The Project Notebook

Construction Time Management


A reader at PM Hut asks: Why do we see so much lack of time scheduling in construction business? And how can time management In a contractor company make the work more efficient?

I cannot speak to the “lack of time scheduling in construction business”. I’m in education, and most school construction projects have pretty good time scheduling because they need to be completed in time for the new school year. If they are not, schools are left to scramble to find space for displaced students. This goes for K-12, colleges and universities, and even non-traditional schools since they are forced often by law to adhere to some semblance of a school year.

In general, there are also a number of project scheduling tools which compete with the more common Microsoft project because they have features which support construction projects. Primavera is one notable package that is a full solution from proposal to construction to back office functions. Prolog is another that comes to mind. There are 87 other packages cited at Software Advice. 17 of these are specialized in time scheduling.

As project managers, we have two basic ways of improving the schedule time: crashing and fast tracking. Crashing adds more resources. This isn’t always helpful — it depends on the level of expertise of the resources, the nature of the work, etc. Fast tracking on the other hand looks to make the work more efficient by finding more things to do in parallel. On a major software project, I had three major applications which had to read and write from a common file. I could have developed them serially. Instead, I got the team together and the first thing we did was define the common file format and read/write methods. With that out of the way, we were able to work independently on the three applications at the same time. It seems like there are parallels in the construction industry. This was shown very effectively by the four hour house project. You can watch the video documentary at Google Videos. Two complete, livable houses were finished within four hours by very careful time management and scheduling. I’d say that’s a lot of efficiency!

The people devoted to tasks are very important to efficiency as well. Teams which are able to self-manage their own time usually accomplish a lot more. I have a number of online articles devoted to helping you or project team members become more effective at getting things done:

GTD for PMs
GTD for PMs – Part II
GTD for PMs – Part III
GTD for PMs – Part IV
GTD for PMs Part V – How to Work with GTD

At the end of the day, it’s about balance – completing the work of mutual value for you and the stakeholders in as efficient a way possible, leaving you more time for non-work activities and some time to address the unknown unknowns (aka risks) which will arise during the course of your project.If this doesn’t fully answer your question, you may continue the dialog in the comments or drop me a line at sdcapmp@aol.com.

The Clash of the Priorities

By Susan Peterson, MBA, PMP
Copyright 2005, Susan Peterson, All Rights Reserved

All of us juggle a multitude of priorities in both our professional and personal lives. Often, the number and magnitude of priorities may seem overwhelming and even in conflict with one another. Also, the sources/causes that are driving the priorities may have no logical basis. For example, in the space of a few days I’ve been forced to deal with all of the following, each of which has resulted in a new “project” that I must manage:

A car damaged in a church parking lot by an out-of-state hit-and-run driver
Theft of personal data impacting 3,000 people including me
A homeowners’ association that is refusing to enforce the CC&Rs; (codes, covenants and restrictions)regarding unauthorized construction by a neighbor
My health insurance organization and related hospital group that have severed a long-standing partnership

The preceding list does not even begin to include the immediate priority challenges of my “other” life such as a client who keeps delaying an inevitable decision by continuing to ask me for “just one more piece of information” or a student who demands an explanation and feels entitled to a “B” or a “C” just for attending class sessions.

How project managers deal with numerous priorities can make or break a project and can directly influence the perception of the success of a project. It can be difficult to objectively apply one standard to a wide variety of priorities, but that is what project managers must do. It is especially challenging when several projects have to be managed simultaneously. The following decision criteria can aid in sorting through a mountain of priorities whether on one project or on multiple projects.

Life or Death

This criterion may sound overly drastic, but it crisply focuses one’s perspective. Unless the activity/event will doom or lead to the demise of the project (or the project manager), it is probably not a top priority item. People who have faced death and survived have been known to say after such experiences that everything else is “child’s play”.

Source of the Priority

Is the priority being driven by personal or political whim? Is the priority “driver” someone who specializes in creating crises? In these types of situations the project manager should assess the strength and importance of the priority driver as well as the impact on the overall project. Treating the source of the priority rather than the symptomatic pressure is more effective in reducing the number and severity of high priority items. Medicine that only treats symptoms doesn’t shorten the length of an illness. So too with priorities — jumping from one “top priority” item to another only fuels the drivers of the priorities and may actually prolong the agony by increasing the volume of priority items.

Conflicting Priorities

It is often only the project manager who realizes that priorities are in conflict. For example, one department involved in a project may be incentivized to complete its activities rapidly ahead of schedule without regard for quality. Another department involved in the project may actually experience delays in completing its assigned tasks due to inferior handoffs from the other department. In this type of situation it is the project manager who must educate project participants in the realities of not sacrificing the project for the benefit of a single component.

Rapidly Shifting Priorities

Sometimes priorities are changed so quickly and so often that a project manager can feel that he/she is “twisting in the wind”. When priorities shift constantly, a project manager must exercise judgment to determine if the current shift is just part of the ongoing decision instability or is actually a genuine necessary change. This situation calls for the project manager to be the “calm in the storm” in objectively assessing the need for the shift in priorities. Otherwise, those outside the project team quickly learn to bombard the project manager with urgent or top priority requests.

In conclusion it’s a fact of project management that effective priority management is crucial to “staying the course” through the turbulence
that accompanies projects. So, believe in your capabilities and remain focused.

Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia. She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course in the UCSD Project Management certificate program and is a member of the curriculum committee. She can be contacted at susanada@aol.com.

New PM Tool: EPM Live

For those of you local to San Diego, you may be familiar with one of our local companies, LMR Solutions. LMR recently “branched out” and launched EPM Live. I’ve made myself a commitment to take a closer look at this tool over the next weeks and months as I believe it has a lot of strengths for those who aren’t hosting a full SharePoint and MS Project Server.

The hosted solution is SharePoint based. Using a proprietary MS Project ad-in, Project Publisher, MS Office Project plans can be pushed to project team collaboration spaces. There the team can review tasks and make updates to their work. Project status reports and hundreds of other reports can be generated from dashboard and portfolio views. The resulting updates can also be imported back into MS Project. EPM Live becomes a stand-in for Project Server while providing all the benefits of a full SharePoint implementation.

One use I’ve discovered is I can create a time model in Project, publish to EPM Live, and let team members update their progress. They are focused on the tasks and assignments and not on the overall timeline. When they make substantial updates to the tasks (e.g. change delivery dates, add effort), I import back into the MS Project model where I now get a new project end date computed. If I change the time model, I can push the updates back to EPM Live.

There’s a 30 day free trial offer on their web site, so if you are inclined, you may want to check out the site. I found just the full SharePoint features alone to be valuable, while the addition of Project Publisher technology helps me refine my management of time and resources. Its not immediately obvious on the site, but I did find if you are already hosting MS SharePoint, you can host EPM and Project Publisher technology yourself.

If you try it out, please leave me a comment regarding your experience.

PMP Challenge Question – 9/1

It’s time for another challenge question and this one is built off the last one (8/15).

Assuming the Early Start of each task from 8/15 is the Optimistic Time, the Late Start Date is the Pessimistic Time,and the provided effort is the Most Likely Time, calculate the PERT time for the project network.

Weren’t able to complete the 8/15 Challenge but want to try this one? The solution can be found here!

Don’t forget to visit again next week, plus on 9/15 there will be another PMP Challenge Question. We’re also getting closer to the big PMP giveaway ….

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© 2010-2012 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP