The Construction Scheduling Rodeo: Keeping Project Deadlines—How do we do it?

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Conor Evans, Project Manager at March Construction, writes an opinion piece about his perspective on tackling construction scheduling.

Conor is currently overseeing three of March Construction’s commercial projects throughout the NYC metro area. He has 15 years of experience in national and international commercial construction to include having built projects in Montana and Uganda.  

He’s competed in rodeos, roping and wrestling cattle and once rode a bull on the Idaho/Montana border!

The Construction Scheduling Rodeo: Keeping Project Deadlines—How do we do it?

Construction scheduling is perhaps one of the largest inherent conflicts in building construction:

How do you get a scheduling plan to smoothly unfold in reality, meeting all of the project deadlines, despite all of the changes and unknown factors that may come into play?

I love communicating with visual imagery, especially when it regards subjects I am passionate about—my profession as a project manager. In this essay, I’ve combined that passion with knowledge and inspiration from my experience competing in rodeos, roping and wrestling with cattle, to create a metaphor that explains how I view the construction scheduling process.

The Construction Scheduling Conflict

Time is of the essence when submitting bids to prospective clients. Initially, there is rarely enough time to narrow down and choose each subcontractor, collaboratively outlining their subpart of the project and its impact on the overall schedule.

Instead, the general contractor needs to rely on their experience and historical project data to create these schedules, providing a project completion time frame to the clients to help win the contract. This kind of scheduling is based on theory. If handled improperly, it is financially risky for everyone involved: the general contractor, subcontractors, and building owner.

The Solution

March Construction attacks this conflict by tenaciously building and maintaining momentum throughout each project we are entrusted to build.

To illustrate construction scheduling as I see it, imagine cowboys, cattle and stockyards that lay on the other side of a thousand miles of open plains – unforeseen storms, mountains to cross, crisis and all.  Those cowboys need to get the cattle to market at the condition they promised to the traders. It’s what they promised! And cowboys don’t break promises. 

The Cowboys: The project superintendents supervising and managing the project, or “riding herd” and “corralling the strays”. The project manager sets the pace and supports the superintendent.

The Cattle: The subcontractors and vendors who need to be managed and overseen (Sorry, guys! No offense intended—It’s just to support the metaphor. Think, “Strong like a bull!”)

The Stockyards: The finished building

The Traders: Our client

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To get cattle to the stockyards, the cowboys have to provide the trader a timeline, a schedule, based on theory. This comes with the inherent conflict we discussed earlier—there’s no way the cowboys can know what perils lay ahead in the time they have to respond to the trader’s request (RFP).  

My role as the cowboy/project manager is simple – find the strongest cattle (the best critical path subcontractor) and ride point with him (The point man, also called the point rider or lead rider, is the cowboy who rides near the front of the herd—determining the direction, controlling the speed, and giving the cattle something to follow.); pushing him to find and extend his limit – he sets the pace on when we get to the stockyards. When faltering, he is given steroids (incentives akin providing bonuses if “stretch” milestone goals are met) to help him keep going a little further. Throughout our journey, we communicate with the trader on our progress and rest the cattle with the time margin we’ve gained (or not resting when we’ve lost it).

The cowboy/superintendent’s role is riding herd (supervising); pushing the herd from behind to keep pace and rounding the strays. He makes sure the herd is arriving at the market healthy and in the condition the trader is expecting (a loose metaphor for good quality control) and communicating with the cowboy/project manager on what is needed to support the herd. 

Every now and then, cattle can’t keep pace and need to be cut loose (i.e. a contract default). Contract defaults?  Well, while I’m mixing metaphors here – every herd has a “slow zebra.”  Slow zebras get eaten when they can’t keep pace over the long haul.

March’s Approach

We are a New Jersey-based construction management firm operating in the northeast region and, while we don’t ride horses to the office, wear straw hats, boots or pearl snap shirts, we live by a cowboy creed of delivering what we promise:

1.       The building is completed on or ahead of schedule, at a fair price, and in great condition.

2.       To “take care of the herd.”

3.       To find a way to cross the great expansedespite the unforeseenthat bridges theory and reality.

March is always on time, usually early, and never late.

When managed correctly, despite unforeseen storms and the doubling down during them, the herd arrives ahead of schedule at the stockyards ready for market.

The fun part about construction?—Making a theory become a reality, “come hell or high water!”  That’s the March way.

 

By Conor Evans

Project Manager at March Construction


 Conor Evans, Project Manager at March Construction

Conor Evans, Project Manager at March Construction

Conor is currently overseeing three of March Construction’s commercial projects throughout the NYC metro area. He has 15 years of experience in national and international commercial construction to include having built projects in Montana and Uganda.  

He’s competed in rodeos, roping and wrestling cattle and once rode a bull on the Idaho/Montana border!


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