A Guide To Construction Project Planning and Scheduling
Without a process to manage costs and budgets, the majority lose time, money, and reputation to expensive delays.
Together, they are key phases to integrating all of your project management activities across an entire construction project from start to finish. They’re different but inseparable. One won’t work without the other.
Construction planning comes first, and includes defining all of the relevant processes, procedures, and policies you need to put in place to meet the needs of a specific project. Once the construction project is planned, scheduling takes those high-level processes and breaks them down into specific actions.
Then, you’ll place those steps into a calendar or workflow so that deliverables stay on track.
You need to be able to easily take all project specifications — including resources, communications, risks, and procurement — and slot them into your workflow.
A solid plan is the foundation you use to be able to easily and accurately deliver on time. Knowing how to do both will help you grow your construction business, project after project.
The importance of planning and scheduling in construction
Construction planning helps assure that projects are completed on time and within budget, meet quality standards, and ensure safety protocols for your crew.
Planning clarifies responsibilities between owners, builders, and tradespeople, leading to excellent communication and teamwork.
Javier Enciso Jr., Founder and President of ENC C&D
By maintaining the correct documentation of all phases of your project planning, you’ll not only stay on track for your current project but will also build a reference for future projects.
Proper planning will help you organize all aspects of your day — from daily reports to change orders — so that you can close out smoothly when the job is ready to wrap.
Project planning gives you the documentation you need so you can:
- Reduce costs, accurately predict cash flow, and proactively track project costs
- Save time by automating workflows to reduce manual efforts and use digital tools to increase efficiency
- Create an audit trail for documenting the entire project that can then be shared easily with key stakeholders
- Increase transparency by keeping everyone in the loop and proactively answering questions
- Make all your tasks and project plans centrally available and open to everyone who might need to see them
- Take greater control by implementing repeatable processes, investing in tools to manage your crews’ work time, and tracking overall productivity
- Keep your clients and stakeholders on the same page and up to date on their responsibilities
- Use the calendar to promote clear communication between project managers, crews, subcontractors, vendors, and all stakeholders
- Schedule additional workers, inspectors, subcontractors, etc. to join the project at the right times
Using project planning and scheduling during all five phases of construction
Project planning and scheduling for construction set you up for success across all of the fundamental stages of your build.
How to create a construction project plan
Yes, there’s a lot to get done. These steps will help you put together all of the pieces for a stable construction project plan.
1. Create a business case
Before you can break ground, you need a complete business case to know:
- The details of the job
- If it’s something you want to take on
- What it will take to get the job done
You need to map out the size of crew you’ll need, as well as subcontractors, resources, and the total budget to cover labor, materials, fees, equipment rentals, and permits.
This will give you a one-document view (this document is called Project Initiation Document - PID) that outlines everything you’ll need to finish the project.
Pro tip: If you’ve done a similar project before, use that as a baseline for future business cases.
2. Lay out your goals
Take the resources you gathered in step one and use them to build a high-level strategy on how you’ll map out the project.
Use the SMART system (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-based) to make sure all your project goals tie back to the business case.
Once you know what you want to achieve, you can list out the broader project areas that will help you get there:
- The technology and construction methods you’ll need
- Defining work tasks
- Time management and project milestones
- The relationships between tasks and how they can potentially impact one another
Some parts of the job can’t be finished until another is completed. Changes in materials used by one subcontractor could affect what needs to be done by the next.
Mapping out your goals and how you’ll get there is key for this step.
3. Get the entire team on board and estimate resources
Get your team together to review the plan or tag them in your project management software as you begin to assign responsibilities.
This gives everyone a chance to see what you expect them to do, ask questions, and identify potential problems.
When each crew member understands their role and how they contribute to the greater success of the team, you’ll keep them more engaged and productive.
Make it clear how they’re expected to not just do the core of their job but also to:
- Report on progress
- Let you know about incidents
- Provide any updates that affect the project schedule
4. Make a list of all the info and tools from your plan and estimate activity durations
Before you can schedule how long individual phases of each job will take, you need to be crystal clear about who’s doing what and what they’ll need to get their part of the project done.
Using your project plan, list out all the subcontractors who’ll be involved in each phase. Ask them to estimate how much time they’ll need to get their materials together, what they’ll be using, and how long their step will take.
Having a full list of the materials being used in the build is key before you begin scheduling.
Get a list of requirements and code inspections from your local office and add these checkpoints to your schedule.
Restrictions vary based on the particulars of your job, so doing this research now will help you not only create a smoother schedule but also make sure that your project is compliant with local construction regulations.
5. Prioritize tasks, no matter how big or small
Knowing which to-dos are mission critical, and which could potentially be postponed, is a big part of project planning.
A complete list of every task, broken down into the basic steps needed to complete each one, will help you make sure your schedule covers everything. It also gives you line of sight to see how delays in one area will affect the entire job.
Don’t forget to include every step that affects your work, even if it’s not something that you or your crew has to finish yourself.
Keep procurement, deliveries, and financial needs in mind and connected to each step, so you can see how they’ll impact your own tasks.
6. Create milestones and put everything in order
Now that you’ve got all the essential parts listed out based on what’s most important and how long they’ll each take, look at the major phases of the project from a high-level.
Project milestones, like completing a foundation or adding plumbing, can be used to create a larger scale schedule that gives you an easier view of the project.
With those stages in place, take each of the smaller, more manageable tasks and break them down into a list within each phase. This will give you major milestones along with the smaller steps it takes to complete them.
7. Add up how long each task will take
Take the information from your own business or the quotes from your subcontractors and add a duration to each individual task. Give them a start and finish date, using the prioritization you did in step two.
You might have to do a lot of moving individual tasks around until you find the right balance. Don’t forget to give yourself buffer room for delays, holidays, bad weather, and so on.
Make sure that your schedule is realistic and that you can commit to all of the dates you set. You don’t want to feel pressure to cut corners in the future to hit a date in your calendar.
Be honest, get feedback from your team, and give everyone enough time to do their jobs right without feeling stressed.
8. Assign and inform all tasks owners
Let each individual know what they’re in charge of getting done and by what date.
This can get confusing with a long list of contractors and other vendors, so keeping your schedule up to date and organized is important.
A digital tool that will let you organize teams by specialty, tag crew members, send automatic due date notifications, color-code tasks by milestone, and more is a great way to make clear communication a breeze.
9. Schedule reviewing
No matter how hard you prepare, things are going to come up and your schedule will need to change. That’s totally ok.
Don’t think of your schedule as totally finished on day one. It’s a flexible guide, like a map.
There might be more than one way to get where you’re going. With a solid schedule, you’ll know how to get there even when things pop up that you weren’t expecting.
Schedule regular reviews to go over the schedule, how well it’s working right now, and any bumps you can see in the road. As each project progresses, update it so that you’re anticipating what you’ll need later on.
Your project won’t stay on track just because you have a schedule. You and your team need to stay on top of it each day, check that it’s working the way you need, and adapt it based on what you learn as you go.
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