How to Build Better Project Plan Timelines
Planning out project timelines is critical to any construction business. Doing project planning allows you to create a schedule and adjust it according to the project’s progress. It’s a complex process that requires an incredible amount of time and attention to detail, but can yield great results.
Here are 10 tips for creating better project plan timelines.
Track your project plan timelines
After the project and design are approved, and it’s time for construction, Dan Uribe, owner of JC Daniel Construction in Livermore, Calif., recommends starting with the major general timeline factors.
- Material selection and availability
- Types of trades required
- Availability of labor
- An installation schedule
“Any one can affect the other,” Uribe says. That’s because each involve its own various subcategories and there are many other factors depending on the project, but once you’ve established and confirmed all of those factors, an estimated start and completion date can be established.
Do a risk assessment
It’s important to forecast the risks involved with any precarious aspects of the project, says Connie Rayna, president and CEO of The Project Experts, Inc, a project management expertise firm based in Redondo Beach, Calif. This can include global market conditions and weather conditions.
For example, Rayna was working on a warehouse distribution center buildout for a client in Minneapolis. The client needed bar code labels installed on metal racking in January. Although Rayna had previous used the same manufacturer and same materials on many other jobs without any problems, this time, the bar code labels would not stick to the racks due to the cold weather. As a result, Rayna had to ask the manufacturer of the bar code labels for alternate materials to get the labels to stick, which delayed the schedule and increased the cost. To prevent a similar situation, Rayna says is always important to ask: “What’s different about this project that I need to know?”
Plan on a learning curve, have a back-up plan
If you’re using a new vendor or subcontractor, plan on including time for a learning curve in your timelines. Rayna also recommends having dependable backup vendors ready in case something falls through. Rayna notifies the backup vendors that they’re an alternate vendor and provide them with the project schedule if needed down the line.
Expect the unexpected
Unexpected disruptions from strikes to bad weather can add extra time. Be proactive and add extra time into to the schedule. Based on her previous experiences, Rayna now goes out onsite and researches different types of weather patterns to prepare for any potential problems. Other examples of unforeseen delays can include accidents or labor shortage due to workers’ personal reasons (i.e. family emergency).
Prepare for plan modifications
Project changes in design, material, scope of work and even code upgrades should not be considered delays, but extensions of the original project, says Uribe. He will add in an extra amount of time for the potential changes if the customer requests it.
Add in 15 percent for the “unmodeling” stage
If remodeling, there are plenty of unexpected problems you won’t be able to see until you begin the demolition portion, i.e. taking out a wall or getting beneath the surface of something. RD Hendrickson, a partner, general contractor and construction manager for The Modern Group in Scottsdale, Ariz., usually advises his client to have a contingency timeline and budget with a 15 percent addition to prepare for this possibility.
Expect indecisive customers
The fact that customers willchange their minds mid-project is a guarantee, says Rayna, who builds in an extra three or so days for the customers to try out different samples.
Give customers earlier notice of any potential changes
If there are any potential delays or scope changes, it’s important to inform the customer before you go over your estimate. “The customer should never be surprised,” Hendrickson says. “That's the best way to lose a customer, fast.” His company always gives the customer notice of any potential delays at the beginning of the project. That means that Hendrickson tells his customers he is giving them an accurate timeline for 95 percent of the job that they’ve planned out in pre-planning. But he always adds in that there is a “5 percent chance that something will show up in the ‘unmodeling’ stage when we start getting behind the walls that could set the project back a bit,” he says. “We are always realistic and when those situations come up, we always move forward quickly to do our best to keep the project running on time.” Although you don’t want to worry the customer too much, Hendrickson says it’s important they understand the worst-case scenario up front in terms of cost and timeline. “(That way) they are always thrilled when we complete the job quicker and do not have to go over budget,” he says.
Provide daily status reports
Once a project has started, Hendrickson recommends doing a daily field report to note which project aspects are complete, on schedule and running behind. This status report will allow the project manager, the construction manager and general contractor to know at all times who was on/off the jobsite, which tasks were completed, etc. “It manages expectations and keeps everyone grounded and focused,” Hendrickson says. “We over-communicate about the status of the project with the client. They get a daily report.”
Based on the customer’s preference, Hendrickson updates the client through e-mail or by phone. He also provides photos, notes on what happened on the job site, what materials have shown up or are due and other important details. Not only does this provide great communication, but, Hendrickson adds, it’s also important for liability issues. For example, if a client was to accuse you for not meeting the contract requirements, the correspondence can serve as a record that the job was indeed completed within the set parameters. Hendrickson says his records have helped in three different depositions to settle a dispute out of court.
Track important data
Creating spreadsheets or using software programs with off site storage can help organize your company and improved communication allows multiple user access for the contractor, client, subcontractors and vendors. Larger companies and projects will be able to take advantage of these programs, which allow you to track your schedule and target dates as well as set up reminders and post pictures.
However, that it can be overkill for a simple kitchen or bathroom remodel that has a smaller, easier-to-track timeline. Instead, consider using a simple, easy-to-use program like Google Calendar, where you can set up reminders and alerts. Or consider something like Microsoft Project, which Hendrickson uses to input all of his job-related tasks into a Gantt chart, a type of bar chart which tracks a project schedule via daily tasks.
The take away
Although planning out a project timeline is time-consuming, Uribe says it’s time well spent. That’s because putting time into the preparation can pay huge dividends later on, when project tasks are quickly and effectively accomplished.