Delivering a Reliable Project Schedule

How do you ensure schedule reliability?

There are probably 50 different things to consider; 20 of them are important. The first and one of the most important considerations is that you can’t accept a schedule that doesn’t meet construction end dates. A reliable schedule needs to have all scope included; more than a baseline schedule is needed to determine reliability. A reliable schedule also needs to have everything logically tied: the fewer open ends for activities, the more reliable the schedule will be. Another way to ensure reliability is to make sure constraint dates are being driven by durations and logic and not by a scheduling software. If you’re not careful, some scheduling software will define these dates for you.

An important area of focus to achieve a reliable schedule is the length of activity durations, which can depend on the schedule’s level of detail. As a best practice, activities should be somewhere between two days and two weeks in terms of duration. A single activity with a year-long duration doesn’t really allow you to track progress very well. You should also always ask for the electronic file. It’s important to view the native schedule file for more detail rather than a printed version.

How do you go about ensuring the schedule is both contractually compliant and reliable?

A general starting point to verify schedule reliability is to use the contract specifications. Contract specifications are basically like a rulebook. Each project is going to have detailed provisions; a portion of that, usually five to fifteen pages, are specific to the schedule and that is the rulebook. The contractor is obligated to meet those criteria and the specifications. If the specs are bad or too lean, not stringent enough, you’re probably not going to get a very reliable schedule.

Who typically formulates those rules initially?

Generally the architect or engineer will formulate the specifications. However, they often use some sort of canned specifications, like AIA form spec; there are a ton of them and canned specifications usually have the beginning point of a rulebook to the schedule. Review the schedule specs and modify them, if needed, to be more rigid than the canned specs.

How do schedulers know if the specs are bad or too lean?

Ideally, a scheduler should get involved in a job early on to read the specs and then help smarten them up from a schedule perspective. Trying to get a contractor to submit a schedule based on a rulebook when the rulebook is bad…you can’t hold them to anything. If you get involved in a job at a point where the specs are provided, official, and already executed, you have no chance to change them; you have to read them and see. So ideally, step one should be getting involved early on a project and read the specs.

Can you make recommendation to improve specs?

Definitely. With a client that ends up repeating business with you, you can get involved in the first job, and on the next job say, “Hey, you should put stuff in there [in the specs].” Sometimes you can talk to the contractor and say, “It doesn’t say this in the specs; however, we would like you to do x, y, or z.” A lot of times, they are fine with that. You can’t hold them to the changes contractually, but you can try to get their schedule to improve beyond what the specs say.

How do schedule levels impact schedule reliability?

In general, the higher the level, the more activities. You also need more proficiency with the software if you have 5,000 activities vs. 5 activities. So yes, it is significant, I would say. How does it impact schedule reliability? Obviously, the bigger the schedule, the more the chances of making mistakes.

What skills or traits are important for a scheduler in providing schedule reliability?

There are many important traits for a scheduler. They need to understand CPM fundamentals, CPM software, and the scope of work that is included in the schedule. Many people may understand one or two of these items, but a reliable schedule requires understanding all three. A scheduler should also be thorough and willing to ask questions to ensure they understand all components of the schedule.