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Full Phase CPM Schedule Management

The central focus of construction project schedules is invariably on the build-out trajectory, or more specifically, the builder’s work and responsibilities. Despite design deliverables residing squarely within the critical path, they are seldom adequately represented in pre-construction schedules. This practice ultimately does a disservice to the end user, or stakeholders, because it doesn’t give the full picture.

Any construction project will be phased sequentially from preconstruction, to construction, and finally close-out.  A contractor may ask his scheduler to represent these as the three central WBS headings under which all activities may follow.  Less frequently will a construction manager ask his scheduler to set up preconstruction ‘deliverable’ (design documentation: drawings and specifications) activities with target dates , for example, on a ‘fast-track’ project.

There is no such thing as a fast-track project anymore: a typical project is considered shovel ready despite incomplete drawings.

There is a distinction to be made between a general contractor and a construction manager (not at risk) tracking design deliverables: general contractors are not required to track design documentation. The design team manages its own affairs.  Yet savvy contractors know from experience - having been burned too often by drawings chock full of errors and omissions - that design documentation backlog is one of the chief factors of schedule disruption. It behooves them to mark the progress of the design documentation and its effect on the build-out regardless of the design team’s unease.

The imperative for a construction manager to track design documentation - as he should - isn’t always welcomed by the design team either: they simply don’t want to be monitored by a third party who they regard as an outsider or even an adversary; someone who has the ability to expose their shortcomings to the stakeholders.  Effectively, construction managers seldom manage design teams, unless it should be a design-build contract.  They simply maintain a drawing log as a separate document that is not integrated into the master schedule; i.e., not considered a driving factor.

Design teams will insist that they have their own in-house schedules, which they are loathe to share with their builder team-mates. Design professionals in the US are not taught CPM in their basic training, and few of them take the pains to take it up later in their careers.  It is no wonder they have such difficulty in becoming a working partner in the process. Not surprisingly, I have found design professionals lacking CPM training to be contemptuous of the process, despite their ignorance of it. That should alarm contractors who must present their schedules for approval by the architect (as owner’s agent).

Most design professionals I've met couldn’t recognize a critical path from a garden path.

Judging from the ubiquity of underdeveloped drawings, and ignorance of the CPM, it is clear why design teams don’t like to tip their hands: they are hoping the contractor’s subs will “fill in the blanks” of their omissions, or that crash detection is a factor of a BIM survey, not a precoordination requirement as it should be, to correct errors before the detailers appear to announce major conflicts: they want others to do their work for them.

BIM discourages design professionals from due-diligence. If they know BIM will detect clashing programs, why should they waste time coordinating overlays?

Thus, when marking deliverable milestones, design teams frequently (and often intentionally) over-assess the level of detail in their issues much in the same way a contractor might hope to ratchet up his payment application. This subjective nonsense could easily be avoided with vigorous due-diligence and construct-ability reviews. Accordingly, smart builders teach their estimators to detect and report errors and omissions in the bidding stage, such that they can be at least fairly apprised of the actual level of detail and constructability.

Stakeholders seem to be blissfully ignorant of a contractor hemorrhaging overhead and general conditions due to design backlog.

I encourage my clients to allow me to track lagging design deliverables that are linked to building activities, because they invariably will gum up the critical path, causing disruptions that they will want to be able to monitor and issue claims for.  The design team may resist a contractor monitoring their work and tracking it in the published schedule, yet that must never inhibit the practice: I regularly maintain and monitorseparate claim schedules. These preemptive schedules should never be shared with the design team - save for claim issuance. That would be like attorneys sharing notes before a trial.

I would recommend to any contractor undertaking a project he thinks has a high probability of design errors and omissions that he take measures to either include design deliverable milestones in the baseline, or track them on his own proprietary claim schedule. I believe that no baseline is complete without milestones for the design documents tied to the build-out, and that the design team should have the same accountability as does the contractor.

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