WHY SCHEDULE STANDARDIZATION IS CRITICAL FOR AI & INTEGRATED CWP & LOOK-AHEAD SCHEDULES
The advantage of using Work Package and LEAN Look-Ahead Schedules
We’re entering the next revolutionary age, the age of Artificial Intelligence. And it has the potential to finally lead our industry to see higher productivity and profits that other industries have already seen with the use of technology. But our industry still has a significant hurdle to overcome - digitization and standardization. The good news is, there’s more than likely an app these days that can replace any of your paper-based solutions. This can easily solve the digitalization issue, but it still does not solve the standardization issue.
When it comes to extracting intelligence from data by applying AI, the data is the fuel. And one might think that you could simply throw all your data into the magical AI black box and it’ll analyze it and give you intelligent insights. But unfortunately, and fortunately (robots won't replace us!) it still needs humans to clean the data, especially with complex systems like in construction projects. Companies that identify their company goals can quickly zero-in on the data sets, and structure it to allow AI to give better insights. Another good thing when it comes to standardization - our industry has plenty of processes that can be followed, such as MasterFormat, Uniformity, WBS, Construction Work Packages (CWP), etc.
If you’re a large construction management firm, you’re probably already using some or all of these, and that's great. But from my meetings with several Top ENR contractors and smaller GCs, I’ve discovered that most companies need a little fine-tuning. You can have all the strings on a guitar but each one needs to be tuned to produce the desired sound, and each chord needs to also be in the right place. This is when a company needs to identify their goals and fine-tune their process and procedures but needs to be extremely careful to not make redundant steps that create no value. In a study, The Boston Consulting Group found that “over the past fifteen years, the number of procedures, vertical layers, interface structures, coordination bodies, and decision approvals needed…has increased by anywhere from 50 percent to 350 percent” and “managers spend 40 percent of their time writing reports and 30 percent to 60 percent of it in coordination meetings.”
So how can you standardize schedules to make them more accurate and realistic for future projects? It’s actually pretty simple, by using the existing processes of the Master Schedule and Construction Work Packages, and integrating them with the Look-Ahead Schedule.
Simply put, it’s a list of high-level activities logically outlining how the sequence of work will be carried out from the start of the project to the end of the project with intermediate goals highlighted in between, known as milestones. The level of detail should account for major trades onsite to know who goes first and who directly follows to ensure proper hand-offs of work from start-to-finish. For example, a line item that might be seen in the master schedule could be erecting the structural steel of the superstructure or MEP blockouts, but you can probably get away with not putting in install shower curtain rod because no major tasks are depending on it other than hanging a shower curtain. But each team will need to decide this on their own. I typically tell clients if it’s something important, has a large value associated with it, or has other critical tasks tied to it, it probably needs to be in the schedule. It goes back to the old phrase, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure.” Just remember the plan is not just for your team, it needs to bring enough transparency for all shareholders, such as subcontractors or the design team, to have a general understanding of the project, so that they have a better understanding on how they need to execute their work and which dates are critical for the project.
The next common question that I get asked is, “Should I put the procurement tasks into the schedule?” This goes back to what I said earlier - if it’s a task that has a lot of tasks tied to it in the future, then yes. For example, submittals, scopes of work, and permits should be put in the schedule because in this day and age work cannot take place onsite unless a subcontractor has a signed contract and the work they plan on doing has approved shop drawings/submittal.
One of the most critical things when it comes to creating a master schedule is how to name a task. It seems simple but I have seen a lot of schedules with one word and no parent task describing the location or what it is. For example: “paint”, “install”, “concrete”, etc. With a one-word task, it’s impossible to apply valuable AI to this yet alone have even human intelligence (person) read it quickly and figure it out. The reason naming a task is so important is because it gives the machine a way to analyse the task and start seeing actual patterns and compare it with other schedules or best practice of work sequences that you have built internally.
Example Broken Down by System
Example: A.1.0-Curtain Wall-Floor 20
Subtask A.1.1----< Trade>
Example: Install Curtain Wall Type 1 East Elevation GL5-10 - Enclose
Example Broken Down by Location
Subtask A.1.0----< Trade>
Example: Layout Interior Units Walls Zone A – Monday Drywall
Construction Work Packages (CWP)
CWPs are more common in the ECP, oil and gas industries. But it’s slowly being adopted in commercial and residential construction. It’s defined as “the smallest unit of a Work Breakdown Structure. When preparing a Work Breakdown Structure using the decomposition technique, deliverables are generally broken down into smaller, more manageable chunks of work.” The graphic below shows how the CWP fits into traditional project/work breakdown structures, and after reading and looking at the graph, I bet most project managers would say to use common sense or that it’s not necessary to go into much detail. But this is when I think back to what my old platoon sergeant preached, “piss poor planning equals piss poor performance.” The other good thing about CWP is that it allows handoffs between procurement, construction and field crews to go more smoothly. Most of the information for a CWP can be answered by the procurement team but should be reviewed and confirmed by the construction team once the CWP is ready to be performed out on the jobsite. Just keep in mind that the CWP needs to deconstruct a task from the master schedule to explicitly give a deliverable package to a specific trade of workers and that packages should assist the construction management team in estimating the cost, duration, and required resources (workforce, materials, equipment) to complete the task.
An LAS breaks down and fine tunes the work that will take place over the next day and/or weeks with the goal of increasing the probability of each task finishing on time. The work that you planned on performing this week is typically known as the Weekly Work Plan and should have all the constraints removed and be ready to be executed. If there are still constraints such as RFIs, change orders, shop drawings, etc., then move it to the backlog and focus on the next activities with the highest priority. An LAS in a perfect world could be a copied and pasted week-to-week from the master schedule, and you could just add a little more detail. However, each task needs to be analyzed based on the CWP and LAS guidelines to increase the probability of its completion.
Guidelines and functions of the Look Ahead Process:
The Takeaway: Fine-tune your schedules to better plan your next project
The truth is, it will be construction companies that realize this as a way to combat against non-productivity actives such as rework, waiting an hour to load materials into a work-hoist, or not finding better ways to install or sequence work, etc. In the near future, it will be firms that understand the power of technology and data that will be the ones to stay ahead of their competition. The phase we’ve always done it this way when it comes to outdated methods could soon lead you on the same path as Kodak, RCA, or Blackberry, to name a few companies that did not adopt or innovator fast enough and ignored the signs.