Construction Scheduling: Definition and How-To Guide

Rick Bell | Oracle Senior Writer | March 1, 2024

Construction scheduling is a critical process in any building project that involves detailed planning and coordination of multiple moving parts and project elements. Those in charge of construction scheduling must manage materials, equipment, and labor to make certain that each phase of the construction project is completed both on time and within budget. Schedulers must predict challenges and adjust their plans to keep the project going. Ultimately, effective construction scheduling enables the successful completion of projects, reflecting a blend of logistical expertise and proactive management.

What Is Construction Scheduling?

Construction scheduling is the formation of the plan that the project team will execute, involving the planning, coordination, and timing of necessary tasks and activities. It’s an essential element of construction project management that ensures projects are completed on time, according to standards, and within budget. That project team consists of multiple parties, including owners, architects, designers, general contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers. All must agree to a schedule they will carry out across the lifecycle of a project.

What Is a Construction Schedule?

A construction schedule is the one place where the work items to be executed on a particular project are written down. A good construction schedule defines the three crucial Ws in project controls: “What” activities and tasks need to happen? “When” covers not only how long those activities should take, but also the sequence or workflow. “Who” is all about the people required to complete the job, including the equipment and materials they’ll need to do so.

Key Takeaways

  • A construction schedule is clear, concise, and easy to understand, and it identifies key milestones and deadlines throughout the lifecycle of a construction project. The construction schedule improves resource utilization, reduces lead times, and enhances jobsite quality.
  • Construction scheduling involves planning and organizing the sequence and timing of tasks, allocating resources, and coordinating activities to ensure that the job is performed in a timely and cost-effective manner. The construction schedule serves as a roadmap, guiding the entire production process from start to finish.
  • Manual timelines and Excel spreadsheets can’t handle the complexities and of today’s construction projects. Construction management software and scheduling tools help construction firms efficiently plan and manage the schedule.

Construction Scheduling Explained

When developing a construction schedule, structure helps. How should you organize the work that must be done? Which activities belong in that outline? How long will each take? What is the order of each activity? What else can be contextually added to help teams understand when or what critical resources are needed?

Here are some common terms.

  • Project milestones. Visual representations of the major start or finish of events associated with the project plan.
  • Duration. An accurate representation of how long an activity should take.
  • Dependencies. The connecting of project activities with relationships or logical ties.
  • Lead time. The time it takes for critical materials or equipment to arrive on a project site.
  • Lag time. The positive or negative duration tied to a relationship or logical tie between two work activities.
  • Float. A calculated value/amount of time that a scheduled activity can be delayed without delaying the start date of any following activity.
  • Resource allocation. Determining the resources needed for a project and the timeline for completing each project task that considers the availability of those resources.
  • Baseline schedule: The approved version of a schedule model. The baseline schedule remains constant and acts as the basis for comparison to actual results. It’s intended to keep construction project managers on target.

The best schedules represent the ground truth of the project team. They also are updated, modified, and communicated often. A connected approach brings efficiencies and enables teams to collaborate effectively, minimizing the impact of change on budgets and timelines.

7 Construction Scheduling Methods

Different scheduling methods are available for different construction projects. Choosing the right method is essential for successful project completion.

1. Critical path method (CPM)

This project management technique involves estimating the minimum project duration and determining the amount of scheduling flexibility to build in. it’s a fast way to develop an accurate representation of the dates that activities will occur.

2. Program evaluation and review technique (PERT)

This technique is used to estimate project duration, identify possible risks, and estimate the durations of each activity. A PERT can be a more visual representation than a CPM.

3. Line of balance (LOB)

This technique looks at productivity rates and crews associated with specific scopes of work. LOB is useful for carrying out repetitive activities and using crews to complete them in a more efficient way.

4. Q scheduling

Also known as quantitative or queue scheduling, Q scheduling uses bar charts to schedule the materials and equipment needed on a project, including the locations and times they’ll be needed. Q scheduling is gaining popularity for its advanced data analysis techniques.

