The Effective Management of Time in Complicated Construction Projects

The CIOB is finalising the publication of ‘The Guide to Good Practice in the Effective Management of Time in Complex Construction Projects’ with a public consultation period planned before Christmas leading to publication in 2010.

The primary purpose of this Guide is to set down the standards of project scheduling necessary to facilitate the effective and competent management of time in construction projects by defining the standard by which project schedules will be prepared, quality controlled, updated, reviewed and revised in practice.

Before embarking on the guide, the CIOB conducted a survey between December 2007 and January 2008 of the state of time management in a range of UK construction projects. The outcome of the survey was surprising. On simple construction projects, the range of outcomes (late, on time, early) were more or less the same regardless of the use or non-use of effective time management processes.

However, as the projects became more complicated, the difference between projects with an effective time management system and those without became significantly more noticeable. Projects with a well defined time management system were far more successful than those without!

The definition of simple and complicated derived from this study is:

  • Simple Projects comprise those in which construction has the following characteristics:
    • design work is completed before construction starts;
    • single building or repetition of identical buildings;
    • less than 5 stories high;
    • without below-ground accommodation;
    • carried out to a single completion date;
    • without phased possessions or access;
    • with services not exceeding single voltage power, lighting, telephone, hot and cold water and heating;
    • a construction period of less than 9 months;
    • with a single contractor; and
    • with less than 10 sub-contracts.
  • Complex Projects comprise those in which construction comprises, one or more of the following characteristics:
    • design work is to be completed during construction
    • more than one building
    • more than 5 stories high
    • with below-ground accommodation
    • with multiple key dates and/or sectional completion dates
    • with multiple possessions or access dates
    • with short possessions
    • with services exceeding single voltage power, lighting, telephone, hot and cold water and heating.
    • accompanied by work of civil engineering character
    • a construction period greater than 12 months
    • with multiple contractors
    • with more than 20 sub-contracts

This opens the question why? I would suggest the likely answer, transferable to any project and any industry, is in two parts; both related to stakeholders and communication.

The initial benefit of the process of developing the schedule on a complicated project is the insights the act of creating the schedule gives to the project management team. It is impossible to effectively communicate to the project team and other stakeholders what has to be done when if the project management group don’t have a very clear idea themselves.

‘Simple projects’ are small enough and routine enough to be mapped out in an experienced managers mind. The person intuitively knows what needs to be done. As the project becomes more complex the analysis and serial decision making inherent in the schedule development process creates insights, new information and allows the testing hypothesis until an acceptable solution is devised. At the end of the planning process, a way forward has been determined, optimised and agreed.

The greater benefit though is likely to be in the area of coordination and communication during the work of the project. No schedule is ever perfectly correct. But having an agreed schedule that everyone works towards achieving minimises coordination issues and as elements of the work occur out of alignment with the schedule, the schedule and the variance information provide the foundation for proactive discussion and decision making.

A final intangible benefit of having a schedule has been identified in new research by Jon Whitty. It would appear that simply having a schedule is important for the credibility of the project manager. The project manager’s managers expect the PM to have a schedule and consequently give more credibility to communications from the PM if the schedule is present.

The challenge facing both PMs and their managers as a consequence of these findings is to determine for their industry the difference between simple projects where minimal systems are needed and complicated project where not having a reasonably sophisticated system to help manage time, and other elements of the project, is a distinct liability.

It would seem size does matter! And the old saying ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’ really only applies to the larger more complicated projects. 

Mosaic has developed a range of papers on the art and science of planning and scheduling available from Mosaic’s Planning and Scheduling Home Page.

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5 responses to “The Effective Management of Time in Complicated Construction Projects

  1. Lynda,

    Your point about project scheduling success being related to stakeholders and communication is so key. While I have some construction experience even your simple example would appear to require some form of a schedule that would need to be communicated with a range of stakeholders.

    From my experience (mostly defence and central government) it is not so much the expertise of the Project Manager themselves (same applies to Programme Managers but more so I would suggest) but to the way they communicate with their stakeholders. No Project Manager is able to act completely alone and often something they consider to be simple or trivial has far reaching consequences that other stakeholders need to be aware of. If the Project Manager thinks it’s too simple to require a schedule (even a basic one) then s/he has lost the opportunity to gain valuable support from their stakeholder community.

    Having a schedule bestowing credibility on a Project Manager? Sometimes this gets a little out of hand when schedules are produced which you know will take more time and effort to maintain than doing the work itself. At the very least maintaining an overly complex schedule takes away valuable effort from other Project related tasks.

    Paul Slater
    Mushcado Consulting Ltd

    • I think the issue here Paul is domain knowledge – a ‘simple’ building project seems complex to people from outside of the industry in the same way a building supervisor would find it almost impossible to manage a small systems engineering project because of the perceived ‘difficulty’.

      One of the interesting differentiators between traditional building projects with some 5000 years of gradual evolution compared to many ICT projects where the technology being deployed is less then 50 weeks old is the domain knowledge of the stakeholders. Most people involved in a construction project have a very clear idea what’s required, client, consultants and contractors. The same is rarely true of ICT projects.

      The findings reported were off a fairly large representative sample so definitely hold true for construction projects. What represents ‘complicated’ in other domains has to be determined based on the assessed knowledge/understanding of all of the key stakeholders.

      I am involved in the development of the CIOB standard and will be posting on it as soon as the publication enters the public consultation phase.

      On the emotional value of artefacts such as a schedule see: Project management artefacts and the affective emotions they evoke on Jon’s home page (it’s linked from the post). Speaking with Jon it appears the emotive value is ‘having one’ not the qualitative or quantitative nature of the data in the schedule.

      Both of these findings rather shake the established views of schedules and project management…. it will be interesting to see whare the research and debates lead.

      Pat Weaver

  2. Pingback: October Posts « Stakeholdercircle’s Blog

  3. Babylyn G. Buenavista

    Well, time management during construction is always needed to make your project possible. Because if you wont manage your time according to the contract you have signed, in the eye of the other people the project manager failed to manage it well.

  4. Thanks for this write ups. This is very helpful for us who also in the construction field.

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