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5 Tips to Improve Real-Time Planning in Construction

5 Tips to Improve Real-Time Planning in Construction

September 18, 2019

Construction planning is a critical and challenging phase in the management and completion of a construction project. The scope of this involves the details of job-site activities, the estimate of required resources and duration for each individual activity or task, the relationships among the activities and tasks, and the choice of planning technology and tools.

Your construction plan will be the foundation of your overall construction schedule and budget; its development is paramount in the overall management of your construction project.

Apart from the technical aspects, construction planning may be important in making organizational decisions regarding relationships between project participants and subcontractors. A good example would be how long a specific subcontractor will work on the project—this kind of decision is often determined during construction planning.

Traditionally in construction, on-site issues are spotted in the late stages of project execution when all intervention options can no longer be applied. Moreover, planning is single-handedly consolidated by the project manager, who plans the job site according to outdated data and subjective individual guesses.

These two specific construction culture characteristics have historically resulted in poor construction planning, unreliable schedules, and inefficient work.

In this article, we will try to examine the framework of what makes up good construction planning and how you can structure a real-time approach for your planning and monitoring in construction. By the end of it, you would be able to apply our simple but effective tips to improve real-time construction planning in your project or company.

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1. Identify the functional requirements for construction planning

Good planning, effective monitoring and accurate measuring of your construction progress are the preconditions to successful project execution and delivery. In this first tip, we shall consider the functional requirements for construction planning like technology choice, work breakdown, and budgeting.

Remember, construction planning is not just a phase or an activity limited to the time after a construction contract is awarded. Construction planning should also be a prioritized activity in facility design. Replanning is required when problems arise.

Consider the following functional requirements and identify which elements are applicable to your own construction planning.

Construction Technology and Construction Method

In selecting your construction methods and technologies, it is recommended to prepare a number of construction plans based on a number of alternative methods and assumptions. You can then review the cost, time and reliability impacts of your alternative strategies once your complete plan is available.

This review of alternative plans is often demonstrated in bidding competitions in which several designs may be proposed for alternative construction methods. A very useful approach in making a construction plan is to simulate the construction process with CAD or BIM simulation. These models can help simulate, for example, space requirements and existing problems with the plan can be immediately identified.

Work Tasks

Defining relevant work tasks can be tedious. However, it represents vital information in applying and implementing formal scheduling procedures. There are hundreds, even thousands, of separate on-site tasks in a construction project, so expect this process to be time-consuming and costly.

Thankfully, many construction tasks are repetitive and can be replicated in different parts of a building or past construction plans can be used as models for other projects. There are also existing standards and definitions for most generic on-site tasks. This makes it easy for the planner to approach the project without having to draft each task of each project element from scratch.

Precedence Relations in Tasks

After tasks and activities have been defined, the relationship among them can now be specified. Precedence relations among on-site activities indicate a defined workflow: tasks must take place in a specific order.

A lot of sequences occur naturally due to requirements for structural integrity, regulations, and other technical recommendations. For instance, you cannot check design drawings unless they are drawn first.

However, there are also complicated precedence links that include a lag of a few days before another activity can start. A common example of this would be concrete curing, wherein it takes a few days before a formwork can be removed.

Different types of precedence relationships exist and each has different effects for the schedule of activities. Any revision in the schedule can impact the cost and flexibility of changing the construction plan.

Duration of On-Site Activities

The time necessary to accomplish an activity is called the duration of the activity. Most on-site activities have a historical and associated time duration that are used to prepare a schedule. Formal scheduling processes often base their estimates on the duration of the project activities and the duration of the resulting precedence relationships.

Usually, the previous activities’ records are used to estimate new durations. There are also other factors to consider that may impact the actual durations and productivity rates. Weather is one important factor that can randomly and systematically influence how long a task will take and in turn, overall productivity.

On-Site Labor Requirements

Labor requirements are also estimated for each task or activity. Logically, you will require resources that will equal the sum of your multiple activities. Estimating your resource requirement for each activity will aid you in identifying your needed labor resources for the entire course of the project.

2. Split complex jobs into smaller doable tasks

Once you have identified and defined the important functional elements—methods, tasks, workers—in your construction plan, it is time to split the complicated jobs and assign relevant manpower to them. To formally define, an activity is a subdivision of any project task.

