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Project Planning as a General Contractor

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William Stakelin
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This is my first visit to this site and I am thrilled to death. I am so glad to find a forum to discuss this subject matter.
I have 17 years experience in commercial construction. I have held the position of Supervisor for the last three years. It has been the last three years that I have taken an interest in scheduling.
The size projects that I have delt with so far range from 4 to 5 million. The company that I work for dose around 125 million annualy.
It is my experience that the time frame is set into stone before the bid is excepted. Therefore, it is my job to schedule the project so that it meets the constaints of the timeline set by the owner/architect. Sometimes this timeline is unreasonable, sometimes it is not.
I have learned CPM and have "Sure Track" I have no formal education just on the job training.
I have built a 4.5 mil project in 10 months by just "winging it". (I Love what I do for a living.)
I am interested in becoming more efficient as a supervisor by means of scheduling.
If anyone has any tips or guidelines to follow I would be greatful

Respectfuly yours,

William E. Stakelin

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Mike Harvey
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Dear William Good luck in your new post. Visit hpcconsult.co.uk and look up 'Planning Academy' you may find it of interest. Regards Mike Harvey
Tomas Rivera
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Clive:

Thank you for your answer.
I will just say one last thing: what is for you the solution to this uncertain and chaotic environment you just described?
I understand you might not be able to reply. But you raised a very interesting point of view and I would like others to express their opinion.

Tomas Rivera
Clive Holloway
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Tomas Rivera
It is a shame that we cannot meet up to further our discussions.
It is difficult to convey messages via e.mails and forum notes, as they can easily be mis-understood or read out of context.
Anyway here is a brief response to your lengthy posting.
My comments generally refer to CPM, which is just one of many tools / methods.
Construction activities are far from certain.
In construction there are always unforeseen events.
The fault or cause of the event is usually the dispute, ie, who is liable.
Float does not exist; the duration of an activity depends on the resources assigned.
Activities have time slots in which it is possible for the work to be carried out.
Practical completion of the Project is subject to when the Client wants it.
Incomplete logic linking means that there is uncertainty and a lack of info.
I have no time to enhance further, but I will write more in August after my holidays.
Tomas Rivera
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Clive:

Before I begin let me excuse myself for being probably rude in my previous post. I know I am sometimes that way. It probably comes from my construction field background. Sometimes I get excited with the posts in the forum and I think it is a great place for learning and communication. My intention is to participate, learn and be able to help others.
When you say CPA you mean CPM (Critical Path Method)?
What other tools are you thinking about? I am curious.
There are many software packages (tools) out there and most of them use CPM as their underlying method. When you say other tools you mean other methods?
In general, most of the activities in the construction industry are reasonably certain. That is, the output rate of many tasks fall within a rather narrow range if we have a controlled working environment. By controlled environment, I mean one in which there is good planning and activity preparation, available resources, average craftmanship and therefore no unforeseen events within our control.
If you have a good schedule, there are several ways to deal and manage uncertainty or unexpected events without going all the way to using PERT or risk management tools.
First, if the events can be regarded by the contract documents as not the fault of the contractor, you have a valid change order to modify your schedule.
Second, we have float available for most of the activities of the schedule.
Third, when there is no float available and the event is regarded as within the responsability of the contractor, you have a model (your schedule) that tells you where you were hit. From this information your should be ready to find a solution to implement and get back on track. This is management and control.
We are not psychics nor have the crystal ball. But we are planners and managers and should be able to develop a good enough model (schedule) that serves as a decision making tool to guide our efforts to our goals. The project world is tough and is getting more competitive each time. We need to be able to produce information with reasonable certainty and have a model that will watch our backs all the time.
Now, maybe I do not understand some of the things you are saying. For example "The demands of CPA in data certainty mean that it generally fails those tests at the important times". To me, CPM and P3 (Primavera Project Planner) have been excelent resources and the plans we have develop have sustained the hardest tests. If you give me an example I might be able to understand.
Also when you say "Why should there be an absolute requirement to include all logic links if you don’t know them. This is just a requirement for some software." I have only worked with P3 and even if I have a list of activities and no links at all, P3 calculates the schedule and does not request to put any link. Could you elaborate on what software you are using and how this is hapenning to you?
You also said "CPA software demands information and certainty, but this rarely exists." Well, let me tell you that I live out of information. My job is to produce information of the highest quality any project can get. I also promote my Altek System (detailed scheduling for high performance projects) saying that it has the highest probability in the construction industry for meeting the completion date. I am not sure how rare information and certainty are, but I am sure it is not my case. Maybe this last item deserves a whole new discussion in the forum. I would like to open a new discussion for this item.
I will await your reply
Thank you

