How does one effectively manage time on a construction project

On modern day projects there is very little float in general. But since time directly equals costs, time usually has the biggest potential to influence the health of a project. So much so that the word float is being used synonymous with time in the construction world.

The impact of time is further exaggerated by the worldwide construction market being on a downward curve, since project payment milestones are to be reached sooner so as not to cripple the contractor’s cash flow. This being especially true for the smaller construction companies closing down over the last couple of years.

So how does one effectively manage time on a project? The short and simple answer is: “There is no short and simple answer!”

Let’s have a look at what is required for effective time management.

Over the years, the effectiveness of having a well set up and managed schedule to manage time has been proven over and over as the best method. To the point where all major projects contractually enforces it. So I for one will not be questioning the method.

I believe there are many capable project planners in the market that can develop schedules that help manage time and resources very well. So the skill is available.

There is a wealth of software and concepts on the market to help portray the project plan to the construction team in a simple understandable form. So the tools are available.

The only thing left that is required for effective management of time is communication. I believe that this is where the biggest hazard lays in the modern construction industry. I am not referring to the communication protocol within a company or project, but rather to who is involved and communicated with during the development and management of a project schedule. On the one hand there are people driving deadlines, liability periods, payment milestones and targets, and on the other hand people driving practical, logical and accurately forecasting schedules.

On paper these terms seem to be very compatible, but practically this marriage becomes strained when time is limited (which it usually is). This strain increases proportionally as the pressure on a project increases.

I believe a big supplement to this is that project schedules have become more of a whip rather than a tool to the modern project. I have been involved on projects where the project schedule was not mentioned in any important communication until the client used it contractually to indicate infringements by the contractor. This leads to a schedule being drawn up that tries to prove the goals and dates set by the client are indeed achievable by the contractor, which in turn leads to a construction team that is beaten by a schedule that they had no involvement in developing and thus no belief in.

This disconnect can have a devastating impact on the morale of a project. As soon as the team is measured by a merit they do not agree with, progress can slow to a crawl as they start to ignore the schedule and start to focus on work they believe to be more important.

A construction supervisor I worked with once referred to a schedule developed in similar circumstances as explained above as “…the wish list drawn up by management”, which indicates just how much faith he had in the schedule.

I believe it to be crucial to have a representative from all areas involved in all the phases and lifecycles of a schedule. For example having the project manager involved will ensure a schedule that has all the crucial milestones. Having the construction manager involved will ensure a schedule that has all the tasks required to complete the work. Having the construction supervisor for that scope involved will ensure a schedule that is logically achievable with the allocated resources and so on.

Having the whole team involved will ensure a schedule that is capable of driving your project to completion within all the constraints set to it.

Jurie Du Toit