Are your projects late because of poor execution or because of poor planning?

Are your projects late because of poor execution or because of poor planning?

By Steve Sudler, CEO of Catalyst

Construction is a very risky business and the CPM schedule has become the basis of the evaluation of progress and delays both during projects (contemporaneously) and after the fact (forensically). Various studies indicate that less than 50% of US construction projects are completed on time. As O’Brien and Plotnick stress in their book CPM in Construction Management, “…there are no winners in Delay”.


First glance may suggest that execution of the approved schedule is largely at fault, but perhaps the problem lies in how we are measuring success. “On-Time” is a benchmark relative to the project’s Baseline Schedule. Are your projects actually falling behind during execution, or is your company just using a bad schedule as the benchmark?


Plan Before Schedule
Planning and scheduling are distinctively different but related processes. The plan – developed by a broad, knowledgeable and accountable project team – should drive schedule content and creation. Project planning, as defined by AACE is “determination of a project’s objectives with identification of the activities to be performed, methods and resources to be used for accomplishing the tasks, assignment of responsibilities and accountability, and establishment of an integrated plan to achieve completion as required.

Time flies when the project is late


Unfortunately, today’s project plan and schedules are most often performed by a very small subset of the larger project team. In our work with contractors, we often see project schedules without sufficient project planning process content. Often, mobilization activity is under-estimated, key scope items are missing, activity durations are extremely optimistic, sequencing is not aligned with planned field execution, effects of constrained resources is not considered, site constraints are not considered and information from key prime subcontractors is not obtained or included. So much hinges on a project schedule yet, often, so few team members actually contribute to it.


A robust planning process must drive the content and construct of the schedule. Without practicing a rigorous planning process on each project, the project schedule will be a poor performance benchmark and of little use to forecast and mitigate project delays, and your company’s profitability and customer satisfaction will suffer.


The Planning Process
The purpose of planning is to establish a broadly acceptable course of action to perform the defined scope of work of a project in an efficient, coordinated manner based on the project requirements and responsibilities.


Key participants in project planning teams should include all individuals who are knowledgeable about the project work with expertise in their respective disciplines, and the ability to conceptually schedule the work. The Team should include the Project Manager, managers of all prime Sub-Contractors, internal company Operations Managers, Client Relations manager, Superintendent(s) and the project Scheduler.


Project management professionals generally agree that there is a basic six-step process to develop a thorough project plan. A high-level outline of the essential scope for the planning team is:

  • WHO? Identify all project stakeholders, division of responsibilities, resource commitments, public sector influences, constraints, contract requirements and project delivery method.
  • WHAT? Identify the physical features and technical objectives of the work. Define the entire scope of work and other project requirements.
  • WHERE? The location and all impacts regarding where the project will be performed, public utilities, access issues, material delivery constraints and public sector permitting and coordination.
  • HOW? Establish work breakdown structure (WBS), and decompose the scope into deliverables. Identify resource requirements and availability (people and equipment). Develop logistics plan, heavy-lift plans, mobilization and de-mob and all key non-schedule planning that is integral to project success or failure.
  • WHEN? Establish initial timeline and sequencing and phasing of deliverables.
  • HOW MUCH? Determine rough cost estimate for each component phase, work package or group of activities. Include estimated quantities, planned production rates and pricing.


The scheduler is usually responsible for taking the detailed information from the planning phase and adding all the building blocks – tasks, durations-logic links-calendars-etc. into a CPM tool so as to produce a CPM schedule forecast file. The scheduler needs to have in-depth understanding of the building blocks and mechanics behind CPM scheduling best practices. Finally, the planning team must review the CPM schedule output to ensure that the schedule accurately represent the team’s collective decision regarding how the project will be executed.


Effective project planning and scheduling begins and ends with efforts of the project team.


As an industry, we need to focus our efforts on “planning right” and getting the right plan. Then, when the project schedule becomes realistic and achievable, project execution can progress with confidence, stakeholders can make better field and financial decisions, project leaders can improve staff and resource productivity, and your company’s executives can stop delivering unpleasant news to clients.


As part of your planning improvement effort, I encourage you to join AACE ( As members, you will have access to extensive information and guidelines to improve your project planning and scheduling ability and results.


Thanks for your attention, and let me know if I can help!

Steve Sudler


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