Ideally, a project plan should include comprehensive and exhaustive lists of all essential work tasks comprising detailed activities. Each building element and object in the plan will have at least one activity, and to execute an activity would require time and resources, including labor and equipment.

As mentioned in the previous section, the duration of an activity is the time required to perform it. As activities start and end, they indicate milestones, which means the project is progressing.
There should be a detailed breakdown of the tasks into activities. They must be specific and well-defined for better accuracy, execution and for easy implementation of a possible automated workflow in the future.

Keep in mind that your detailed task definition will be your backbone for scheduling, for communicating your construction plan and for project monitoring. Additionally, tracking task completion can also become your basis for progress payments. The more details you have on your activities, the more useful they will be as long as you have realistically estimated the project elements for each activity.

Activity-based scheduling coupled with real-time monitoring can result in seamless and efficient activity workflows that can accomplish the bigger tasks.

3. Recognize which site data to gather in real time

Now that you have figured out the functional requirements for your construction plan and have broken down your tasks into logical activity workflows, it is time to decide what data from the construction site that you want to gather and monitor in real time.

The following are real-time information that you can gather on-site during the execution phase of your construction.

Materials and assets

You can record delivery dates of materials and assets on-site and their purpose. Real-time updates of data involving materials and assets can trigger a cascade of activities that have been paused or have not started yet.

Photo capture

Documenting incidences or regular activity updates have better context when photos accompany the information or report.

Visual and transparent monitoring

Whether you are on-site or at the office, you can have remote and real-time visual access to updates through your construction software.

Personnel workflows

Collecting personnel information while they are on-site helps to understand their productivity, efficiency, and validate their cost.

Safety

Collect safety data so to review incidents and ensure compliance with your on-site policies.

Security

Gather security data to support your asset and your security staff. Real-time security updates make you more vigilant.

All these data can be collected in real time on-site. Photo documentation can be captured by cameras and drones. You can track your materials, assets, and personnel using digital tags. Your mobile devices can give you real-time visual monitoring of various aspects of your project on your app’s dashboard. Security data, meanwhile, can come from security cameras and sensors.

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4. Standardize and digitize data collection processes

The objective of real-time data capture and collection is to provide insights to the project manager and the rest of the project team through information filtering, searching, and analytics to detect crucial events while they are happening. This enables immediate response to events, updates and problems on-site while updating ongoing situations on the construction plan and sharing the update across the team.

“There is one thing that construction companies absolutely need to do. They have to start standardizing even before using technology. Otherwise, they just throw whatever technology they have out the window!” – Thomas Goubau, CRO at LetsBuild

Now that you know what real-time information you want to collect, the next step is to standardize all your useful data collection processes. Once you have standardized them, you can now digitize your processes and start collecting data with your construction software on your mobile device. Once you have your digital database, here are some examples of how you can use your collected information to your advantage:

  • Support regulatory compliance by spotting critical issues indicated by incoming site data
  • Promote schedule management by providing materials status information
  • Curb and control costs by having data on asset utilization
  • Share information across teams
  • Organize collected on-site information automatically
  • Detect safety and security events; document and notify all team members
  • Diagnose issues and problems remotely

5. Use a single-source platform that enables real-time communication and updating

“More than 50% of all global construction projects base decisions on information that do not reflect reality on site.” – Ulrik Branner, Executive and Board at LetsBuild

Real-time communication is an important issue that requires the introduction and use of digital tools. You may have standardized, digitized and perfected your data collection processes, but unless you have one single place to store them, it would be impossible to run around updating with a mobile device. A single-source platform would allow you to update a plan detail and propagate the change to the entire system. Everyone gets updated immediately in real time.

For real-time planning to work, you really have to handle and manage the required incoming data and support the team functions discussed above. But for real-time data management to be successful and to be a practical solution for worksite automation, here are additional requirements to consider for your software choice:

  • It should be cloud-based
  • It should be easily integratable with other construction software and functions
  • It should have mobile accessibility
  • It should be scalable and flexible
  • It should support multiple data sources

This guest post : Anastasios Koutsogiannis is Content Marketing Manager at LetsBuild.

 Further reading