Project management tools like Gantt charts and precedence diagrams can mean the difference between high profits and painful losses for project-centric lines of business. During my time with a general contractor in the construction industry, these two tools played a central role in each project we undertook. From planning to ground breaking to final inspection, the documents were an anchor for organizing our activities. We referred to them daily to determine when to schedule sub-contractor (plumbers, electricians, HVAC installers, etc.) arrivals, as a reference tool for updating clients during site visits, and as guide for keeping track of the literally hundreds of activities that needed to happen in precise sequence to stay on schedule.
In construction, business is negotiated on a per-contract basis. Before groundbreaking, general contractors will examine a proposed project in concert with architects and engineers to develop a construction schedule, calculate expenses, and formulate a bid. The schedule is basically a detailed Gantt chart and precedence diagram. If the client likes the bid amount, they will award the contract and agree to make payment after certain milestones and upon completion. If everything goes to plan, the contractor can reap substantial profits. On the other hand, failure to meet deadlines on the contractor’s part will result in penalty fees and turn the project into a financial loss very quickly.
Once work begins, on-site superintendents use the finalized Gantt chart and precedence diagram to manage sub-contractors and schedule upcoming activities. As a superintendent it was my job to know when each task needed to be completed, to understand how each activity played into the overall project timing (were they on the critical path or was there slack time?), and to manage the site accordingly.
I remember one day, while working on a Five Guys franchise project, when our company was in danger of missing a critical deadline. Even though the consequence of our delay wouldn’t become apparent for several weeks, we knew from our precedence diagram that some certain cement cutting was on the critical path and had to happen before going home that day. We stayed overnight to get it done because failure to do so threatened the whole job’s profitability. Our project management tools helped us see the problem, address it, and avoid a costly delay.
The point of saying this is to drive home the applicability and usefulness of the tools we’re learning about in class. Understanding how to develop and how to use them is absolutely critical in the construction industry.
In your experience, what are some projects, industries, or situations where project management tools have played a central role?