By Scott Lowe, P.E.

Today, we’re going to address a common scheduling question I receive from construction owners:

“How serious a problem does it have to be to make me reject the schedule?”

In my answer, I want to address two things:

  1. Why Owners Benefit from An Approved Project Schedule
  2. The Circumstances When Owners Should Reject the Contractor’s Schedule

Why Owners Benefit From An Approved Project Schedule

If the contractor is responsible for dictating the means and methods of construction, why do most construction contracts require them to submit a project schedule to the owner for review? And why is the owner expected to approve that schedule? Is this an outdated concept?  

While the contractor is responsible for developing and maintaining the project schedule, I always remind owners that it is the project’s schedule. What I mean by that is the schedule represents the plan to complete the project. It’s the primary tool to manage the construction project. And it tracks everybody’s contribution.

As such, a good schedule doesn’t just identify the contractor’s activities. It will also identify what’s expected of the owner (as well as subcontractors and other third parties).

As an owner, you want an accurate schedule in your hands because:

  • It’s your project, too.
  • And you have work that you have to complete and resources you have to schedule.
  • You have an obligation to monitor the contractor’s work and identify problems before it’s too late.

When To Reject The Contractor’s Schedule

There are two primary reasons to reject a schedule.  The first is failure to comply with the contract. The second is failure to comply with Critical Path Method (CPM) schedule best practices.  

Let’s address the first reason with a simple example. Let’s assume we’re dealing with a baseline schedule, the contractor’s initial schedule submission, and this initial schedule shows the project finishing later than the contract completion date.

While a schedule update might be submitted that shows the project finishing later than the contract date, it’s unacceptable for a contractor to submit an initial schedule showing that the it’s planning to finish late.

In this case, the schedule can’t be approved because it doesn’t comply with the contract requirements. The schedule specification will be clear on the need for compliance. .

As another example, if the scheduling specification forbids the use of constraints on activities other than contract milestone activities, like Notice to Proceed or Project Completion, but the contractor inserted dozens of constraints throughout the project schedule, using them instead of logic, this circumstance would be another valid reason for rejection of the schedule. This problem is also an example of a schedule that fails to comply with good scheduling practice.  It should be rejected even if the contract itself doesn’t place an explicit limitation on the use of constraints.

Also, if the initial schedule doesn’t show all the work, it should be rejected by the owner, especially work that is important to the successful and timely completion of the project.

For example, I recently was involved in a project where the contractor had failed to include any of the submittal, approval, fabrication, or delivery activities.  Remarkably, not even the structural steel procurement process was included in the schedule. And it was critical! This was a significant error.  

I would have recommended rejection of that schedule because it was incomplete. It didn’t show all the work required for execution of the project.  Requiring that the schedule contain or depict the project’s entire scope of work is necessary to ensure that the schedule will enable the project participants to properly plan and manage the work, accurately identify the project’s critical path, and identify and mitigate delays in a timely manner.  

Lastly, when we recommend rejection of the initial schedule, we’re rejecting them for what I call “massive failures.” Some examples of “massive failures” of the schedule are non-compliance with the contract requirements, missing work scope, impossible construction sequencing, or an unrealistic critical path.

Otherwise, if we’re just talking about things like:

  • Should an activity be 10 days or 8 days?
  • Should that logic connection be between these two activities or just that one activity?

Sometimes these kinds of issues are best just noted. So, mark the schedule “approved as noted,” and the contractor, typically, can address the deficiency in the next schedule update submission.

What The Owner Can Do To Help Make Sure There Is A Workable Schedule On Their Projects

Here are a few things you can do to make sure your project as a useful schedule:

  • Make sure you have a good scheduling specification.  Though number of pages isn’t the best measure, if your specification is one page, it’s not adequate for a modern CPM schedule.
  • Make sure you and your staff understand the scheduling specification, what it requires, and why.
  • Make sure the contractor understands what you want.  Educate them in the RFP, the pre-bid meeting, and the preconstruction meeting.  If you can, pick contractors that demonstrate excellent scheduling capabilities.
  • Use the schedule to help you make every decision, to evaluate every issue, and to resolve every problem. Rely on it.  If you use it, the contractor will too. If you ignore it, count on the contractor to ignore it.
  • Make sure your work is shown in the schedule accurately.
  • Disapprove poor schedules.  Make sure your contract gives such disapprovals teeth.
  • Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good enough.  Having a workable schedule in place as a management tool is more important than perfection.
  • Keep a list of scheduling consultants handy in case you’ve got a sticky or unusual problem to solve.

 

Scott Lowe is a Principal of TRAUNER and is an expert in the areas of critical path method scheduling, construction claim preparation and evaluation, and specification writing. He can be reached at scott.lowe@traunerconsulting.com.