CPM Mechanics: Must Reading for Construction General Contractors

In terms of business survival, as your projects go … your company goes!

  • But Project Success depends on competent Construction Project Management
  • Competent Project Management turns on Effective Project Execution
  • Effective Project Execution boils down to Collaboration, Coordination, Cooperation, and Communications. THIS … is what we refer to as Project Time Management
  • Quality Project Time Management is (much!) MORE than merely creating and updating the Project Schedule.

How Contractors Influence Project Outcomes

To be sure, every Project Owner casts a mold that dictates, to a large extent, how the project will play out. And we will discuss this point, below. But there are major factors leading to project success that are squarely in the Contractor’s wheelhouse.

Some Things that Contractors Can Do to Improve Outcomes

Here are some things that Contractors can do, independent of the Construction Owner, to improve how their projects turn out:

  • Strategic Planning: Perform layers of Strategic Planning in advance of Tactical Scheduling
  • Bid Schedule: Create a comprehensive, Level 3 Schedule as part of their bid development.
  • Commitments: Solicit Project Time Management commitments from all key players prior to bid submittal.
  • Before NTP :Create and implement a comprehensive Level 3 Schedule before Notice to Proceed (if time permits).
  • PTM Summit Before SOW: Hold Project Time Management Summit before Start of Work
  • F.A.C.E. Diamond: Organize Project Team according to Cognitive F.A.C.E. Diamond model.
  • Project Facilitation: Establish Project Facilitation (in lieu of Project Controls or Planning and Scheduling).
  • Integrate PTM Info: Make Project Time Management the cornerstone of Project Management; weave Project Time Management information throughout Project Management operations. Use Project Momentum as the primary factor in making Project Execution decisions.
  • Work Trumps Paper: View Project Administration as subordinate to, and supportive of, Project Execution, and not the other way around. Don’t let non-temporal concerns erode integrity of the sole temporal tool, the Project Schedule.
  • Paperless Daily Reports: Substitute current paper-based Daily Reports with electronic field reporting system that simultaneously updates the Project Schedule and controls what work is being performed. If this is not possible, then update and review the Project Schedule no less often than weekly.
  • RADAR Tracker: Implement RADAR Tracker or a similar system that structures Weekly Coordination Meetings and proactively deals with the five major causes of “between activity” delays.
  • Performance Intensity: Use Performance Intensity to monitor real-time work performance and provide instant feedback to Project Execution Teams.
  • RAMP Manager: Use some form of RAMP Manager to insure that required resources are available in advance of the work that need them. This practice, more than any other, will drastically reduce the amount of delay on your Projects.
  • Plan Just Before Execution: Implement “Short-Term Planning toward Short-Range Goals” as a fundamental principle of Project Time Management. Choreograph the work movements immediately before that portion of work commences.
  • Recalibrate Schedule Routinely: If you stay with the Dominant Project Management model, then approach the Schedule Update as an opportunity to revisit remaining logic, from the Data Date all the way to the end. Recalibrate the entire Schedule based on recognized trends.
  • Project Cognizance: Manage the Project through Cognizance, not Clairvoyance.
  • Risk Mitigation thru Commitments: Downplay Risk Management contingencies; forge commitments instead.
  • Ranked Activity Paths: Use Ranked Controlling Paths concept to safeguard downstream deadlines.

How Owners Affect Project Outcomes

You would think Project Owners would be extremely interested in learning more about how they can positively influence project outcomes, given that they can be found at the heart of the Problem, the Impact, and the Solution.

The Problem: How Owners Cause Project Delays

Not knowing it, various actions and choices that Owners routinely and habitually make qualify them as the #1 Cause of Project Schedule Slippage!

How is this possible? Because they rely on the advice of consultants and experts who, in large part, are also unaware that the Project Management practices advocated for “most projects most of the time,” are not especially well suited for the Construction Industry. As a result, by following “recommended practices” to a large extent Project Owners are only making things worse — going along, “fat, dumb, and happy” as the expression goes.

