By Jaclyn Sharma on Jun 4, 2021 4:47:18 PM
Imagine a world where planning, whether it be for professional or personal events, didn't exist. Schedules would be non-existent, key life events would be missed, there would be uncontrolled spending and mass disorganization, amongst other challenges. The world and society as we know it requires thorough planning in order to be efficient, effective and successful.
Planning requires work. Period. It requires time, resources, strategy, schedules and a tool to manage the process. Whether it involves an important life event, caring for a child, sporting/entertainment activities or constructing a 30-story building, planning is critical.
Wedding - Life Events
Let's suppose that recently, you and your fiancé have become engaged. You are ecstatic to start your life together and cannot wait for your wedding. In order for this event to be successful, you must develop a plan or there is a high risk of failure.
Perhaps you and your significant other have different ideas of what this event will look like. Or, you are unsure of what you'll be able to afford. If you don't communicate and develop a plan, how will this play out? What if your fiancé would like to have the event in spring, but you'd rather have it in fall? They'd like for it to be close to home but you'd prefer a destination? You'd rather have a small and intimate ceremony and they'd prefer a celebration with 500 guests. How will you achieve the goal of getting married without communicating and planning these milestones?
Fast forward - you've agreed to a date, a location and a rough guest list. You've planned the key requirements including the selection of the venue(s), the caterer, the officiant, the photographer, and the musician. What if the planning stops there? At this point, how can the event be managed successfully? Yes, you've selected the critical components, but without the details, the event still remains at risk.
For example, how will your guests know when or where to arrive? Will your vendors know when to show up? Will they arrive at the same time and place or will they be left to guess? What about the specific tasks that you need each vendor to complete?
To fill in the blanks, there are key considerations leading up to this important event.
- Budget - How much money are you and your fiancé able to allocate? How much is required for each vendor? What about the little things? Do you have funds available beyond those that will be allocated to your vendors for the minor details? Have you considered unexpected costs? Without preparing a budget, you have a high risk of defaulting on payments, losing money or completely losing a critical resource/vendor.
- Schedule - You've selected the date, but have you selected the time and sequence of the event(s)? What time is the ceremony taking place? Do you need a rehearsal beforehand? If so, when? What time do each of your vendors need to arrive and be prepared? I'm sure you wouldn't want the caterer to prepare and serve the meal before the ceremony or have your photographer show up at the end of the night. What about the details that need to be scheduled in advance, e.g. the dress/suit fittings and alterations, food tasting, hair trials, bachelor/bachelorette parties.... how will these tasks be completed successfully without planning the details?
- Resources - Do you have all the key resources in place? Who must be in attendance or supporting the event? If you are missing a key resource, such as a caterer, or if your caterer does not have staff to deliver the food, how will you feed your guests? If you don't have an officiant or they don't know the proper information about when and where to show up, how will you be wed?
- Tasks - There are many tasks that go into planning a wedding, regardless of the size and complexity of the event. These can include: scheduling venue tours, arranging food tastings, choosing floral arrangements, making music selections, designing/selecting wedding bands, making a guest list, preparing, ordering and sending invitations, and etc. In order for the day to be perfect (or at least as close as it can get), these tasks must be fully planned and completed in advance of the occasion.
- Constraints - With any event comes constraints. For example, in order to legally marry, you must apply for a marriage certificate. This is something you will need in advance of the event. Without it, the goal of marriage cannot be (legally) achieved. Materials such as chairs, tables and dinnerware may be a constraint. Without this material, your guests will need to stand, they might need to hold their food and likely will not be very comfortable or satisfied. Without proper music equipment, your vendor may not be able to entertain. These are all items that must be planned for, completed and in place prior to the event.
To help manage the wedding planning process, couples might rely on wedding planners, or popular apps such as Zola and The Knot which can help organize the event, develop timelines and provide a template to ensure the key tasks are planned and constraints are removed in advance. Other tools such as Pinterest and Etsy might be used for inspiration and for purchasing detailed items. These apps can make the process much easier to plan, manage, organize and communicate the requirements that are key elements of success.
As you can see, without a plan for a key life event such as a wedding, it is likely that your goal will be unaccomplished, there will be many challenges, you will exceed your budgets, there will be lots of confusion and you and your guests will be left unsatisfied. The celebration must be fully planned in order for it to be a success.
Caring for a Child
Now, let's imagine another scenario. You and your spouse recently had your first child. At first, things are hectic as you're trying to establish a new routine and a new lifestyle. There is confusion, love, stress, exhaustion all at once and nothing seems certain. And yet, in order to manage this new life, as a couple, you must develop a plan.
It's 1am and the child is crying. It needs to be fed. Who is going to feed the baby? Initially, you both have time off and perhaps, at first, take turns waking up to feed. But as time moves on, you must return to work. How will you plan for your child's care?
