#19: Aim Small – Miss Small

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Then he asked the kids: What did I tell you about shooting? Aim small – miss small, they replied.

It was years before I made the connection between aim small – miss small and PM/CM and project controls.

I learned this catchy saying watching the movie, The Patriot.

In the movie, Mel Gibson’s character is raising a bunch of kids alone, his wife had died. He was trying to avoid getting involved with the Revolutionary War, fearing that he would be injured or killed and unable to care for his children. But after the English soldiers killed one of his sons and captured another, he set out, with two of his younger sons to free his oldest son.

In preparation for the ambush, Gibson’s character gives his sons 2 directions:

1. Let me fire first

2. Shoot the officers first and then work your way down

Then he asks his kids: What did I tell you about shooting? To which they reply; aim small – miss small. The ambush is successful and they retrieve the son and brother.

I don’t know if I would have ever noticed the aim small – miss small phrase, if the scene that followed it hadn’t been so moving, or if I didn’t have 3 sons of my own, of similar ages.

Whatever the reason, those words and that scene made an impact. Yet it was years before I made the connection between aim small – miss small and PM/CM and project controls.

It was not until I started working as a consultant, and realized that most of the project recovery work that I was getting, stemmed from underdeveloped scheduling. In some cases, contractors were attempting to use summary schedules to manage large complex projects.

Others were using (and I use the term loosely) schedules that were somewhere in between a summary schedule and a fully developed schedule. And this was at the root of their challenges. Schedules were not useful for anything other than fostering pay applications. So they were not really using the schedule to manage the day-to-day work of the project.

Trying to get the right level of detail in a schedule is like trying to draw the quality line in a paint job, or a concrete job, or a tile job, or any other trade product. Meaning; it takes an experienced hand to determine where to draw the line.

In general, for construction scheduling work, the optimal level of detail for an execution schedule is an average of 7- 10 day duration.  Meaning if you break your activities down by area and then by trade, your durations should average 7-10 days.

To achieve this level of breakdown, you are forced to think about how the trades will move horizontally and vertically throughout the project.  Essentially, you are forced to build the project, using activities and logic, on paper.

Sequentially, concurrently, however your resources fit-up to your contract parameters within the confines of known accepted trade practices … or sometimes even outside of known and accepted trade practices, for you trail blazers.  You have to organize the work.

This is the aiming small component.

It is this process that will uncover design glitches, material and methods questions, crew and equipment short comings, and conflicts that would not otherwise be discovered until the work was being performed.

Identifying these challenges early, allows the cumulative brainpower of the project stakeholders to be tapped to create a solution. This discovery/identification/solution cycle drives the miss small piece of the performance.

This is why I ask my clients to start building the baseline early, and to update the schedule weekly. It’s not so that I can collect more fees … although I like to collect more fees. It is because the fees that I collect are but a fraction of the money saved by the owner, the contractor, and even sub-contractors by doing more, and better planning.

Imagine experiencing trouble onsite on week 8 of a project and not infusing that issue into the schedule until after week 12, when your 3rd monthly update is performed. You lost 25 calendar days. If the problem was on the critical path, your project now requires either 25  additional days to finish or will consume the cost to accelerate the project 25 days, assuming resources are available.

Better and more frequent planning is good for everybody. It pays for itself, many times over, when the quality of planning is high. What many contractors don’t realize is how the atmosphere onsite will change when advanced project controls processes are embedded into a project.  You won’t have to wait until you’re finished with the project for your client to award you another one – when:

  • Your forces are proactively leading the project
  • They are ahead of schedule
  • Contractor-side PM/CM/The trades/owner-side PM/CM are working together like ants
  • Subcontractors are praising your management and leadership to the owners forces

The rules change and your firm stands out above the rest as the one firm that makes the owners life better. If history is any indication of the future; your competitors will not catch-on for years. They are too consumed with marketing, and have an unlimited amount of excuses for why their operations cannot finish on time/on budget.

Aim Small – Miss Small!

If you enjoyed this post, please share it with a friend. If you have comments, questions or would like to suggest a post topic, please email me at: dcs@cpmschedules.com.

Get in touch with Don

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