The Importance of Project Timelines in Construction

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Planning the timeline is one of the most complex tasks at the beginning stage of any construction project. Project managers must consider workforce availability, material supply, equipment rentals, weather forecasts, and countless other factors when creating a work schedule.

In our industry, timelines aren’t just a date range between the beginning and end of a project. Schedules are outlined in detail, broken up into phases or parts of a project, with each phase including its own tasks with defined deadlines. Because timelines influence project budget, hiring, and other important decisions, they must be expertly coordinated.

To plan a successful schedule, you also need to thoroughly understand the project’s risk factors.

Factors that can influence construction timelines

While you may have a good idea of your team’s capabilities, a wide range of potential variables can impact how long it takes to complete work on a construction project. Experienced project managers take the following considerations into account.

Size of the project

It’s generally easier to plan the timeline of a smaller project than a larger one. Large-scale projects are made up of more moving pieces, take longer to complete, and require a greater number of workers, which means more opportunities for errors or miscommunication.

When setting the schedule for a complex project that will take place over the course of several months or longer, project managers may want to leave "wiggle room" or extra padding to account for unpredictable delays.

When planning a smaller, short-term job that can be completed fairly quickly, they may choose to set more aggressive deadlines.

Availability of labor and materials

In the post-covid business world, supply chain delays and labor and material shortages are common challenges across several industries, including construction. Contractors can’t depend on suppliers to deliver materials with the same consistency they’ve experienced in the past, and they can’t expect to quickly find and hire skilled laborers in today’s extremely competitive job market.

Project managers should research the current availability of workers, equipment, and materials before determining a project timeline.

Type of construction

Is this project that you‘re planning similar to work your team has completed in the past? Will the construction be based on designs your crew is familiar with? If the answer is yes, a project manager can plan a tight timeline with some confidence using productivity data from previous jobs.

However, if the project you’re undertaking is based on custom designs or uses unfamiliar materials, it’s important to account for a natural learning curve in the work schedule.

Weather

Weather may be unpredictable on a day-to-day basis when you’re scheduling a project in advance, but with some research you can make informed scheduling decisions based on the type of weather expected for the time of year in the area where the project will take place.

Reviewing historical data and keeping potential weather concerns in mind, project managers can account for delays from potential storms, snow, and other dangerous working conditions.

Legal barriers

Legal obligations like obtaining permits or conducting building inspections take time and pose their own risk of delay. Whenever outside organizations—like governmental departments—are involved, construction companies can't guarantee the process will run smoothly.

Schedules must include the time it will take to fulfill all legal requirements. Project managers should consider potential roadblocks and either work to resolve them early or build extra time into the schedule to accommodate for some legal back and forth.

Strategies for avoiding project delays

Of course, even with careful planning and management, construction deadlines may still be missed due to unpredictable circumstances. However, there are several strategies you can use to reduce the risk of delays and recover quickly in the event an unavoidable issue arises.

Maintain effective communication

The most important way to mitigate risk is to practice clear, consistent communication. According to a study by leading North American consulting firm FMI, almost half the rework that is done by construction companies is due to communication errors.

Miscommunication and a lack of communication in general cause delays, because when contractors are confused, misinformed, or unaware, accidents and construction mistakes happen. Maybe there was a last-minute design change, but the right subcontractors didn’t hear about it until they already finished a task based on the original plan. Now rework is required. Or, perhaps a task for a certain week is canceled onsite due to an upcoming snowstorm, but because the message is not properly communicated to the office, the project manager assumes work has continued as planned and does not share the change in schedule with the client, resulting in a dispute.

The larger a project is, the more difficult it can be for stakeholders to communicate. Using digital tools can help you manage communications between all crew members and office teams effectively. For example, digital reporting that utilizes mobile data capture helps field crews collect information from the jobsite in a standardized fashion, and they can share it instantly with the office via cloud storage. And, a dedicated messaging system that allows you to create project-dedicated threads and send push notifications to all involved employees helps ensure important announcements are distributed from the top down in a reliable fashion.

Monitor progress

Closely tracking progress and productivity is another excellent way to prevent delays. Using a digital construction production tracking solution, project managers gain real-time insights into what’s happening with a project each day, and they can be more adaptable and responsive if changes are needed. You can monitor progress on each task, phase, or the entire project, as well as track material usage.

Similarly, digital time cards help managers understand how work hours are spent each day. Employees track time to cost codes as defined by project stakeholders, giving clear visibility into the amount of time that is needed to complete a specific task. Using this information, you can make minor schedule adjustments on the fly or plan more accurate timelines for future projects.

Institute clear safety protocols

Jobsite accidents lead to delays as construction crews work to resolve the issues that caused it and fix any damages. By instituting and enforcing standard safety protocols, construction companies can prevent accidents from happening and reduce the risk of injuries, helping keep workers safe and timelines on schedule.

Toolbox talks and training programs are a great way to establish and communicate safety guidelines. These periodic reminders of best practices keep safety top of mind for field crews as they are working on a project.

It’s also important to monitor safety on a regular basis. A safety officer or other stakeholder should frequently check in onsite, where they can identify potential issues and provide the proper instruction for the crew to correct them.

Track equipment

Knowing where your owned and rental machinery is onsite, and knowing whether or not it is currently being used, you can prevent delays that are caused by overutilized or underutilized equipment.

Coordinating equipment usage is made easier with digital tracking tools, which clearly show when and where equipment is at any given time, as well as highlight maintenance requirements. This lets managers take advantage of downtime and avoid scheduling tasks when the right tools are not available.

Historical data = Better timelines

The more you know about the way you work, the better and more accurate your projected timelines will be. Raken’s digital construction management software makes analyzing historical data easy, thanks to our intuitive interface and easy-to-use data collection capabilities. Schedule your demo today.