Whether you’re tasked with completing a large commercial contract or a small residential build, planning is key. With the right tools at your disposal, detailed planning will ensure you:
- complete your projects on time and on budget
- better manage your client’s expectations
- use your resources to greatest effect
- have a clearer idea of your project risks
- be able to adapt more quickly when the unexpected happens.
This, of course, requires time and effort but with appropriate planning techniques, you will ultimately save time and money.
In this guide, we’ll run through the main planning techniques you need to know about to effectively plan your construction works, such as master and detailed programmes, schedules, scheduling software and risk management — in short, everything you need to set yourself up for success.
The choice of planning technique depends largely on the size of your project.
Infrastructure works and other large-scale builds can apply any of the following planning techniques:
- Arrow diagrams, also known as activity network charts, present the tasks to complete for your project as arrows that connect one definable achievement to the next; the longer the arrow the longer the task takes. This visual representation makes it easier to identify any potential choke points.
- Precedence diagrams are similar to arrow diagrams in that they also visually present the tasks needed to complete your project and enable you to identify the most effective path to completion. However, boxes (also known as nodes) are used to represent the tasks and arrows represent their dependency on each other.
- Line of balance (LOB) is tailored to projects with repetitive blocks of construction, for example, roads or pipelines. The LOB process maps out objectives against actual progress on an x-y graph. Productivity and delays are easily identifiable and forecasting is made easier.
- Time-chainage diagrams are ideal for linear projects, such as laying down new infrastructure, as they plot tasks, time and location.
Small to medium-sized projects tend to use the tried and trusted Gantt chart, also known as a bar chart. Simple in its design, it is nonetheless a powerful planning tool.
Using a Gantt chart for planning your construction project requires little training, it’s that simple to use. Each line on the y-axis of the chart indicates a task or group of tasks you need to complete. The length of a bar denotes the time needed to complete the listed task.
Gantt charts come into their own when the tasks are dynamically linked to reflect the order in which they are completed. In practice, this means if any given task is delayed, your chart will reflect this so you can see how the delay will impact tasks further down the list, say a few months later.
Gantt charts also allow you to indicate critical tasks, the ones that determine the shortest possible completion of your entire project. You can then focus your efforts on securing the resources, be it people or materials, to complete these tasks. You can also assign resources to each task on your Gantt chart, adding another level of detail to your planning.
A comprehensive Gantt chart can include or become the foundation for project cash flow and risk management analyses. See how a Gantt chart can improve your project planning by downloading our Gantt chart template which has been tailored to the construction industry.
Programmes of works
Your Gantt chart will be your go-to planning tool along every step of your construction project but when it comes to JCT contracts you’ll also need to submit a master programme to the architect. This is a general project plan that lays out the main stages of your construction works, giving all parties involved a clear idea of completion time and a framework to support decisions around extensions of time. This document can become key in resolving potential disputes between you and your client.
Your master programme sets out the bare bones of your construction project, while your detailed programme includes every single task and details of all works you require for completion. This vital document is so comprehensive that you’ll likely filter it to show only the upcoming 1–2 months of work. Designed to be dynamic in nature, the detailed programme can automatically adjust your plan to accommodate delays.
Your detailed programme makes it easy for you to create additional schedules by simply filtering for the data you need. Two schedules that are particularly useful are:
- the purchase schedule, which sets out the dates by which long lead-time orders must be made.
- the information release schedule (IRS), which sets out the dates by which any missing design information must be provided to you.
Once again, these schedules are dynamic; when one component changes the rest adjust to compensate. For example, if the installation of windows, which have to be ordered 8 weeks in advance, is delayed, the schedule will automatically suggest new order date.
These, among other schedules, simplify site management and significantly reduce the chances of you missing important tasks or making errors.
Scheduling keeps your construction project on track and scheduling software is designed to make it easy. It’s essential to select software that you find intuitive and offers the key functions you require. Look out for additional features such as the ability to synchronise tasks with your calendar or the option to share your project plan with the team.
For PCs running Microsoft Windows, the most popular scheduling software programs include MS Project, Asta PowerProject and Primavera. For Mac, there are also several options, such as Omni Project and Merlin Project; we use the latter here at Multiproject.
It’s worth spending a bit of time investigating the different features available to find the right fit for your needs, preferences and budget.
Once you’ve found the right software for your needs, you can take your detailed programmes to the next level by incorporating project risk management. You can run different scenarios to see the potential impact on your project. What if missing design information isn’t provided on time? What if there is a month-long delay in materials arriving? What if a subcontractor fails to show up? Running each of these eventualities ensures you can put into place effective contingency plans.
Carrying out your risk assessment involves 5 steps:
- hazard identification
- probability and consequences estimates
- selection of a risk management method (e.g. avoidance, reduction, sharing and retention)
- management and supervision
Steps 1 and 2 are made infinitely easier when you have a detailed programme in place and effective scheduling software.
Updates are essential
When you’re about to embark on a construction project, you’ll no doubt set aside time to put your programmes and schedules in place. However, your initial programme is only valid until the moment you get on-site. As soon as works begin plans will need to be revised and amended to accommodate the actual conditions, for example: delays in the delivery of materials, staff shortages and changing client instructions. Plans and schedules are dynamic in nature. Their continued effectiveness therefore relies on you updating them to reflect any changes.
Stay on top of your planning and scheduling and no matter what challenges you face during the course of your project, you’ll have the resources and the forethought to overcome them and keep your project on track.
At Multiproject, we’ll work alongside you to ensure your projects are delivered effectively and efficiently with our comprehensive estimating, quantity surveying and contract management services.
Discover how we can set you up for success by getting in touch with our team at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling us on 020 7096 8235.