This process requires communication, research, decision making, budgets, schedules, organization... the list goes on. Without a plan, you'll both return to work and your baby will be left with no support. No one to feed the child, change its diapers, keep it warm. Possibly you'll call around each morning to see if a nearby family member or neighbor can assist, but what happens when no one is available?
Fortunately, that's not how things generally work. Whether this plan is developed in an organized manner or not, the process does (and must) happen and the details are critical to ensure your baby is well cared for. This plan might include:
- Budget - Will you be paying for a child care center or daycare? How much will it cost? Can you afford the options you've selected/explored? Have you considered all the additional costs that come with caring for the child?
- Schedule - Who will drop off/pick up the child? What time will the child be dropped off/picked up? Can this schedule be consistent or does it require modifications to align with inconsistent work/away hours? How many days/week or hours does the child need to be cared for outside of the home? Is there a feeding schedule or sleep schedule that the sitter must accommodate?
- Caretaker (Resource) - Who will be caring for the child? Do you require more than one caretaker? What if the caretaker is unavailable on a given day, who will be the back-up? Will you need to take time off of work?
- Location - Where will the child be watched - at your home, your parent's home, with a neighbor, a child care facility, elsewhere?
These considerations are critical to ensuring that your child receives the care and support it needs. Without a plan, there is a likelihood that the child will be neglected in some form, there will be confusion as to whom the child is with, where it is, when it will arrive at home, etc. The detailed plan is required and must be followed, and if there are any changes, they must be well-communicated to achieve success.
Today, many parents use some sort of tool to manage their child's schedule. They may use a Google calendar to track pick-up/drop-off schedules and locations. Or, if the child is sent to a day care facility, the facility might offer an app that communicates things such as feeding times, diaper changes, naps, photos and more. This allows the parent(s) to review and adjust the plans/schedules and provides a source of communication and transparency.
Construction Project (Industrial, Commercial, Residential, etc.)
By now, I think you get the point. Without a proper, detailed plan, there are often challenges, miscommunications, delays, uncertainty, budget busts, failures and ultimate chaos.
The same holds true in construction. However, a challenge within the industry that we constantly observe is a lack of (detailed) planning and scheduling. Unfortunately, too many construction projects have given us a glance into what the world looks like without plans. The communication, transparency and commitment to the development of the details is often missing.
So, why is this? It goes back to our earlier statement: Planning requires work. It can be challenging to manage and requires time, resources, strategy, schedules and a tool to manage the process. In addition, the process should be standardized. Without a standard, the process remains disorganized/disjointed, siloed, and it becomes difficult to establish baselines and keep the team(s) on the same page.
Let's envision a construction project that has had minimal planning. There may be a project start/end date, a lump sum or T&M contract in place, and several contractors that have been chosen to perform the work, but that alone is not enough to ensure the project will be a success. Just like a wedding or childcare, construction projects require detailed, transparent plans which consider the following:
- Budget - What is the contract amount for the project/job? How will the budget be allocated? If the project spans multiple years, how will the costs be managed? By whom, and how often, will costs and forecasts be analyzed? How will the cost data be collected and where does the data need to live? Are cost/phase codes being used to allocate costs? Who needs access to this information in order for the budget to remain controlled, and hopefully, to result in cost savings? Who will evaluate opportunities to reduce costs, and how?
- Schedule - Schedule deadlines can be hard to hit. But in construction, where external factors and multiple entities and stakeholders are involved, it becomes even more challenging. Once the start and end date are set, somehow, the schedule must be managed. Who is responsible to managing this schedule and what is all involved? Is the schedule broken into several milestones? How will the milestones be completed on time? What about the detailed/weekly work schedules? Who is responsible for ensuring these schedules are developed, updated and transferred to the appropriate teammates? How will the schedules be built and communicated? Will you use a tool such as Excel, a whiteboard, or a software application to develop the schedule and distribute?
- Resources - A budget and schedule are a great starting point, but without human resources, both may be meaningless. Construction companies must consider what type of resources will be required, how many are required and what the resources cost in order to successfully and cost effectively complete the project. Will/can your company self-perform the work or will you require subcontractors? Can apprentices and journeymen complete tasks at a lower costs and help to maximize your crew mix and composite rates? What days of the week and how many days are these resources required (4/10's, 5/8's, is overtime necessary)? Will certain resources be responsible for multiple projects simultaneously? How will the team know when and where a crew member is performing work?
- Tasks - As the saying goes, "the devil is in the details". Detailed task planning is essential to the success of a project and is especially crucial as it relates to reducing labor costs and improving schedule reliability, productivity, quality and safety. Project teams should communicate to determine the requirements of the resources. What work needs to be done in order to keep the schedule on track? What are the priorities and how will the work be sequenced? If you start framing before the foundation is poured, you've just lost money, rework will be required, and all sorts of other challenges will be presented. What items/installations do the key resources need to complete each week, how many items must be installed, and who is responsible for completing the tasks? Are all resources required to complete certain tasks, or can a subset be chosen? How will the project leaders know what to work on? What is the communication plan for the task/schedule goals? Gut checks from past experience can be helpful, but often are inefficient and result in cost overruns and delays.