5. Resource-oriented scheduling

This technique involves identifying the resources available for a project and addressing situations in which multiple parties will need access to those resources at the same time. Resource-oriented scheduling is beneficial where resources are limited yet critical for project completion.

6. Last planner system

LPS is a simple calculation focused on planning and coordinating work at the smallest possible increment, anywhere from one to six weeks, to optimize the use of resources and reduce uncertainty. Often a facilitator, designated with the last planner title, is laser focused on the work that needs to be done during a specific timeline.

7. Gantt chart

This is a visual representation of a project plan within a calendar. Gantt charts often are used to display LPS, CPM, resource-oriented, PERT, LOB, and Q schedules.

Each scheduling method offers advantages and disadvantages. Q schedules, for example, access the budding popularity of advanced analytics in construction. Gantt charts underscore the importance of collaboration, and LPS emphasizes a facilitator to keep all parties focused and the project on track.

5 Main Principles of Construction Scheduling

Scheduling determines the timing and sequence of required activities and tasks to assure timely completion of the project plan. Following are five activities crucial to that timely completion.

  1. Work breakdown structure (WBS): an outline to organize an entire project, defining the work that a project requires into packages of scope.
  2. The critical path: the critical sequence of activities that drive the end date of a project plan.
  3. Resource allocation: the assignment of labor, equipment, and materials to activities in the project plan.
  4. Risk assessment: a systematic way to consider and quantify uncertainty in construction schedules. A qualitative risk assessment is subjective, while a quantitative risk assessment calculates potential outcomes.
  5. Continuous monitoring: the process of consistently returning (weekly, monthly) to check on whether the schedule is on track.

These activities build a bond between the project management team that oversees scheduling and the on-site team, helping everyone collaborate more efficiently.

Types of Construction Schedule Visualizations

Many people comprehend and learn best through visualization. Visual project management schedules are available on smartphones and tablets so that anyone can conveniently consume them anytime, anywhere.

  • Gantt charts are visual representations of the project plan within a calendar. Project managers use Gantt charts to plan tasks, personnel, and resources, as well as to track project deadlines. The charts’ horizontal bar layout makes it easy to move around projects if overlapping becomes an issue.

    Advantage: Gantt charts are great for project management, quality assurance, and other time-sensitive tasks affecting the project timeline. Disadvantage: Large volumes of activities can make Gantt charts busy, so the ability to group, sort, and filter information is paramount.
  • Network diagrams are graphical representations of a detailed project plan illustrating job logic and basic activity sequencing. Each diagram shows the big picture and is an accurate review method to prevent any bad logic from getting lost in the scheduling software.

    Advantage: It shows the sequence of activities and verifies the scope of work. It also has value as a communication tool by sharing progress and issues with project stakeholders. Disadvantage: The diagram can take a long time to create and be overly complex for large projects.
  • Time-scaled logic diagrams. TSLDs provide planners, schedulers, and project managers with a snapshot of the project plan, depicting the project schedule in an easy-to-understand format. They provide a graphical representation of a project’s activities and the logic of the project over time.

    Advantage: TSLDs condense the activities displayed in a Gantt chart into a format that displays the entire schedule and the chain of activities driving the schedule. Disadvantage: The amount of effort to modify and update TSLDs is substantial.
  • 3D models with scheduling data (BIM 4D). These 4D simulations improve construction planning, scheduling, and production control by integrating detailed schedules with building information models (BIM). Stakeholders can track work in progress, analyze productivity, and proactively detect potential delays.

    Advantage: Project teams can use 4D BIM to improve field production by first building the project virtually, which helps recognize where major project risks will arise. Disadvantage: Models, activities, and other schedule data are always changing, making it difficult to create an accurate baseline and maintain a live 4D BIM across project teams.

How to Create a Construction Schedule in 12 Steps

From a project’s start to finish, construction managers rely on a schedule to meet hundreds, if not thousands, of challenges. Here are the essential steps to build a realistic construction schedule to support project goals.

Step 1: Define the project

Give your project a title and number and include a description. Set key milestones, from project start to handover. Establish the overall budget and identify key stakeholders, from project managers to owners.

Step 2: Develop the work breakdown structure

Establish an outline for the job and identify those scopes of work. Identify major milestones for each scope of work.

