Unless you’re building a Lego spaceship with your kids, construction is never a spontaneous or fast process. The project life cycle begins when its owner identifies a need for a new structure or public improvement and ends when all work has been completed and approved by the appropriate authorities. During that time, all steps and decisions are guided by the project schedule.
A flawless construction schedule is a blueprint for success. Companies use them to stay on track and periodically assess whether the projected completion date is still realistic. They also make it easier to keep on top of the multiple details involved. Labor and materials costs, design approval, and obtaining all necessary permits are only the tip of the iceberg. By creating a project management schedule, you put together a clear plan that can be shared with everyone on the team.
The many functions of a construction schedule include:
Understanding the basics of construction scheduling is a critical part of the development and management of construction projects. When you put together a well-planned schedule for your client, it specifies how the work will get done and outlines the pace of delivery for each milestone. Other benefits include:
I would also argue that a sound schedule will help your client save money, as you can identify the activities that may have to be done during cooler weather and apply pricing protection measures. Whichever way you look at it, the right scheduling system will support team efficiency and make it possible to complete the project on time.
Now, let’s take a look at how to build and schedule construction projects. It starts with the documentation of key project data, which can then be migrated into a scheduling tool to generate a timeline.
All construction schedules should include the following information:
Once you’ve listed all these details, it’s time to:
There are many tools available that allow you to build a schedule from scratch or modify a template to meet your client’s project type and its needs. Whichever one you go with, you’ll want to ensure that it provides a long-term overview, supports instant updates, and can speedily convey updates to everyone on the team.
We’ll start with my personal favorite: Teamweek.
Teamweek is a browser-based project management tool that’s easy to use but powerful enough to build complex project timelines and construction schedules. I’ve used it to build schedules for residential and commercial contractors, construction companies, and even interior designers who wanted to add surface touches to completed projects.
It uses Gantt charts to create clean and attractive project timelines. To add a task, all you have to do is indicate start and completion dates by clicking on the timeline, filling in the details, and assigning it to a team member.
Teamweek Gantt charts are a modern variation on the bar charts that were traditionally used to create a construction schedule and identify the necessary resources for a particular project. Bar charts were grid sheets with the project tasks listed vertically in the column one and the timeline mapped out in the first row. Tasks were mapped out on the grid and usually color-coded according to project stage or milestone. At one time, I did them in Excel, but since I discovered the dynamic versatility offered by Teamweek, I haven’t looked back.
One of the biggest advantages that Teamweek presented for my construction clients was an app with a clean and legible interface. Many team members work on site, with only their phones to send and receive status reports. The Teamweek app also has all the features of the browser version, so I could communicate schedule status and updates on the go.
If you work for a nonprofit or your team doesn’t exceed five people, Teamweek is free to use. Unlike some project management software, the free version is not a pale shadow of the paid program. It has all the features and versatility you need to smoothly build a construction schedule.
Bar charts aren’t the only scheduling technique used in the construction industry. Critical path project management is also widely applied. With this technique, each activity is linked to past and future ones, so that expensive conflict can be avoided. One popular construction scheduling software that uses the critical path approach is Phoenix Project Manager.
This scheduling tool is full of rich features, such as graphic bar charts and network views. You can apply filters to check on specific aspects of the project and the built-in CPM checker supports ongoing schedule quality, which is a major bonus. You can use it to identify problems before they can impact the project. Another powerful tool is the Network Diagram, a project overview that makes it easy to follow the critical path.
Phoenix Project Manager is apparently also popular with energy and utility companies wanting to maximize up-time and reduce plant shutdowns. It’s a versatile program that can be successfully migrated from one project type to the next.
Line of balance scheduling has been used in industrial manufacturing and planning since the 1940s, when it was developed by the Goodyear company. It consists of a series of inclined lines that symbolize the working rate between repetitive operations in a construction timeline. Also known as the repetitive scheduling method, line of balance scheduling is often seen on repetitive work such as high-rise buildings and underground tunnels.
Tilos is a leading scheduling software package that uses this scheduling model as its basis. It automates time-location diagrams and formats then so that the entire project scope is presented along the time and distance axes. All of these details appear on a single screen, so you can easily see when scheduling or task allocation clashes occur.
I haven’t used TILOS myself, but I have colleagues who like the way the program allows them to monitor progress in real-time and immediately update project data when changes occur. Despite the distance element, which you don’t find in other construction scheduling tools, they say that it’s intuitive and boasts an easier learning curve than other programs that they have used. If your clients specialize in linear projects like pipeline and road construction, TILOS appears to be worth checking out.
Proper scheduling is critical to the success of every construction project. Fortunately, there are several quality construction schedule templates and software available to help you prepare a timeline that covers all the necessary activities. Once you find one that works for you and your client, get ready to take your business to the next level.