Planning & Scheduling to Maximize Flow

By The Superintendents of Hoar Construction

One of the most common risks large capital projects face is schedule. In fact, some studies claim up to 60% of all construction projects are delivered late. Project delays, even if they are anticipated, can cause enormous headaches for owners. But schedule acceleration can case uncertainty and performance issues for project teams. So how does Hoar tackle schedule risk to eliminate both the headaches and the uncertainty? We get proactive, engaging in significant preplanning, using technology to measure production, and incorporating our subcontractor partners into the scheduling process.

The first schedule management strategy we use is extensive preplanning. Senior Superintendent Gabe Moore explains it this way: “On big projects, everybody has their different role but if they do not understand the details, they cannot understand the work enough to manage it. Your quality, your safety, all that should be preplanned. Planning is everything. If you do not plan, you are not going to have a successful project. You may get the project done but it is not going to be the quality it should be. You are not going to have the budget you should have and you are not going to have the safety you should have. There is no way around it.”

General Superintendent Brandon Dexter also places huge value on preplanning. He notes extensive study of a project well in advance of groundbreaking is invaluable. He says of his most recent completed project: “I’ve been involved in this project since eight or nine months before we put a shovel in the ground, and I can definitely say I came into it more prepared, understanding what it took to do the project, with the best plan possible. We’ve tried to do that with each one of our staff members here, bring them in earlier, get them more involved in the design, get them involved with the subcontractors earlier. The guys are able to think and plan prior to doing the work, and they get time to be in the drawings, be in the documents, be in the submittals, and understand how to build it well ahead of time.”

Production-based or flow-line scheduling is a critical second tool we use to mitigate schedule risk. This scheduling approach, which was used to deliver the Empire State Building, is also called location-based scheduling. It maximizes “flow” (which is essentially production) and reduces waste in the project timeline. Using a software application called Schedule Planner, we:
• Extract material quantities – essentially a summary what we are building – from the BIM model and our estimate
• Define expected “production factors” including crew sizes, task durations, and per day per man productivity rates (how much work each person can put in place each day
• Apply the production factors to the quantity information to generate a Task Status Report (TSR), which is a matrix of each trade by each day for the project duration

The TSR replaces the traditional CPM schedule and clearly shows at a glance exactly where the project is in relation to where it is expected to be. Color coding highlights individual tasks that are complete, behind schedule or in danger of falling behind, something that is almost impossible to determine using CPM method. The production factors are easy to adjust, allowing the project team to conduct rapid scenario planning in response to actual project conditions, like a prolonged period of rain or a late material delivery.

One of the major benefits of Schedule Planner is how easy its reports are to understand; they are ideal tools for working collaboratively with subcontractors to establish a maximally efficient schedule that everyone agrees is achievable. Other key Schedule Planner outputs include the manpower and flow-line reports. Both are intended to highlight schedule inefficiencies so the team can proactively address them. The manpower report clearly shows how many workers must be on site each day for each trade to achieve the schedule, making it a straightforward task for each sub to commit manpower at an achievable level each day for the full duration of each task. Its fact-based nature enables our subcontractors to better plan their workload and avoids the last-minute “get more guys here tomorrow” panic so common with CPM schedules.

The flow-line report focuses on task sequencing, highlighting any points where activities are discontinuous. In other words, it enables the team to identify every instance where flow is disrupted – having the drywaller and plumber scheduled on top of each other, for example, in which case the drywaller must stop work to wait on the plumber. That unplanned stoppage is exactly the kind of waste and inefficiency eliminated by production scheduling. The team uses the flow-line report to determine the most efficient path forward and appropriately integrates task sequencing with manpower.

One Lakes Edge, a 867,000 square feet luxury residence, was completed in an aggressive 18 months using flow-line scheduling. The cast-in-place concrete super structure – a major element on the critical path – went up in an impressive 46 weeks; the team poured an average of 26,000 square feet of concrete per week for 33 weeks. The project team used production-based scheduling to break down the structure into smaller, more manageable sections and tasked the subcontractors with specific production goals, both daily and weekly. These goals were set in collaboration with the subcontractors in order to create realistic production rates. By using production-based scheduling, the team was able to determine manpower needs based on factual data, as opposed to a gut feeling.

Subcontractor engagement in planning and scheduling is important with CPM schedules, but absolutely crucial for flow-line schedules, and is a third key strategy we use to address schedule risk. Like One Lakes Edge, the 298-unit, 17-building M2 apartment community also used flow-line to transform not only the scheduling process but also the role subcontractors played in schedule management.

Using Schedule Planner software, the M2 team was able to see schedule inefficiencies and make adjustments to avoid stops in work and remobilization. For example, the framers would have started work in November with the original schedule, but to allow for continuous production they were not brought on until January. After six buildings were framed and ready for drywall, the framers were far enough ahead that we were able to add a third drywall crew to work continuously through completion, gaining four weeks. Subcontractors appreciated the location-based schedule, which eliminated waiting on other subs to continue their work.

Weekly coordination meetings with all subcontractors were key to delve into the details of work to be accomplished in upcoming weeks. We used those sessions to refine the sequencing of work to optimize each sub’s efficiency and to confirm make-ready expectations. Ultimately we created a plan that provided continuous work for subcontractors and minimized fluctuations in sub crew sizes, ensuring we had the manpower and materials we needed onsite, when we needed them, to avoid schedule delays.

Brandon Dexter says, “We need to reach out to sub-partners to be able to do that, so when we start building that schedule, we’re building it off of real data. We’re not just building everything off of gut feel. We’re getting more into the details of how many bricks need to be laid today in order to make our end goal. How many units did the drywall hanger hang today? We can tell where someone is on the job at any given time. There’s not one sub on the project right now that doesn’t have plenty of work in front of them at all times.”

Assistant Superintendent Dennis Parker also recognizes the value of subcontractor engagement in the scheduling process, even as he notes how flow-line scheduling changes the nature of that engagement: “With Schedule Planner, we are actually working with each trade on timeline and can show the drag on each one. We show them how the dates and the time and the manpower impact the schedule. You can actually get them to come to you and say, ‘Alright where am I?’ They start to get excited because they have a weekly goal. They start to challenge themselves and say, ‘Okay, I did this with eight guys and I’m here. What happens if I use ten guys?’ These guys can actually see the type of production that they are doing from a week to week basis.”

Assistant Superintendent Jon Pratt loves the clarity and fact-based information flow-line scheduling offers to subcontractors on his project: “It’s easier for them to understand exactly where their guys really need to be. We can actually document exactly how many guys are working and at what location and then at the end of the week, we put all that documentation together and we can put percentage on all of our resources. Then we can present that back to our subcontractors the next week and show them exactly where they are percentage wise and why they’re behind. Based off of a typical CPM Gantt chart you really don’t have that ability.”

Planning and scheduling are inescapably linked. In the end, no matter what scheduling technique is applied, a detailed and effective project plan is a necessary starting point. Superintendent Patrick Alvarez says is well: “The biggest part of the schedule is identifying the milestones you have to hit in order for the project to be successful. And then stepping back and making sure that you’re doing all the little steps to get to that milestone. That’s breaking it apart by milestone and then quantifying that and making sure you’re hitting your production almost on a daily basis. That way, you’re not scrambling at the end and to pull everything together.”