Step 3: Identify resources

Build a resource pool that includes what labor, equipment, and materials (LEM) are needed.

Step 4: Estimate time

Establish how long activities will last. Then map out dependencies and include the relationships and logical ties between those activities. Typically at this step, you’re calculating the schedule.

Step 5: Plan for risks

You now have a picture of a project schedule. It’s time to identify, assess, and mitigate risks. Adverse weather, equipment breakdowns, and labor disruptions all present risk. Create mitigation strategies depending on how you want to alleviate risk. The growing field of predictive data analytics helps teams understand risks and mitigate their impacts.

Step 6: Develop a communication plan

The schedule itself is a great communication tool. Every aspect of the project is there, and everyone involved needs to understand and agree to the plan for the overall project on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis.

Step 7: Create the initial schedule

Use automated scheduling tools to confidently establish project start and conclusion dates. Communicate the schedule to all stakeholders. Once the project is underway, it’s crucial to consistently track progress and make any needed revisions.

Step 8: Allocate the budget

This can happen before or while the schedule is being created. Sometimes people manage cost in a different system than the schedule unless it’s contractually required to tie them together. Using a cost breakdown structure identifies funds designated for labor, equipment, and materials.

Step 9: Obtain approvals and finalize the schedule

Typically, work hasn’t started at this step but there’s a picture of the full project plan. Everyone has seen it and likes it. The schedule is distributed to all stakeholders.

Step 10: Set up monitoring and control systems

Store the schedule as your original baseline because once a project commences, you want the ability to run comparisons of a project’s progress versus the initial baseline. Every single reporting cycle is catalogued and stored as a “snapshot” of progress to date. It would be wise to tie progress payments to receipt of schedule updates.

Step 11: Document everything

In construction scheduling, if things don’t go according to plan, you want to know why and when. Maintain change logs to document schedule additions and deletions. Archive the as-built schedule and supporting documents as a “Rolodex” for future reference. Insist that updates are submitted as required.

Step 12: Reflect and learn

The project is complete. Ask all stakeholders what worked and what didn’t and why. Should sequencing have been different? Would Q scheduling have been more effective than resource-oriented scheduling? Analyze the schedule and incorporate lessons learned into the next schedule.

No single step here is more important than another. But as a collective, this comprehensive list serves as the building blocks for a schedule that benefits all stakeholders.

10 Construction Scheduling Challenges

A freak ice storm, digging into granite instead of limestone, and labor unrest are just a few challenges that can derail a construction schedule. Project planners should consider these and other challenges when building a schedule.

1. Unforeseen site conditions

An estimate on the number of days a project would take to complete was based on conditions being the same across the jobsite. But digging down 15 feet, the construction team found that the substrate was different across the site, delaying the project. Conditions such as these that are unaccounted for can affect any schedule.

2. Weather conditions

Jobsites and construction schedules are affected as climate change makes weather more unpredictable. Budget in weather days or spare float as you build your construction schedule.

3. Supply chain issues

Supply chains are vulnerable to any number of circumstances, including adverse weather conditions, factory shutdowns, and once-in-a-lifetime pandemics. Put contingency plans in place. Cultivate relationships with suppliers to negotiate stable prices and minimize interruptions.

4. Labor availability and productivity

The construction industry continues to face a dire shortage of skilled workers. If the scope of a project changes, that will affect your labor resources and likely your schedule.

5. Cost overruns due to scheduling challenges

Because construction projects often span months or years, the cost of labor, equipment, and materials is susceptible to dramatic spikes. Cost overruns can indicate broader problems with a poorly written schedule and inept project management, as well as plans and budgets inaccurately set from the project’s start.

6. Delay claims and disputes

The industry generally recognizes four types of delays in construction contracts: excusable delay, non-excusable delay, compensable delay, and concurrent delay. If something goes wrong on a project, who’s liable? There can be a lot of finger-pointing around the table, which can derail the schedule.

7. Contractual obligations and penalties

The contract should clearly specify project start and completion dates. Most construction contracts include financial penalties for failing to complete work on time. Penalties often accumulate as a daily charge and can quickly eat away profits.

