How to plan and schedule a large construction project

When a project’s value balloons over $1 billion, it signifies a new level of complexity. The sheer number of dependencies, deliverables, and deadlines to get a megaproject from conception to completion necessitates a different method of action.

Should you approach a large construction project plan the same way you would a small one? On first consideration, it might seem like you could. The construction company should examine what the end product will look like, establish key tasks that will lead to the desired result, schedule how long it will take to meet all of the milestones along the way, and finally complete the project.

Large projects are the same as small ones in principle. But when a project’s value balloons over $1 billion, it signifies a new level of complexity. The sheer number of dependencies, deliverables, and deadlines to get a megaproject from conception to completion necessitates a different method of action.

Megaprojects are an important part of the construction world. McKinsey estimates that in order to keep the world moving it will have to spend $57 trillion in infrastructure by 2030. The projects are also prone to going over budget (an estimated 9 out of 10 of them do).

So how can contractors hope to succeed on large projects, successfully managing the schedule and budget along the way? Research from the Project Management Institute shows that early analysis and planning and effective ongoing management are key to the process.

How to create a construction plan and schedule

A construction plan is a series of documents that outlines all the elements of a project, including the approach the team will take, illustrations and images to make everything clear, and the project schedule. Having a plan and schedule fine-tuned before any ground is broken increases the chances of the project’s success.

Traditionally a project plan involve chopping up projects into phases, and planning each with its own steps for initiation, planning, execution, monitor and control, and closure. Each phase is then mapped out in a Gantt chart or a Time Distance chart (there are various other methods too) that illustrates the steps so they can be managed as the project progresses.

This approach emphasizes the importance of setting out planning milestones and their deliverable dates, and asks the project manager to predict the timelines that will occur over the length of the project. For megaprojects that can take years to complete, forecasting is very difficult to do. External influences can change so much during that time.

The pre-construction phase

The success of a megaproject is often determined very early on before people and materials show up on the scene, beginning with the selection of a project team that will work on the project from beginning to end. This team is made up of members like the construction manager, engineering manager, and procurement manager. 

By choosing key people to continue throughout a large project, instead of assigning novel teams for each phase of a project, each will feel more ownership of the role and responsibility for the entire project.

Other early legwork involves assessing potential threats to the project over time. Identify the risks involved in the project, like changes in regulations, availability of skilled labor, and any costs that could change. By identifying each, you’ll develop a recognition of what could change if the worst case scenario came to pass for each and plan ahead. When you work in a simulation platform like ALICE, you're able to quickly simulate all these risk scenarios and account for the potential time and cost impact.

As always, choose a delivery strategy based on the owner’s involvement and cost and time expectations, and create cautious estimates for time and budget. As the project moves on, continued study of labor hours, commodity pricing, costs of shared services, and other factors can help keep the project on track. 

This extended preparation period will set a solid foundation for a larger project, while leaving flexibility for unknown elements that may crop up in the future.

Construction planning and scheduling software can help

What sets large projects apart the most is that they come with long timelines and high associated risks. By addressing each risk factor that could come into play over the length of the project you can mitigate the risks as much as possible.

While project managers typically rely on years of industry experience to navigate the factors involved in a job, megaprojects require preplanned procedures and deliberate execution to be successful.  Luckily, there are tools available to help predict the unpredictable. ALICE is artificial intelligence software that can help identify and plan for risk factors.

After plans are made, it’s essential to control and manage the project accordingly.

Because all contingencies can’t be accounted for, it’s tough to establish a steady schedule of progress that moves along exactly as expected.

Instead, what you’ll need is a parametric platform that can update scheduling as inputs change. Because ALICE has the ability to resequence the whole schedule in seconds, it can help contractors from bidding and estimating, right through the management process to improve your odds of making deadlines, completing a project successfully and reducing the risk of margin erosion through expensive liquidated damages.

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