Tomas Rivera
Clive Holloway
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Tomas
All I am trying to do is to make you stop and think laterally in your work.
I don’t say that CPA is worthless, far from it. I often use it myself, however CPA is not the only valid tool. The programming world has other tools. The only valid tests to my mind are usefulness and appropriateness. The demands of CPA in data certainty mean that it generally fails those tests at the important times. That situation could be helped if people were encouraged to front up to the uncertainties that their schedules contain. Why should there be an absolute requirement to include all logic links if you don’t know them. This is just a requirement for some software. But the lack of links does not mean that you have no plan.

I didn’t say that programming was a game, of course it is serious.
The PM needs reliable scheduling information, from which to make decisions, if you use CPA then beware of the drawbacks.
CPA software demands information and certainty, but this rarely exists.
Clive
Tomas Rivera
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Clive:

What? Excuse me but you left me without a word with some of your comments.
I am a scheduling consultant and all the projects a participate are no game. The schedule of the project lies at the heart of all the actions taking place. Everybody needs to follow the schedule and it is not uncommon to have the owner or team members to challenge the information in the schedule. You need to be very sure of what you are doing and you need to back it up and be able to defend your position. Otherwise you are dead and you will start to loose credibility very fast.
Many projects have substantial penalties for being late. I am usually called for this type of projects and I need to develop a schedule to tell my client how and what he needs to do to make sure he meets his deadline. We defend and enforce our schedules with the confidence we have in our work.
If you would like, I would be happy to take a look at some examples of what you said and help understand the nature of projects and develop schedules that can represent this.

Tomas Rivera
Clive Holloway
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Consider this - as a programmer and in practical terms, when I am preparing a programme, I refuse to enter logic links to network the programme unless I am almost certain that the link is, on the balance of probability, going to be what is likely to happen in the future. And guess what, I end up with very few logic links that I am happy with and willing to defend and provide good reason for inserting those links. I then add resource type links and links that I am less than happy to defend or will find it difficult to provide good reason for inserting that link. I find that I am still short of links for a complete network and so the remaining links end up being put in for the sake of it, because the software demands that the network is complete, even if you are not certain or have no idea of what to link that activity to. The result is something that as the planner who prepared this network, deep down knows the inherent problems and under scrutiny will cave in almost immediately without any defence of the product of his work.

Now the Delay Analyst (non-programmer sometimes) comes in when things do not progress as planned and starts to use my programme to impact events and assess the extent of delay.
What do think the programmer who developed this programme is thinking ?

In reality what the planner wants to do is roughly position activity bars in the correct position within the time contraints of the project and input the links that he is happy with. The programme will then develop, as and when information and understanding of the project evolves and this takes time. Initial detailed short term programmes will be produced to neet short term objectives and to get the project off the ground.
Clive Holloway
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Tomas
Consider this - as a programmer and in practical terms, when I am preparing a programme, I refuse to enter logic links to network the programme unless I am almost certain that the link is, on the balance of probability, going to be what is likely to happen in the future. And guess what, I end up with very few logic links that I am happy with and willing to defend and provide good reason for inserting those links. I then add resource type links and links that I am less than happy to defend or will find it difficult to provide good reason for inserting that link. I find that I am still short of links for a complete network and so the remaining links end up being put in for the sake of it, because the software demands that the network is complete, even if you are not certain or have no idea of what to link that activity to. The result is something that as the planner who prepared this network, deep down knows the inherent problems and under scrutiny will cave in almost immediately without any defence of the product of his work.

Now the Delay Analyst (non-programmer sometimes) comes in when things do not progress as planned and starts to use my programme to impact events and assess the extent of delay.
What do think the programmer who developed this programme is thinking ?