And adding insult to injury, a number of “standard practices” within the Construction Industry have only further weakened the General Contractor’s ability (or willingness) to responsibly manage the project,  and guide it to a successful and timely completion. When does this happen? How about … during design, during procurement,  in the contract, in Owner attitudes and posture, in Owner expectations and demands, in an overall missing sense of fairness all around. All of this is discussed on the other pages of this website.

The Impact: How Owners Bear the Maximum Cost   

While all parties to the project suffer when schedules slip, it is the Owner that bears the maximum cost.

  • Financially, the Owner has the most skin in the game. They have the most to lose. And no amount of clever contract language, performance incentives (including Liquidated Damages), or micromanagement seems to have had any really positive effect. In fact, these tactics may be making things worse. Failure rates average between 60-70% on Construction projects.
  • In terms of Risk, Owners are the most exposed. And what we have learned through decades of failed attempts otherwise, is that Risk Shifting doesn’t really work. No matter what the tactics, at the end of the day Owners still bears the brunt of major known and unknown risks.
  • Then there is Disruption (inconvenience) caused when schedules slip. The ripple effect is profound.  When intermediate dates are missed, internal operations are disrupted. When final dates are missed, external commitments are affected, like dominos in a row —  staffing plans, cash flow projections, move out/move in plans, business growth, competition, time/rush to market.

The Solution: How Owners Can Improve Project Outcomes

If the previous comments are discouraging, then find solace in knowing that the Owner is in the best position to make things better. Specifically, the Owner has the power, authority, influence to change the way projects are managed.

Knowledge is Power

You have to ask yourself, how did this happen? With the proliferation of Project Management standards, training, certifications, conferences, literature and discussions …. why are projects not doing better? Why do they actually seem to be getting worse?

Follow the money! Ask yourself, who knew? To be sure, several cottage industries have grown up around the failure of projects: lawyers and claims consultants to name just two. But there are also those who profit from promoting the Conventional Wisdom: trainers, management consultants, certifying agencies, and so forth. Do these entities know that the generic Project Management model is not especially well suited for Construction? Most don’t. And those who do know, keep that fact to themselves.

They Can’t Fix What They Don’t Know To Be Broken

It is time for you to take matters into your own hands. Delegating to others an understanding of how projects can and should be managed … hasn’t worked, has it?

All  solutions begin with understanding. Here is just a sampling of what  ICS-Research would like Owners, such as yourself, to know about the cause of Schedule Slippage:

  • The strategy of shifting risk doesn’t work.
  • Liquidated Damages don’t guarantee timely completion.
  • Putting an expected project length in the bid documents is a  mistake.
  • Requiring enterprise-level scheduling software is  counter-productive.
  • Resolving time-related disputes using Critical Path  methods works against the Owner’s best interests.
  • Conflict Mitigation is not the same thing as true Conflict Avoidance. Resolving disputes earlier in the game may reduce the effects of conflict, but when you get rid of the Zero Sum Game that is killing your projects you will really be achieving Conflict Avoidance.
  • Managing to the Critical Path almost always lengthens  the project duration.
  • Total Float is the Contractor’s alone to do with as he wishes. The Owner has no legitimate or rightful claim to it. Quit being greedy.
  • One solitary schedule cannot do everything you are asking it to.
  • Command-and-Control is a failed management style. Prohibit it; don’t encourage it.
  • The strategy of managing to a Baseline Schedule hurts the project.
  • Demanding Predictions versus Supporting Commitments … is a mistake.

The Schedule is at the Epicenter of Project Time Management

That should make perfect sense to you, since:

  • As your Projects go, your Company goes. If your projects fail to meet their goals, won’t that negatively impact your organization?
  • As Project Management goes, the Project goes. That is why you retain professionals to manage your projects in the first place.
  • As Project Execution goes, Project Management goes. As the Cognitive F.A.C.E. Diamond confirms, of the four domains of Project Management, Project Execution is the ultimate determinant as to whether the project achieves its goals or not. It is where the rubber meets the road.
  • As Project Time Management goes, Project Execution goes. The four essential elements of Project Execution are: Collaboration, Coordination, Cooperation, and Communication. All four of these require a comprehensive Project Time Management schema.
  • Project Time Management is only as good as its Project Execution Strategy. The Project Schedule is the central tool of Project Time Management. It must be competently developed and maintained to remain useful.
  • The Critical Path Method is the Technology of choice for effectively conveying the Project Execution Strategy in such Construction Schedules.

