‘Sense before you Start’​: Equip Project Planners to steer strategically

Read somewhere – ‘Construction Planner: The Beating Heart of Every Project’… it may need a review!

The productivity gap in the construction sector is a known fact. As an innovation partner for players in the architecture, engineering & construction industry, we share the observed issues, and look for advice & ideas. A key player is a Contractor – who bring the owner’s vision & designer’s drawings to reality – and working closely with them is a privilege.

With a closer look into their value-chain, we suggest to putting the Field First (also illustrated here) by giving the on-site team digital tools like LivSYT to reduce paper in ‘paperwork’. Furthermore, our Contractor has to not just make the right bid for their supply chain, put the field first, align their team, know near real-time status, but they should also have a strategic start.

This brings to spotlight the conventional project initiation activity – planning. In construction, it involves knowing the end goal, mapping the inter-relations between internal & external parties, proper knowledge of our contractual obligations, analysis of various options available, choice & estimation of necessary resources, and their optimal allocation to meet the goals. Sherlock Holmes remarked:

Most people, if you describe a train of events to them, will tell you what the result would be. Few people, however, who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve the steps which led up to that result. This power is what I mean when I talk of reasoning backward.”

Like a detective, the Planner begins with a result (e.g. a facility design) and must synthesize the steps required to yield this result. But, what are our expectations from this role, really?

Expectations from the Planner

From recent job postings in EPCs & Contractors, we list the industry expectations below:

  • Read project data and get missing information
  • Decide the most appropriate engineering techniques
  • Fix Construction milestones, develop Construction Program with the Site Manager
  • Prepare Schedule with resource-leveling, and arrange allocation of resources
  • Plan Construction Shop drawings & Method Statement approval cycle
  • Monitor Sub-con fabrication schedule/ delivery/ organize transport of materials
  • Monitor progress, anticipate delays/ deviations, prepare Recovery schedules
  • Find Claim events from different documents such as RFI, SWI, IR, comments

So from contract award till delivery, (s)he is expected to support many facets smoothly. The combo-titles also highlight this: Manager/ Engineer – ‘Planning and Billing’, ‘Planning and Coordination’, ‘Planning and Control’, ‘Planning and MIS’, etc.

Like how the GANTT deploys resources to project tasks, blood carries oxygen to all organ systems. Now why I question the sub-text under article title is that the circulatory system supports all organ systems, but does it differentiate between them? So are the combo functions of Planners: Billing/ Coordination/ Control/ MIS/ etc. not impacting the core?

KPMG’s Pedram Danesh-Mand in his article on ‘Managing Risk in Australian Construction Industry’ pointed out some key challenges their clients may face, and the ones attributable to the planning activity are stated here:

  1. Optimism bias on reliable project cost and timing
  2. Reactive project risk management rather than proactive
  3. Misrepresentation of risks and uncertainties

Few other sources also attribute project failure to planning issues such as:

  1. Gap in the definition of scope and specifications
  2. Gap in the communication with external stakeholders
  3. Gap in the communication of planned schedule priorities across internal team
  4. Planning assumptions (productivity, lead-times, methods, etc.) are not accurate
  5. Planning is too slow, not comprehensive (less than 100% scope)
  6. Scheduling conflicts, and several more

Due to the level of complexity, collaboration and dynamism in today’s projects, EPCs and Contractor firms would do well to review the Planner’s role. The need for the current times is to sense, process and respond, with oxygen supply as an outcome. It takes 45 seconds for a stream of blood to fully circulate through our human body, but it takes 0.15-0.25 seconds for us to respond to a stimulus. Planner needs to elevate to the nervous system.

In LivSYT we have included the Visual Builder (VB) which translates the information locked up in a GANTT chart to something that allows responsiveness as follows:


Below is a screenshot from the tool:

You’ll note the following:

  • Packages are composed of sub-packages each of which has a set of tasks
  • Tasks have Stages & Checkpoints as per their prescribed Method Statement
  • At any level Package/ Subpackage/ Task an Assignee can be added, so a Contractor can bring all Sub-cons, vendors, consultants, client, etc. into a single holistic view as per respective deliverables
  • The top left ‘GANTT’ button in the VB window which highlights ease of toggling between the GANTT & VB views!

So, this tool provides a complete picture of the project packages,smooth working with other stakeholders, and clarity in planning & monitoring workflows. We believe that with the Visual Builder, the Planner can keep senses alive for prompt action and easily keep issues at bay!

What do you think of this? We have achieved early success with the method, so I’m curious to know: can this help you/ your Planner? Please do share these thoughts with other professionals who you believe will be interested. Keen to know your views from past project experience.

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