8. Integration of advanced technologies

The industry increasingly is using construction management software, integrated with multiple point solutions, to create schedules. This could include integration with estimating, modeling, and CSD (combined services drawing) systems, and even with the systems of materials suppliers. Seamless integration saves time and effort, enforces accountability and transparency, and streamlines workflows.

9. Technology learning curve and adoption barriers

There's a learning curve with any new software. When it comes to construction management software, inadequate training budgets make that curve steeper, as does an overall lack of awareness of the software’s value.

10. Coordination among various stakeholders

A challenge in construction is keeping everyone on the same page. Communication becomes a critical component to building trust and relationships among stakeholders. Keeping all parties informed and involved creates a sense of collaboration and shared responsibility for the project’s success.

16 Strategies to Minimize Construction Scheduling Problems

While every construction project will face scheduling challenges, many can be avoided or mitigated. Use these strategies to head off potential problems.

1. Develop a detailed work breakdown schedule

The first step in project scheduling is creating a well-defined outline that breaks down every task and event to be completed, from budgets to deliverables. Use a WBS to measure project completion, identify milestones, and allocate budget resources.

2. Set realistic timelines

It’s essential that project managers and teams set realistic durations for each task and event to ensure that their projects are completed on time, remain on budget, and meet goals. Building schedules with realistic timelines helps motivate the team.

3. Identify potential risks early

Poor planning early in the scheduling process can lead to rushing a project to completion, which increases quality and safety risks. Thorough project management, factoring in weather, supply chain, and other variables, can substantially reduce schedule risk.

4. Establish contingency plans

Unexpected challenges can affect project delivery, so it’s crucial to build contingencies into a schedule. A contingency plan for your construction schedule reduces the impact of project risks, while improving decision-making and problem-solving.

5. Optimize resource allocation

A project’s success often depends on how efficiently labor, capital, materials, and other resources are allocated, which typically results in cost savings and improved productivity. When developing a schedule, identify the project requirements, consider resource availability, and then allocate those resources.

6. Manage supply chains efficiently

Predictability in supply chain management improves project efficiency, minimizes project delays, and keeps the project budget on track. Establish clear lines of communication, build long-term relationships with reliable suppliers, and use technology solutions to improve visibility, traceability, and efficiency in managing the construction supply chain.

7. Promote open and clear communication channels

Designate early on the methods you’ll use to communicate over the project’s lifecycle. Make sure communication is frequent and relevant. Regular meetings, instant messaging apps, and plain old in-person chats all work.

8. Encourage collaborative problem-solving

Collaborative problem-solving helps teams resolve issues that spring up and quickly address potential roadblocks. Giving employees autonomy to solve problems also helps them refine those skills and fosters trust.

9. Leverage construction management software

Construction management software supports shared planning and scheduling standards across office and field teams, and its built-in best practices improve scheduling processes.

10. Integrate building information modeling (BIM)

BIM, defined earlier in this article, improves decision-making and team collaboration at all stages of a project.

11. Conduct periodic schedule reviews

Think of it as preventive maintenance—regular reviews confirm that the construction schedule is progressing in an orderly manner and allow for adjustments. Use milestones as checkpoints. It’s also helpful to do a schedule check when new members are added or leave the project team.

12. Implement dynamic schedule adjustments

Dynamic scheduling involves the use of real-time data and predictive analytics to help project teams adjust schedules on the fly to ever-changing factors, including weather conditions, machine downtime, supply disruptions, and spikes in demand. Results include improved productivity, reduced downtime and waste, and higher customer satisfaction.

13. Invest in employee training and development

Continuous learning and development help limit two major threats to a construction schedule. Poor safety practices can lead to the sudden shutdown of a jobsite, while chronic rework cripples project progress. Initiate a comprehensive employee training program to reduce safety risk, improve worker skills, and show your commitment to your people.

14. Maintain high morale and motivation

From providing daily box talks to healthier food selections and plentiful hydration stations, an employer’s constant commitment to morale improves safety and productivity. A motivated team with a can-do attitude will rally together to meet tight project deadlines.