We Need a  Better Project Management Model

Albert Einstein’s famous comment about insanity comes to mind: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.

ICS-Compendium Offers Two Competing Solutions

The ICS-Compendium includes two separate Solutions to the Problem of ineffective Project Time Management.

  • One Solution adopts the Conventional Wisdom as espoused by Dominant Project Management. The first four-volume set (called the Dominant Project Management Series) not only shows, step-by-step, how to practice Construction Project Management as it is currently advocated … it also teaches how to avoid the numerous traps and land minds that litter the field.
  • The other Solution adopts the Cognitive Project Management model, designed by ICS-Research specifically for the Construction Industry. The Cognitive Project Management Series, in another four-volume set, presents an incredibly different Ideology, Methodology, and Technology mix … guaranteed to be far better suited for Construction Project Management.

The Project Schedule is Central to Both Solutions

Both Project Management models are predicated on the establishment and maintenance of a comprehensive, credible, and vibrant Project Execution Strategy (Project Schedule). This book, CPM Mechanics, is the first of two books that will fully explain how to most effectively design, development, and maintain reliable Project Schedules.

The problem is that what we have been taught about the creation and maintenance of schedules is significantly flawed. Keeping in mind Einstein’s admonition, we would be wise to take a sober look at our current approach to Planning and Scheduling, with a critical eye toward what works, and what does not.

For instance, ICS-Research has discovered that the current scheduling practices are inherently flawed in  four key areas:

  • Technology: The underlying Technology has built-in flaws.
  • Ideology: The foundational Ideology behind  how we use schedules is also flawed.
  • Methodology: The common Methodologies that we practice have flaws.
  • Ecology: And, the Ecology (which Owners control) ultimately dooms the  project.

ICS-Compendium Adopts the Contractor’s View

The ultimate goal and purpose of the ICS-Compendium is to become the de facto reference guide for Construction Project Management, that will find its way onto bookshelves in every General Contractor’s library. The ICS-Compendium is being written from the Contractor’s perspective which, as you know, is very different than how the Owner sees the project. Virtually all existing  Project Management literature is written from the Owner’s point of view.

There is so much that is wrong with how we manage our construction projects that the solutions cannot be fully discussed in a single volume. That is why the ICS-Compendium has multiple volumes. Each book speaks to a different aspect of the Problem and Solution.

For each Project Management Model (Dominant or Cognitive) there are four volumes, each speaking to a different aspect of the model:

  • Technology Books speak what we do it with: to the tools, techniques, and technical aspects of Project Time Management. CPM Mechanics is the Technology Book for the Dominant Project Management model.
  • Ideology Books speak to why we do it: the values, beliefs, goals, philosophies, standards, policies, and other intellectual aspects of Project Time Management.
  • Methodology Books speak to what we do: the practices, processes, and procedures performed on a daily basis that bring the Ideology to life.
  • Ecology Books speak to the operational context in which we do what we do: the project’s operating conditions and atmosphere.

CPM Mechanics is Essential Reading!

Not only is CPM Mechanics the first book in the Dominant Project Management Series, it is also the first book in the entire ICS-Compendium … which means that the Cognitive Project Management Series is predicated on it as well.

Start Your Learning Journey with CPM Mechanics

So it all comes down to this: do you want to improve the outcome of your projects? If you do, then you must understand why you are in the best position to make that happen. You can make unilateral changes in how you organize, deploy, administer and execute your projects. And … you can have a tremendous influence on the Owners you work with, to help them understand and learn about ways that they can improve the outcome of their projects.

One thing is certain:  you cannot bring about improvements by doing the same things that have proven ineffective to date. You need to learn what is good in the current Project Management model, and what could stand changing.

At the epicenter of your Project Time Management program is a quality Project Schedule. But the thing to remember is that the Project Schedule is, up and above all else, the Contractor’s Schedule.

So start your formal training in Contractor Scheduling and proven Construction Scheduling Methods … by learning how the Critical Path Method works “under the hood.”

CPM Mechanics is required reading … if you really want to change your Project Management track record.