Construction Project Management: Best Practices and NetPoint

Why construction project management best practices are important

Throughout the lifecycle of every project, project managers are keenly aware they must follow best practices to achieve project success. The prerequisites for project success include effective management of project resources; alignment of projects to owner objectives; improved tracking, updating, and reporting on project status; and minimization of cost overruns and late completion dates. The mandate to follow best practices is particularly crucial in the area of project scheduling.

Construction project management is complex and challenging work. Knowledge, expertise, and teamwork are required to keep projects from being over budget and behind schedule. In construction project management, best practices and strategies will lead to a successful project and mitigate the inevitable challenges.

Best practices in project management include clearly stating the scope of the project; developing the work breakdown structure (WBS); defining the work packages, activities, logic, resources, and the timeframe; and then subsequently analyzing the project schedule and resources. Project managers must also identify all project stakeholders; prioritize communication; track and report project progress; and manage change and risk. These project management best practices are widely known and discussed among construction project professionals.

PMA’s approach to best practices in project management

For almost 50 years, PMA has implemented the best practices of thorough risk management, robust scheduling, and proactive project controls. All are critical for effective management of all phases of the planning process. PMA has been an innovator in developing best practices by publishing articles and developing software on scheduling and risk management for the construction industry. In 2009, PMA released the first version of its the groundbreaking scheduling management software, NetPoint, and later released its risk management software, NetRisk to assist project professionals with following project management best practices on every project.

Overview & definition of project management in construction

In construction project management, a project manager leads the team in in critically analyzing schedules, submittals, change orders, payment applications, claims, and time impacts.

Project managers are responsible for the initial task of defining a clear project path from inception to closeout. They must establish a sound schedule to minimize project delays and cost overruns. Communication, teamwork, and stakeholder collaboration are important aspects of successful project management.

PMA follows Army Corps inspection protocols to prevent surprises when construction starts, and we assign OSHA-certified people who are proactive about safety. Advocating strict compliance with the contract documents and maintaining transparency are crucial to achieving specific project goals.

Best practices in project scheduling

The project schedule should portray a viable plan that aligns with the planning basis, contractors’ schedules, and the procurement approach. The entire project must be captured by activities, logic ties, and milestones, and the initial schedule data date should equal the contract start date.  The schedule should include the resources needed, their availability to support the rate of progress, and the known limits of availability. The schedule should also correctly integrate normal adverse weather according to best practices.

Communicating the schedule

The schedule should not only be all-inclusive, it should be accessible to all stakeholders in a comprehensible format. Stakeholder buy-in and collaboration are key components of best practices. Each stakeholder may have slightly different information requirements; however, all stakeholders need to be informed on the overall timeline and the resource demands.

Risks for all involved stakeholders must be effectively communicated as well. Risk assessment should be used to establish enough schedule margin aligned with the targeted probability threshold. This aspect of project management best practices greatly reduces the risk of cost overruns.

Among all best practices, an effective communications plan is one of the most essential components of good project management. This communications plan depends on the management skills of an effective project team utilizing state-of-the-art project management software. Create a specific communication management plan with your stakeholders in mind. The plan should define the procedures, tools, and techniques to effectively engage stakeholders by analyzing various needs, interests, and impacts. Whether communication is delivered through all-hands monthly meetings, email chains, or more formal project stage reviews, it is an important aspect of risk mitigation, takes time, and must be built into a plan and into the project schedule.

Be sure to communicate early and often, according to the stakeholder and communications plans. Effective communication does not just convey facts; it makes people understand the nature of the effort. A 50-page report communicates much differently than a 1-page master summary.

Collaborating with team members & stakeholders

With every new project, collaborate at the outset with all stakeholders to develop and implement an integrated, achievable, and coordinated master project schedule. Monitor this master schedule to avoid delays and reduce potential risks to the owner and continue this essential collaboration as the schedule progresses. As project managers define and document project requirements, objectives, and scope early in the project lifecycle, all project stakeholders must fully understand each of these elements.