- Constraints - Often, it seem there is some confusion when the word "constraints" is mentioned (as it relates to construction), although it is a key component of two industry best practices: Lean Last Planner System® and Advanced Work Packaging (AWP). In construction scheduling, constraints are anything that prevent a task from being completed. These often cause a project to fall behind schedule and run over budget - two of the previously mentioned components that are critical to a construction project's success. To prepare for removing constraints, you should start by asking a few questions. What are some things that can keep your project from being successful? Are there ways to plan for things that can hold up your project? How do you develop a sound process for making a project ready for execution? These constraints must be planned, managed and completed/cleared on an ongoing basis to ensure the upcoming scope requirements are met and the crews have what the need in order to prevent delays.
- Continuous Improvement - Anything that is repeat or recurring presents opportunities for improvement. The more redundancy that can be optimized or automated, the more streamlined, efficient and cost effective the process becomes. You can develop childcare plans, or plans to complete a construction process, but if they lead to failure, lose you money or create risks, there should be a reflection and immediate consideration for improvements. You might evaluate if there was there WASTE involved in the process, if things could have been better organized, if key resources (human or monetary) were lacking, if there was an injury due to poor safety procedures (or other factors), if the team was productive, if the project/milestones completed on schedule and, if not, determine what caused the slippage.
Think about how you've managed construction projects (personal or professional) in the past. Looking back, we'd ask you to consider if the above mentioned suggestions could have led to improved project outcomes.
- Schedule/Plan - Was your renovation delayed because you didn't order the cabinets on time? If so, why was the order placed late? Did you hang the drywall before completing the electrical work? Did you have a detailed plan that was considered in advance or did you perform the work based on best guesses/gut instinct from past experience? Were safety requirements thoroughly considered in advance to improve outcomes and communicated to the right leadership? Were daily/weekly goals established and measured?
- Constraints - Did you have the tools you needed when you started putting up a new wall frame at 8am or were you spending an hour at Home Depot purchasing a new drill and setting your project behind?
- Continuous Improvement - Did you have data to inform you on decisions to make? Did you know your production rates so you could improve your project estimates? Did you have the right information in the hands of the right stakeholders at the right time? Were you tracking KPI's and reviewing the data frequently? How were you communicating information and could it be optimized/automated? How did you capture data and did you have an easy way to centralize the information and analyze key measures?
Without detailed plans, contractors are forced to "fight fires" everyday while reacting to the challenges that have been caused as a result. There are more frequent communication breakdowns, there is siloed information preventing the right stakeholders from having access to key information they need, there are unsatisfied customers, safety incidents, preventable scope changes, litigation, rework, cost overruns, delays, there is chaos at the jobsite, the list goes on.
So, why is this still "a day in the life" for so many construction companies? Simply because, planning requires work. It IS challenging to manage and requires time, resources, strategy, schedules and a tool to manage the process. However, once thorough planning processes are developed, standardized and implemented, the rest will fall into place. Safety will be improved, productivity will be improved, quality will be improved and schedule reliability will be improved. Does this require time and effort to get started? Yes. Is it worth the work? Yes. Should it be a top priority? Yes.
Just like wedding and childcare planning, today more and more contractors are implementing tools and software applications to help standardize, institutionalize and automate planning and scheduling best practices. Plans that were once established and managed at the master schedule level are now being broken down to align the weekly/bi-weekly budgets with the work plans and married up with the actual results for a more complete representation of overall performance. Tools and technology are being used to develop the plans/goals, enable real-time data collection, improve communication between the field and the office, enforce best practices, improve transparency within the organization, display key success measures and provide the data to enable continuous improvement and make informed business decisions to prevent repetitive causes for failure.
Whether you are planning a wedding, expecting a child or awarded a new construction project, plans are critical - and the more detailed the plan, the better. The next time you're tackling a new initiative, consider the points above and think about what the project outcomes could look like if you're willing to put in some investment upfront. Yes, planning requires work, but if the work is completed at the beginning, as things progress, the load will lighten, you and your customers will be happy, and success is achievable. On the other hand, without plans, the effort involved in trying to manage the project continues to build and often requires more work throughout the process.
No matter the task, upfront detailed planning results in a more effective and efficient process and leads to greater satisfaction for all parties.
Need more convincing or some guidance as you get started? Feel free to take a look at the resources below or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- The Benefits of Short Interval Scheduling for Construction Crews:
- The Importance of Constraints Removal:
- Project Controls in Heaven: