CPM Mechanics: Must Reading for Construction General Contractors

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

  • 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.


How Owners Affect Project Outcomes

You would think Project Owners would be extremely interested to learn more about how they can positively influence project outcomes, given that the Owner’s Actions are 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.

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 dominoes 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. 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 to the Contractor 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 usually 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 it 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. This includes Project Control.
  • 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.

CPM Mechanics is Essential Reading!

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. 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 continuing to do 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 remember: 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.