Large-scale project planning is an art form. There are countless jobs to complete, teams to manage, and deadlines to meet.
Without proper communication in place, your complex project will fall apart at the seams.
As most project managers know, certain jobs can’t begin until previous jobs are finished. A well-constructed project schedule clearly shows these relationships.
Here we’ll discuss how to communicate complex project schedules to increase productivity, avoid errors, and keep your project on track for completion.
What is Complex Project Planning?
Although all types of projects require a certain level of planning, complex projects need a bit more attention and foresight.
Complex projects and difficult projects are two different things. Difficult projects usually face high costs and performance demands. A complex project is filled with uncertainty and unpredictability.
So, how can you plan for the unknown? Let’s take a look at the importance of communication when creating complex project schedules and how to simplify the process.
Complexity and Ambiguity
Complexity and ambiguity are two identifying factors in complex project planning.
The complexity of a project often stems from changing deliverables and unpredictable environments. In order to deliver the project within the predetermined parameters, many owners and project managers try to adhere to deadlines and expectations without adequate resources.
Most large-scale projects are also fast-moving, which means requirements and demands are constantly changing and evolving. Now you’re forced to make decisions based on necessity, not based on adequate research and planning.
Rushed decisions often lead to costly mistakes and missed deadlines. While you can’t completely eliminate ambiguity from a complex project, being aware of the challenges can help.
A great way to combat these issues is by having an organized communication system in place. This allows you to adjust your plans faster and more efficiently.
Common Challenges of Complex Project Planning
Aside from an unpredictable environment, you’ll face many other challenges when planning for a complex project. Here are a few of the most common.
If you don’t know where your project stands in real-time, you can’t make necessary plans or decisions. With an ever-changing work landscape, you need accurate, up-to-date details about all levels of the project. But in the fast-paced environment of a job site, it’s not always easy or convenient to get the information you need when you need it.
The biggest challenges are often obtaining current and accurate cost updates as well as activity data. This information is valuable when making adjustments to the plan and estimating costs.
Access to Information
Obtaining information from contractors on the job is one complex project challenge. Another is organizing all the important data and information you collect in one place. Doing so makes it accessible to everyone, cutting down on confusion and errors.
Important information you want access to includes:
- Rates (cost, billing, equipment, contractor)
- Supplier information
- Equipment lists
- Previous project rates, results, and purchase orders
Having this information all in one place isn’t just more efficient, it’s also more secure and cost-effective.
Information organization isn’t the only type your complex project needs. Organizing contractors, materials, and permits can be overwhelming. Many construction management professionals report feeling overwhelmed by the thought of streamlining and simplifying daily operations.
When handling a complex project, it’s important to gather all of your resources, project-related information, and tools in one place. This streamlines the planning process and allows managers to create up-to-date reports without wasting time, money, and resources.
Developing a Project Schedule
Developing a project schedule that is complete, has the right level of detail, and has been well-planned is critical for creating a flexible project tool. A well-developed schedule is used to guide the project throughout the various stages.
The typical process of building a project schedule includes:
- Activity definition: identifying the specific activities that must be performed, as well as any key constraints
- Activity sequencing: identifying and documenting dependencies among activities
- Duration estimating: determining the number of work periods needed to complete each activity
- Schedule development: analyzing sequences, durations, and resources to create a complete schedule
Building a useful schedule requires all project stakeholders to participate in the development process. This process requires proactive facilitation and engagement of all project-related groups.
Key concepts that are addressed include resource loading, leveling, relationship to the cost estimate, use of WBS requirements, and development of physical progress measurement tools that relate to the schedule.
Handling Project Changes and Risk Management
It’s already been said one of the biggest challenges of any complex project plan is handling the constant changes. Deviations from the plan are stressful. Lack of communication, information, and resources only makes matters worse.
The worst thing you can do is ignore these bumps in the road. Unaddressed issues can lead to project delays, going over budget, and disputes with contractors and investors.
Don’t overlook or ignore changes in the plan because you’re hyperfocused on the end result.
Managing potential risks is another element of complex project planning. Not only do you need to identify the risks but you need to communicate them to the appropriate parties including investors and other stakeholders.
Communication and Transparency
Communication is crucial in any relationship and the dynamic between project managers, stakeholders, and contractors are no different. Reporting is important during all stages of the project.
Transparency reduces the risk of errors and improves your chances of completing the project on time. Being an effective communicator also helps build a good reputation as a project manager, which means greater opportunity in the future.
How to Communicate Complex Project Schedules Efficiently
Now that you know some of the possible challenges you’ll face when complex project planning, let’s discuss ways to reduce the risk of mistakes and improve productivity.
Look at the Project From Different Angles
While you don’t want to simply dive right into a complex project, you don’t want to get caught up in the little details either. Try to keep the desired result at the forefront at all times.
It can also be difficult to choose a starting point. Before you break ground, look at the entire picture.
Ask yourself, “What is the main goal of the project?”, “What is the projected completion date?” and “What challenges and opportunities might we face along the way?”
Once you’ve created a timeline, a software program like NetPoint can help keep your project from falling off the rails.
Set Clear Roles and Responsibilities
You have enough to worry about when executing complex project planning, the last thing you need is different team members stepping on each other’s toes. Make sure you create clear roles and responsibilities for everyone involved.
Make sure all team members are on the same page and understand their expectations. One misstep could deter the entire project.
An efficient scheduling software guarantees everyone understands their responsibilities from start to finish. When discussing complex projects, determine which aspects of the project individual stakeholders are controlling.
Everyone from contractors all the way up to investors should understand exactly who they answer to and what role they play in the process.
Define a Clear Goal to All Team Members
In addition to understanding their roles and responsibilities, all team members need a clearly defined goal. This guarantees everyone is working toward the same result and understand the parameters of the project.
A shared goal is especially effective, so create a vision that’s meaningful to everyone. Team members are more likely to put forth their best work when they are invested in the project.
Your goal should also align with your organization’s values and mission. This overriding goal can, and should, be broken down into more manageable tasks but never forgotten.
Utilize Collaboration Tools
With so many working parts, team members, and components to complex project planning, utilizing collaboration tools is essential. Not only can you update information across multiple platforms simultaneously, but you can quickly adjust and adapt to changing work environments and demands.
Collaboration tools help you stay organized as a team leader and effectively communicate with everyone involved in the project. The best part is, most software programs are tailored to your needs.
This means permitting and limiting access to confidential information including facts and figures. Contractors and other team members can utilize certain parts of the software program without seeing confidential data. You can share as much or as little of the project details as you want.
There are also permission settings for who can and can’t make adjustments or changes to the plan, preventing unauthorized errors and missteps along the way.
Integrated Project Scheduling
Integrated project scheduling sessions help all project participants agree on a plan of action for the progress of the work. This allows all parties to collaboratively identify milestones in design, construction and commissioning that can be upheld by the project team.
If the design team sets a goal to issue a set of documents by a certain date, but the CM needs that information one month prior, the team must agree on an alternate solution. This type of team-wide collaboration allows for greater efficiency and planning for all parties involved and ultimately saves time and money.
Complex Project Planning Simplified
The name itself can be intimidating – complex project planning. But when you know how to effectively communicate complex project schedules, both you and your team members can stay on track for success.
Understanding the ever-changing landscape and nature of complex projects is half the battle. While you can’t always plan for the unexpected, you can establish an organized system that helps detect and prevent errors. Risk management is also important when protecting you, your team members, and the integrity of the project.
PMA Technologies can help you create a complex project schedule that saves you time, money, and aggravation. We also offer training and risk management services.