Help me become my company's scheduling expert!
March 30, 2016 2:43 PM   Subscribe

I work for a general contracting company and I'd like to learn more about scheduling construction projects. Can you recommend any resources? Books, online resources, webinars, classes, anything.

I work for a general contractor in New England, and I've recently transitioned from being in the field almost all the time to being in the office most of the time. I've been getting more involved with the management side of construction, and one of the things I'm learning to do is to set up and manage schedules for our projects. We're talking suburban residential construction, involving things like additions, remodels, decks, and repairs. Not so much new houses, though of course the kind of work that we do overlaps a lot with new residential construction, and with construction in general for that matter.

As a company, we're aware that one of our biggest areas for improvement right now is in creating and maintaining efficient and realistic schedules. We're also aware that construction scheduling is notoriously difficult, but we feel like it's an area where we ought to be seeking to constantly improve and we think that we have room there to develop our expertise. Planning for even a minor project involves permitting, logistics, in-house labor, subcontractors, building inspections, and lots of other moving parts. There are also many, many factors that are impossible to completely plan for. (Weather, illness, homeowners suddenly telling us that they're going on vacation and don't want us working at their house while they're gone, homeowners deciding mid-project to add $100,000 of extra work on top of their original contract, supplies being back-ordered, subcontractors dropping off the face of the earth for weeks at a time, houses that turn out to be riddled with rot once you start pulling the siding off, and on and on. And that's before accounting for the "hero complex" and the fact that we sometimes just plain make mistakes in our planning.) We'd like to get better at this from start to finish, both in terms of setting up schedules and budgets that account for as much as possible and suffer minimal slippage, and also in terms of handling (and budgeting for) disruptions as they occur. The goal is to make homeowners happy, keep our field crew busy but not overloaded, and bring our jobs in on time and on budget as much as humanly possible.

To this end, I personally would like to start educating myself about the theory and practice of the fine art of construction scheduling. The company I work for is third-generation family-owned, and while they've done a lot of work to move with the times (we have some pretty good project management software that helps us create and visualize our schedules and coordinate with each other, subcontractors, suppliers, and homeowners—but it's not magic) nobody here has any formal training in construction management. We're mid-sized by the standards of our region and our industry, with about fifteen people on the payroll plus a handful of specialists who we regularly subcontract with. We've actually grown a lot over the last ten years or so (and especially in the last two) and we've been looking at this issue as part of the growing pains involved in going from a company that does a couple hundred thousand dollars of work each year to one that does a couple million. We're playing catch-up a bit, and want to do better.

Since there's nobody at my company who can effectively mentor me here, I see this as a chance for me to become the in-house expert in this area. My supervisors have repeatedly told me that they see me growing with the company and that they're interested in seeing me develop and eventually settle into a position of greater responsibility (and pay). The long-term goal is for me to become the company expert in charge of things like efficiency, standardization, and process optimization—so I think this is a good opportunity both for me to show that I'm serious about taking on that role, and for me to see if they're willing to back up their words and invest a little in my professional development. (What I mean is that I want to see if they'll pay for any of this.)

So, people of MetaFilter, what can you recommend for me? Do you know of any good websites, communities, instructional videos, books, webinars, classes (either online or off), or certification programs related to construction scheduling? Construction management in general is definitely a topic of interest, though I'm planning to focus on the scheduling aspect first as it's the area in which my company seems most anxious to improve. (So a book on construction management with just a nice chapter on scheduling would be fine, for instance.) I'm definitely looking for a maximum of practical advice and evidence-based methodology, and an absolute minimum of self-help-style management bullshit. Also, I'm not a total neophyte; assume that I already know what a Gantt chart is, and that if I have to read another page of feel-good prattle about how everything in a construction project is interconnected and how it's the job of management to steer a middle course between the pressures of the marketplace and the constraints of the jobsite, I'm going to scream.

Thank you all very, very much for your advice and suggestions.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The to Education (4 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I think Microsoft Project will take you a ways with the presentation and monitoring of it on a computer basis.

Moving data from real life to computers would be dependent upon you. What is key is you know people who you can depend upon who can accurately tell you how long something is going to take. This appears to be very experience dependent.
posted by iNfo.Pump at 6:17 PM on March 30, 2016

You're off to a good start, based on the detailed phrasing of your question. Boots-on-site experience in renovation is worth more than anything else.

New construction is quantifiable (acts-of-god aside) into controllable schedules.
Large additions are sort of like new construction and sort of controllable.
Home renovation is by nature unpredictable, as you know; The only certain things in home reno projects is that there are always delays, and that there are always add-ons.

There are so many variables involved in renovation that I personally don't think it can be reduced to a simple theory or algorithm. Scheduling is based on intuition & experience from previous work, a kinda zen game where the pieces are always moving. Experience in playing the game, and feeling the pain when it doesn't come together as planned, are the final book in this matter. You have to buffer the vicissitudes of fortune somewhat by not letting Sales cut the margins too close & not over-promising on deadlines. (Customers always want clear deadlines, and customers often end up getting some sort of compromise in the end, and negotiating between this is an art, which requires some very carefully phrased honesty and good faith on the part of all parties;)

If you don't have one, get a subscription to Fine Homebuilding.

Keep your boots on and go out on site as often as possible, I'm sure the Site Super would love to have someone sympathetic to complain to...

Best of luck!
posted by ovvl at 6:24 PM on March 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I believe Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) has a whole construction management program. You might see if they have a class in this.
posted by salvia at 9:57 PM on March 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you have a database of how long every recent project the firm has undertaken took? That plus some key project metrics (e.g. Square footage) can be gold for giving future advice that guards against human nature to be optimistic. If the Gantt chart says 3 months but all the previous ones have taken 6 months you know something is wrong.

(Sounds like a great firm by the way).
posted by Albondiga at 10:28 PM on March 30, 2016

« Older Novels about betrayal, but not romantic/sexual...   |   Could I have been a better advocate for my son in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.