15. Ensure clear contractual agreements

Unfortunately, delays and disputes are common occurrences in the construction industry. Establishing clear contractual agreements helps avoid miscommunications and misunderstandings about project timelines, minimizing the risk of legal actions when timelines aren’t met.

16. Implement dispute-resolution mechanisms

Early implementation and proactive management of potential disputes can improve project efficiency and ensure timely project completion. Disputes in construction can arise over schedule, scope, and quality. Ensure that all schedules are realistic and include provisions regarding potential delays. Also, read and understand the contract, negotiate clauses that are unclear, and perform due diligence on estimates, hiring subcontractors, and securing supplies.

Construction scheduling is complex. Issues with the construction schedule can lead to significant cost overruns and unhappy clients. The above strategies will help you adhere to the schedule, deal with the unexpected, and successfully complete the project.

The Future of Construction Scheduling

Even with the influx of new construction scheduling tools, technology will not replace human decision-making. As construction projects grow more complex, they will require the deft touch of a professional to build a realistic, accurate schedule.

That said, cloud-based construction management software tools are changing the way work is scheduled and tracked on today’s jobsites, replacing manual processes and Excel spreadsheets. These advanced tools, running on smartphones, tablets, and other devices, will build more predictability into the schedule and improve efficiencies, boosting jobsite productivity.

After implementing a construction scheduling solution, Compass Data Centers, a leading data center owner, improved the turnaround time on portfolio baseline updates from two weeks to just two days. “Modern scheduling solutions are sophisticated,” says Nancy Novak, chief innovation officer at Compass. “Advanced professional schedulers can use these solutions to create look-aheads and reports, and communicate insights that can become a project manager’s most valuable tool.”

The future of construction project management software is AI, which acts as the scheduler’s recon team to detect patterns in captured data, identifying safety risks and potential labor, inventory, and other bottlenecks, as well as supply chain and other disruptions to help keep projects on track and on budget.

Drive Performance, Predictability, and Continuous Improvement with Oracle Construction Scheduling

The successful delivery of any construction project starts with a well-built schedule that coordinates the right resources on the right work elements at the right time, while improving communication between office and field teams to boost productivity and respond to project changes in real time.

Oracle Primavera Cloud, an integral part of Oracle Smart Construction Platform, accommodates scheduling projects of all sizes, bringing together office and field teams, synchronizing schedules and resources, and empowering the thousands of decisions that construction pros make every day. Construction teams can configure Oracle Primavera Cloud to meet individual project requirements and centralize best practices for all projects. Its automated scheduling keeps projects moving ahead efficiently, with everyone united on the common goal of successful on-time project delivery.

“In the past you would have to be together, with marked-up whiteboards all around the room, paper everywhere, then jam it together and try to figure out a complex schedule network. It was overwhelming,” recalls Brian Roach, vice president of business development with construction project management firm Matrix. “With Oracle Primavera Cloud, all parties are working together. All the stress and headaches go away.”

Construction Scheduling FAQs

What is scheduling in construction?
Construction scheduling encompasses all facets of planning, scheduling, and executing a construction job. It helps identify critical path activities and enables all stakeholders to monitor progress, as well as adjust to potential delays.

How do you schedule construction activities?
Scheduling construction projects involves identifying each activity and its dependencies, breaking down the work into tasks, establishing durations, and determining the order in which they need to be executed. Use trusted scheduling techniques such as the critical path method and program evaluation review technique.

What is the construction schedule sequence?
The construction schedule sequence is the ordered process the project’s phases.

What are the two types of schedules used in construction?
The two most common types of construction schedules are the critical path method (CPM) and the program evaluation and review technique (PERT), both defined earlier in this article.

What makes a good construction schedule?
A good construction schedule is realistic, accurate, and well-sequenced. Construction scheduling software helps build organization and communication into the schedule so teams can make progress at a consistent pace without wasting resources.

Why do we need construction project schedules?
Construction schedules outline the pace of the work and the tasks to be completed, while ensuring that a project is finished on time, within budget, and to the client’s satisfaction.

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