more work.

Call it bragging rights, call it competitive advantage, call it strategic alliance, the bottom line is you can gain credibility and differentiate your company from the competition. It is not something you should hide, or shy away from it is something you should highlight, move towards and embrace, and above all, exploit to win more contracts.

Get in touch with Don

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