In reality what the planner wants to do is roughly position activity bars in the correct position within the time contraints of the project and input the links that he is happy with. The programme will then develop, as and when information and understanding of the project evolves and this takes time. Initial detailed short term programmes will be produced to neet short term objectives and to get the project off the ground.
Tomas Rivera
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Clive:

Why do you say a 2000 or 3000 activity schedule is not useful?
Is it just something you think or have you done in the past this type of schedules and did not work?
If you just use a milestone schedule is this enough planning for your projects?
Do you also do the tactical planning yourself, or who does it?
Thanks for the answers.

Tomas Rivera
Tomas Rivera
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Clive:

I did not see your reply until today.
Forget CPM and Suretrack?
I am not sure I understand what your are saying.
Are you saying do not plan at all?
Are you saying do it by the seat of the pants?
Do you have a better alternative?
Please let us know. It would be very interesting.

Tomas Rivera
William Stakelin
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I can see your point about disregarding CPM and suretrack. There have been many projects built with only a bare bones schedule. But, on the other hand I can see the impotance of these two tools.

If you have a 10 month project, lets say 5 mill. There is 1,000 a calander day damages on this project. I think that you need to make a schedule to keep a good acount of the work that is done. This way you have a record of each party that is responsible for the delay in the project. Then you have documentation to justify your back-charges for damages.

Just a thought.

William E. Stakelin
Clive Holloway
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I recommend that you keep the overall project schedule to a strategic level, with milestone objectives. Tactical scheduling (ie, detail) should only be done for short term work.
Remember as a planner you have to produce something useful for the PM, and a 2000 activity network with 3000 logic links is not.
Clive Holloway
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Forget CPM and SureTrack. Since when can you ever logic link activities together with any certainty ?
William Stakelin
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Yes, I think the idea of keeping a schedule as simple (understandable)as possible is a good thing.

I was also thinking about my next project and how to work the schedule. I thought it might be a good idea to make the initial schedule and then make schedules for each subcontractor with a one month timeline.

On each sub-contractors "one month" schedule I would only include that particular trade and any other trade that would affect or be affected by the sub-contractors work.
That way I could use a little more detail on each "one month" schedule and make it clear to my sub-contactors what is expected of them.

This would also help with progress reports to be submited at progress meetings.


I have seen some schedules that were so complex that they were hard to understand.

I think that it is important for each sub-contractor to receive all the information from the schedule that effects their trade and they need to understand it.

Anyone out there that have any ideas on this subject please post it. I welcome any and all replys.

respectfuly yours,

William E. Stakelin
Tomas Rivera
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Please intrude!
This is an open forum and we all expect to participate and benefit from the discussions.
Any good participation as yours is welcome and I would encourage the rest of the community to do so more often.
Ernesto Puyana
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Allow me to intrude in your conversation on planning concepts. When I started reading William’s first posting, I thought it could be myself writing, except I got hooked on scueduling since I studied it at graduate school al the University of Florida 18 years ago.
I would like to contribute a way to put all the concepts you have stated so far, in a general way: I see the planning of a project as a four step process:

1. Identify determinant factors: those aspects external or internal to the project which impose restrictions on the construction process; site, regulations, propietary procedures, etc.

2. Establish strategies that you judge will allow you to finish your project within the imposed timeframe: I usually express those strategies in terms of fronts, stages and/or work speed.

3. Develop tactical plans to implement the defined strategies, in terms of work packeges composed of sequences of coordinated and interrelated activities particular of a determined section, stage or front in the job.

Once you get to those work packages, you have a plan and the rest is defining times and crunching numbers.

Maybe I oversimplify thins, but they say a simple model is the beggining of the solution to all mayor problems.

I’ll appreciate your opinions and look forward to keep contact on this matters.

Thanks
William Stakelin
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Thanks again for your replys,

Yes, I understand your point about overlapping tasks. The footings excavation and concrete placement for the footings is a great example. Both of those tasks, if labeled seperatly, would actualy start on the same day. We like to pour out what we excavate each day. This avoids the chance of your excavations being exposed to the elements.

On my last project I was able to start my mason about two weeks after I started my foundations. I also started my underground electric and plumbing about four weeks after starting my foundations. We started putting in floor slabs when I was half way finished with my foundations.
So I understand what you mean about overlapping your work.

I take into consieration the actual set up of the project also, access is important. Where is the easiest place for the mason to start? Can I get my concrete trucks in to pour the floor slabs? Can the iron workers get in to set steel when I have a section of the building ready for them?

