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Not all schedules are created equal

Project schedules can be a powerful and effective tool if managed properly. Ok, perhaps that statement seems a bit obvious, but did you know our industry recognizes three primary schedule types that can help maximize collaborative efforts and minimize time-loss if utilized appropriately?

When you hear the term "project schedule", it's typically thought of as a series of methodical tasks listed out to manage construction related activities, but in reality they are much more valuable than that. Most seasoned developers will begin utilizing a project schedule (or master planning schedule) well before construction activities are a possibility. Master planning schedules help identify various phases of a particular development, including feasibility periods, jurisdiction requirements and design duration. Considering the fact that 50% or more of a development timeline will be spent prior to starting construction, this seems like a prudent place to begin managing timelines.

Timelines aren't just for the developers, what about the banker? Well, if your banker is anything like mine you're going to need a schedule prior to securing your financing. Whenever it comes to financing, they're not too concerned with the nuts and bolts of your project schedule, however they are interested in the expectant overall duration in order to properly assess outgoing cash flow, interest fees, and in many cases a timeline for converting your construction loan to a lower interest rate after project stabilization.

We now have the developer and banker on board, but what about the contractor? It's highly unlikely that your contractor would utilize a schedule (of any type) that was created by someone outside of their firm and it's just as unlikely that the contractors schedule type would be in the same format regardless.

So, what type of schedule should you use? Before we can answer that question, we must first identify the types of schedules available.

1. Calendar Schedule:

Calendar schedules simply consist of listing specific tasks, along with its duration on a printed or digital calendar. Tasks have no dependency on one another and there is no measurable milestones or segmented duration.

Calendar schedules are quite effective for short term, limited scope projects consisting of roughly 45 days or less. These schedules are inherently easy to establish and take no special training or knowledge to maintain. Considering the fact that these projects are typically used with short term scopes, they can be an effective tool, however, they are not useful with long duration or with moderate to complex scopes.

Uses: This schedule is typically used by a general contractor for short term, limited scope projects or to segment a larger scope into smaller "bite size" pieces for collaboration purposes.

2. Bar Chart Schedule:

Bar chart schedules are identified by their vertical or horizontal graph format. Tasks are listed in succession with one another, each having its own starting and stopping point. The bar chart will identify horizontal and vertical values of the graph each representing specific data as the user has defined. Tasks within bar charts have no formal dependency on one another, however, overlapping tasks to represent predecession or succession is common practice. The most advanced version of a bar chart is identified as a Gantt Chart.

Bar charts are effective, productive tools in team collaboration. The simplicity of a bar chart allows the user to establish a simple to moderate schedule consisting of multiple tasks that are capable of being managed over a significant duration of time. Unlike the calendar chart, the bar charts allow for additional details such as roles and responsibility, resources and cash flow management.

Uses: This schedule can be used by all professionals for short or long term, moderate scope projects. Bar charts are effective tools to manage multiple items from a single chart or simply manage various elements in multiple charts. This format is also great for breaking larger, more complex scopes into manageable "short term" tasks.

3. Critical Path Method Schedule (CPM):

Critical Path Method (CPM) schedules are the most advanced form of scheduling. CPM schedules consist of nodes attached to a network of activities that are dependent on each other as either a predecessor or successor.

Due to the nature of CPM schedules, it takes an experienced professional to create and maintain a proper CPM schedule. Once a CPM schedule is created it can be converted to many forms, including a Calendar Schedule or Gantt Chart. One key advantage to utilizing a CPM schedule is its ability to identify the shortest distance from start to finish, which is referred to as the "Critical Path". CPM schedules also allow for the identification of non-critical tasks, identified as "Float Time" within your schedule.

Uses: This schedule can be used by all professionals for all types of projects. CPM schedules are more complex to establish and maintain, however, they have the greatest amount of accuracy when properly utilized. This format is also great for breaking larger, more complex scopes into manageable "short term" tasks.

Final Thoughts:

It's important to note that while we are focusing on three schedule types, each schedule represents the individual or collaborative efforts within an organization to achieve their representation of sequential events. Due to the various project types and experience levels of those individuals preparing the schedule, project schedules can vary significantly and must be studied, monitored and updated regularly to maintain maximum efficiency.

Remember, whichever schedule type suits your needs, it must be a proactive strategy not a reactive solution.

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