Why you need a milestone schedule and how to create one.

One of the most important parts of any project is it’s schedule.  The schedule of a project impacts cost and quality.  If your solicitation is silent on schedule, bidders will be forced to make assumptions.  Invariably, their assumptions will vary causing your quotes to have a wide spread.

Publishing a schedule brings it’s own set of risk.  If you publish a schedule that is too tight, bidders could overload the work area with resources.  This has actually been proven to be inefficient and extremely costly.  If your schedule is too loose, you may incur other costs such as additional rent, lost revenue, or increased general condition costs.

Publishing a realistic project schedule that still gives bidders room to plan and sequence their respective phases of work is the best option.  This can be a delicate balancing act, but with a little guidance and some general rules, you can develop an effective project schedule that ensures your bids are based on the same milestones.

A lot of Owners place too much emphasis on a predetermined end date.  This is to be expected.  Owners are not in this for the experience.  They just want the final product and in some cases, the date they have targeted may be a hard date that must be met.

However, focusing ONLY on the end date is a lot like going on a first date with a wedding date already in mind.  There are several key events that must happen sequentially to make the project successful.

To ensure success, I recommend that every project follow a phase of work schedule.  This simply means breaking up the work into smaller portions of work.

There are a number of benefits to following a phased project approach.  The benefit to scheduling is that it helps create a structure for your overall project.  This makes developing a schedule more manageable.

The phases of work I recommend are as follows (for more details on each of the following phases of work see my earlier post on this topic):

Phase 1 – Pre-design

Phase 2 – Design Procurement

Phase 3 – Detailed Design

Phase 4 – Construction Procurement

Phase 5 – Construction

Your schedule must allocate adequate time for each phase.  You should not move on from one phase until the previous phase has been completed.

Once you’ve decided on your phases of work, follow these steps to create your schedule.

1. Set a start date. 

Your start date is the day you began pre-design.  You may already be a few weeks into pre-design when you sit down to develop your schedule.  Don’t let that discourage or confuse you.  Simply document the date on which you began and account for that duration in your schedule.  If you still have several weeks of due diligence work to do, make sure to give yourself enough time to complete that.

The Pre-design phase can be quite difficult to estimate.  This is so because generally it’s difficult to predict how many studies and/or conceptual revisions will be needed.  If we assume 3 design iterations and we allocate 2 weeks for each (including reviews) we can say 6 to 8 weeks for this phase.  Variations in this phase are largely driven by the Owner, but results from field studies could impact this as well.

2. Allocate adequate time for each procurement phase. 

Design and Construction Procurement can take 4 to 6 weeks per phase.  This timing reflects the time it will take to solicit pricing from multiple bidders, evaluate the bids, arrive at an award decision, and sign a contract.  Do not short-change the procurement phase.  This is where you will be making decisions on award.  The decisions you make here will have implications through each subsequent phase.  Changing Architects or Contractors in the middle of your project can be devastating to your schedule and your budget.

3. Consult professionals for Detailed Design and Construction duration’s. 

Without a full-blown scope of work, it’s impossible to establish a firm schedule, but Architects and Contractors are very good at ball-parking the time it will take to do a job with very basic information.  To establish durations for Design and Construction, don’t be afraid to call a local Architect or a local Contractor and ask them how much time they would allot.  Be careful not to take this as a commitment from them that they can meet that schedule.  Remember that there are always circumstances that affect scheduling, but for the purposes of establishing a project schedule, this level of estimation should suffice.

4. Give yourself schedule contingency. 

A healthy schedule contingency is necessary regardless of your project scope.  At Pre-design stage, I recommend a 20% to 30% schedule contingency.  This contingency is meant to adjust your own expectations of when the work will be completed.  Remember that at this stage, your scope has yet to be developed and there may still be some discovery to complete.  Any one of these items can push out your schedule.  Be careful about making any commitments about an end date at this stage.

5. Update your schedule at the start and end of each phase of work. 

At the start and end of each phase of work, you will have new and updated information.  Consider this information in your schedule and make sure that you push your end date out as needed.  Don’t lose your contingency, but reduce the schedule contingency by about 5% per phase as you get closer to construction start.  You should still have a 10% to 15% schedule contingency at the start of construction.

When you have all of the above laid-out make sure to communicate your milestone dates as part of each solicitation.  I recommend not giving away your contingency.  Hold that back to help you manage your own expectations, but share your planned start and end dates as well as any critical milestones with your bidders.  This will ensure they are all pricing the work to meet the same dates.

Have you solicited quotes without a schedule?  If so, how did that work?  Did your bids have a wide spread?  Tell me your experience.

Thanks for reading.  If you enjoyed this content, please feel free to browse my previous articles and please like, share, comment, and subscribe.  This helps promote my content and is greatly appreciated.

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