#18: Critical Path Methodologies: A Necessary Evil or The Answer to Your Prayers

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Are you part of the masses or part of the classes? Are you leveraging? Do you want to experience career hyper-growth? Are you managing your projects with a to-do list? Do you have momentum issues? Are you looking for better project outcomes? Do you want to be part of the top 5% of CM’s/PM’s that know the difference?

Pick one – and your career path will be determined accordingly.

The Masses

It is one or the other for everybody. Most CM’s/PM’s see it clearly as a necessary evil that is required by the project specifications and that is used only to the degree that the projects specification is enforced on any given project. This group of PM’s/CM’s create CPM baselines and usually monthly schedule updates to foster pay applications – and use alternative tools to manage the day-to-day work onsite. Based on my experience over the past 25 years (over 1 billion project dollars), I would say over 95% of PM/CM forces take this approach.

The Classes

But the top 5% of PM/CM forces know different. They have learned that in the right hands, CPM software is capable of accurately modeling the building activities across the project, and that the CPM schedule is to building execution, what the architectural drawings are to building design. These managers see the capability that the software has to quantify and qualify the project scope, and organize building activities into a baseline schedule that is not meant to be perfect. But it is meant to provide a base plan, which can be refined over time to serve as the best available map for the stakeholders to follow to the finish line.

These fortunate few (relatively speaking) PM’s/CM’s are experiencing career hyper-growth, in plain sight of their peers who don’t even see the difference.

They have either not been exposed or cannot grasp the fact that CPM software can be used to accurately control the horizontal and vertical flow of work across the project. Or maybe the masses don’t comprehend what that really means to a project. I don’t know whether they haven’t been exposed, just don’t grasp what it can do, or don’t grasp how what it can do – can transform their project outcomes.

When I realized the comprehensive capability of CPM technology (which took many years), I changed my career path. The awesome power of the tool so completely solved the problems that I encountered, both as a lead superintendent and a senior project manager, that I decided to base my career around CPM scheduling methodologies, and became a CPM scheduling consultant.

Critical Path Methodologies = Leverage, Leverage, Leverage

There is no other mechanism in the business of managing construction that is more powerful, and more leveragable than Critical Path Methodologies.

Yet, because of lack of competent schedulers, valid baselines are rare, and streamlined weekly updating processes are almost non-existent. Even though the technology has been around for 50+ years,  the masses still have gaping holes in their understanding of what CPM scheduling really is, and what it can do for their projects.

The missing piece, again on PM/CM teams is a scheduler that has both; extensive construction trade/trade management experience, along with, advanced Primavera skills. Just like in Too Green Too Few.

The challenge to creating advanced schedulers is: To develop Primavera skills that are effective, the scheduler has to have extensive hands-on construction trade/trade management experience. However, that is unfortunately, the career path less traveled. Scheduling is as much an art as it is a science. The scheduler has to know explicitly what he is trying to accomplish and how to break it down and organize it to be both; an accurate model for building activities, and an intuitive map for subs and vendors to understand. That is a challenge that is amplified by the fact that most schedulers are tasked with building and maintaining schedules for unique buildings, built by unique crews. So every project comes with new challenges.

Are PM’s/CM’s Naive or Ridiculous

To think that a scheduler, without extensive trade/trade management experience, could sit with a PM/CM/super for a few hours, or a few days for that matter, and understand the detailed aspects of the project well enough to model the flow of work accurately is naïve. And to think that a PM/CM/super is going to be available to the scheduler to make every decision that needs to be made during baseline creation/schedule updating is ridiculous. It is no wonder why schedules are not updated more frequently.

This approach to scheduling alone is enough to undermine what could be an otherwise successful project outcome. When you combine this approach with monthly (instead of weekly) schedule updates, the negative effects on the project are compounded. What you are left with is a CPM Schedule that is updated only frequently enough and substantially enough to foster pay applications. Does that sound familiar?

The result is that your PM/CM forces are managing your complex projects with something other than a CPM schedule. Usually the tool of choice is an Excel spreadsheet – which after all is nothing more than a glorified to-do list.

We all know what happens when complex projects are managed with to-do lists

The Excel spreadsheet is disconnected from any comprehensive schedule. The critical path is over prioritized. Near critical and mass volume work lags. Near critical work becomes critical and mass volume work becomes near critical. Then in the fourth quarter of the project the majority of the outstanding work is on a path with negative float (critical) and the strategy for completion turns into a hair scramble. It is every contractor/vendor for themselves … survival mode.

GC’s go into a reactive mode of PM/CM operation that focuses on CYA and creative C/O tactics to generate the time and money required to make-up for the lack of a comprehensive, weekly refined plan for achieving milestones. I use to do the same thing as a super and PM prior to learning a better way. It was a matter of survival, and then I learned how to use CPM software to manage day-to-day operations.

Everything changed

First the atmosphere on my projects went from hostile to friendly; subs and vendors favor projects that are better managed. They man-up those projects better. They make more money on those projects; they get along better with other subs and vendors onsite. Owner-side forces are happier too.

It’s all about driving and sustaining trade momentum into the project

Sustained trade momentum leads to what I have come to call: Extraordinary Project Outcomes (EPO’s). I say extraordinary, because I know what it is like to spend 1, 2, 3 years on a project, only to walk –off, in the face of your best efforts, over budget, late and without profit. In contrast to that experience; finishing ahead of schedule, under budget and with better than planned profits, is nothing less than extraordinary. Not to mention the ripple effects on employee/subs/vendors and last but not least, clients that follow an EPO.

How do you like the idea of having an acronym for an extraordinary project outcome? We make acronyms for terms we say a lot. I think we need to start talking more about extraordinary project outcomes. So I offer to you the EPO acronym. I know that some of you can’t imagine an EPO. I have been a part of many, and have driven and supported the transition of many projects from struggling to extraordinary.

The strategies above are not on trial, they are proven, and are being used by top tier PM/CM teams around the world. Yet, even within project controls companies, the numbers of schedulers with extensive construction trade/trade management experience are shockingly few, and there-in lays the bottleneck.

So don’t be afraid to bring in a consultant. The odds of you employing a master-scheduler in-house are not very good.

Please pass this article along if you enjoyed it. I look forward to your hearing from you.

Get in touch with Don

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