Coordinate with all parties to further refine the master project schedule and ensure alignment with established baselines as vendors, construction contractors, and subcontractors join the project. Using the monthly schedule update information provided by each team member, provide schedule review comments to all and report the project progress to the owner via a comprehensive schedule analysis report.

Baseline schedules vs. full schedules

The schedule baseline is the approved version of a schedule model that can be changed only through formal change management procedures and is used as a basis for comparison to actual results. For this effort, create integrated planning sessions to establish the summary level master project schedule as the target timeline for the project.

Once the design and construction teams are brought on board, communicate effectively with each team during the development phase to establish baseline schedules for their respective scope that support the project milestones and overall master project schedule timeline.

Visual plans vs. written plans

A clear visual plan is essential for project managers to follow best practices. Gantt charts with logic ties have been the preeminent type of graph in project management software and are still largely used today. As a potential drawback to Gantt charts, however, project planners are compelled to scope activities and place them on the calendar without any consistent rules to guide the sequencing of these activities.

Network diagram vs. Gantt chart.

NetPoint responds to the need for a clear visual plan. With NetPoint, a Gantt chart is no longer needed as the common mode of presenting the project process and schedule. NetPoint can condense a multi-page schedule into a one-page summary schedule that is easily communicated to the entire project team. Moreover, NetPoint uses a time-scaled canvas with real-time calculation based on the relationship between the object location on the planning canvas and the date.  

NetPoint shows changes to the schedule in real-time.

Project dates and durations, logic relationships, and the critical path all instantly change on the NetPoint canvas as the information is updated.  The original scope, cost, and schedule are clearly defined, allowing for an easy reference to compare with the actual results to determine if a change, corrective action, or preventive action is necessary. Project managers and all other stakeholders can easily see the critical path and evaluate alternative planning or resource management scenarios for upcoming modifications. This visual capability provides high-level graphics for project status updates and is helpful for owners and others who may not be fully integrated into the project. The schedule may also be updated throughout the planning process to reflect changes caused by schedule compression techniques.

Project scope management & scope creep

As a project manager, be keenly aware that one of the most detrimental effects of the failure to communicate is scope creep. Scope creep may occur on projects due to several preventable factors: level of involvement in decision-making; project teams omitting formal change management procedures for requests that appear to be minor; the change management process itself being cumbersome or inflexible; or the addition of unrequested functionality without communicating with the rest of the team. Practice proactive change management to minimize the cost and schedule impacts of changes.

Risk management

Best practices acknowledge that project risks are inevitable and must be managed and mitigated rather than monitored. The rising demand for maintaining project quality, reducing costs, and accelerating project delivery mandates effective project risk management. Decision-making should be transparent, and project management must maintain an all-inclusive perspective on project goals, opportunities, and threats. A project manager must be skilled in multiple modes and techniques for project risk analysis.

Data-based schedule risk analysis

NetRisk’s approach to schedule risk analysis takes into account the effect of non-critical activity float on project completion. NetRisk’s decision-making process incorporates speculative risk into the risk taxonomy and highlights potential risks to the project completion date with every update. NetRisk thus enables the entire team to see how changes made to the plan impact the entire schedule in real time so that corrective action can be immediately undertaken.

Risk Register

The Risk Register is a compendium of the threats and opportunities that may arise and impact the project cost or schedule, as well as a description of their distinguishing features. In NetRisk, a risk probability is shown either individually or on each of the activities to which it has been assigned or in a group.

NetPoint and NetRisk were created with these best practices in mind

PMA’s patented NetPoint and NetRisk graphical planning software’s were created to overcome barriers to communication, establish an entirely new paradigm for collaborative planning, and empower all team members in interactive planning and scheduling to produce a communicable network diagram. Using these tools, both scheduling-savvy and novice schedulers can make optimal decisions guided by best practices and based on data everyone can see.

NetPoint and NetRisk facilitate the evaluation of what-if scenarios and enable smart decision-making based on data. They are great tools for conducting pull-planning sessions and supports the implementation of lean and agile principles of project management.

The principle of team collaboration undergirds all best practices in project management, and NetPoint and NetRisk are the tools to ensure achievement of project goals.