Man, It really is an art, there are so many variables and each project is different. These things can only be learned through experience. I respect the older supervisors, with many years experience, and try to gleen whatever information that I can from them.

It is easier to learn by example the by mistakes. Although we never forget lessons taught to us by mistakes.

Once again thanks for your reply.

William E. Stakelin
wstakelin@msn.com
Tomas Rivera
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References for time durations of activities, there are several you can use like Means or the National Construction Estimator. You usually use several of those and apply your judgement based on your own experience. The higher the level of activity detail the more variation (and therefore discussion about it) can be in a duration estimate. The lower the level of activity detail the less variation in the duration estimate. The variation can be weeks or even months for the former and days or even hours for the latter.
But let me tell you that there are far more important subjects of discussion than individual activity duration estimates. When you build a schedule with the level of detail you mentioned you need to overlap the activities, for example foundation and structure. The ability for two activities to overlap (at this level of detail) many times determine whether you can finish your job on time or not. Exactly how you work on your foundation (sequence of daily tasks, direction of construction flow, concentration or dispersing of effort, etc) determines this overlap. If you do not do a detailed analysis this amount of overlap is a guess.
When you use very detailed schedules you realize that the activity duration estimates, generally, are not important and therefore do not determine the capacity of the project to finish the job on time. What truly determines the chance of a job to be finished within a tight time frame, is coordination of activities. With coordination I mean among other things, being able to work on those key activities or tasks for a certain discipline (like structural or electrical) so the next discipline can start working the soonest. In other words, you should start working on a specific stretch or area of your building foundation for the first structural frame to be erected. If you work on other parts of the foundation first, you are not going to be able to erect that first frame (that is required this way by the construction process) until you do that key stretch. So, sometimes it is worthless to perform an activity in one second if it is done one month late. It is better to do it in two weeks if done one month earlier.

William Stakelin
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Thanks for the reply!
You say that scheduling becomes an art, kinda like painting a picture. My question is this, To complete a project the most important thing that I deal with as a supervisor would be time. Starting date, Finish date. Then I have to break this time line down to seperate units of work such as: mobilization, site work, footing excavations, concrete etc... Then I have to determine which portions of the job each sub-contractor is responsible for. Other then input from my sub-contractors about the length of time that they need to complete each task are there any good refrences that you could mention to determine "time for completing particular tasks".
Sub-contractors are like sheep, they need someone to guid them. They are in the most part just worried about completing their portion of the project and not the project as a whole. It is my responsibility to give them time frames in which to complete their work, but if my schedual is not realistic then it serves no one.
I remember when I was little building my first model car. I tried to get it perfect. My father told me that the important thing was to finish it. He said that I would learn from the mistakes that I made on the first one and with the completion of each model that I built I would soon learn how to build one "Perfect". Building a building is the same process, but mistakes can cost a lot of money and aggravation.
I have brought all of my projects in "on time" with no major set backs. As the dollar amount increases it will be more difficult to control this process.
I heard someone say once "I will do today what others will not, So tommorow I can do what others can not" This is my quest.

William E. Stakelin
Tomas Rivera
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Let me start by saying that scheduling has been my passion for most of my professional life. I received a master’s degree in construction engineering and management from the University of Michigan. After that and several attempts to "fix" the world, I realized that the area in which a certain amount of improvement has the most benefit in the project success, is in the time management area. Thereafter, I have spent most of my attention in this knowledge area.
In regards to the time frame set in stone, this is usually the name of the game: how to finish the job by a certain date.
Our responsability then, becomes to develop a plan which depicts how we are going to meet this goal. The key here is to develop a network model that resembles the true nature of a project which serves us as our decision making tool. The better this information system (the network model) the better decisions we are able to make.
To arrive at a model which behaves closer to the dynamic nature of a project, I have come to the conclusion that we need to go into lower levels of activity detail, sometimes to the daily crew level activities. This type of schedule requires a lot of effort and time. Depending on the needs of the project one has to decide how deep into the detail he/she is going to go.
I have developed a system that I use for scheduling high performance projects using very detailed schedules.
My recommendation to you would be to learn the theory of scheduling including advanced concepts, decide on the level of detail for each one of your projects, and start developing schedules that behave closer to the nature of your projects. Achieving this proficiency in scheduling requires a lot of practice and hands on experience in the actual construction processes. It gets to the point in which it becomes more an art then a science.