What is a look-ahead schedule?
Construction projects come with a lot of admin work and several tasks inextricably linked to each other. The slightest delay on a single activity on site may result in subcontractors wandering around the field for weeks without being able to complete the work that has been assigned to them.
It doesn’t take much to understand that this can lead many projects over budget and generate serious legal conflicts between the different stakeholders.
This is where the importance of delivering on your 3-6 week planning without any problems becomes visible. With the help of an up-to-date look-ahead schedule, a Foreman can plan the tasks and objectives of the project for the next three to six weeks.
The 3-6 week planning is an essential part of the overall plan and is one of the main tools used in the course of the weekly progress meetings. In that sense, the look-ahead schedule should be perceived as a vital component of the higher-level plan.
Without it, the project team wouldn’t be able to have a clear overview of what needs to be ordered, what needs to be commissioned and what has to be delivered and/or checked next. These are all crucial elements of success for every construction project and require a data-driven plan.
The real challenge lies in the fact that the various tasks and elements should be linked with each other correctly and the state of this connection should be continuously updated, ideally in real time. Otherwise, a construction project may experience costly reworks and serious productivity bottlenecks.
On top of that, the 3-6 week planning will naturally trigger a series of quality checks. The checks on themselves might also trigger a non-conformity requiring a new action to resolve it. And we should not overlook that each action is a workflow on its own.
In that aspect, the look-ahead schedule holds a very sensitive role in the entire construction process from start to completion. For that reason, it is of paramount importance to identify the main challenges you will have to face and come up with functional solutions that can resolve them.
3-6 week planning: The main pain points
Starting from the areas that can hurt your short-term planning, it becomes clear that everything revolves around smooth communication and real-time collaboration. That can be the bedrock on which you can structure your entire project and eventually deliver on your master plan.
In a nutshell, here are the main pain points you need to address to protect your project’s 3-6 week planning:
Working in an isolated way can lead your project down a very dangerous path. If every team is using their own tools to collect data and report progress, it can be virtually impossible for your short-term planning to develop as it should.
If we also take into account that many construction companies rely still on pen and paper for their processes, it is no exaggeration to say that the need for a key platform where all stakeholders can react on the latest feedback in real time is imminent.
The presence of a centralised hub can solve this problem offering to all stakeholders an accurate overview of both the short and long-term planning. The ability to access all project data and submit your latest updates from the field with the click of a button can ensure a smoother communication flow where all stakeholders remain on the same page.
This type of coordination can ensure that the 3-6 week planning is built based on what’s happening on site and that any last-minute changes are instantly reflected on the master plan.
That’s extremely important if we take into account the close link between the look-ahead schedule, the conformity checks and the “to do’s” that come as a result of them.
Admin and mental burden
By now, it’s understandable that managing the 3-6 week planning of a construction project can add a lot of mental and admin stress to the Foreman and the Project Manager. Trying to keep all the different sides up to date, while navigating through different tools and stakeholders can be chaotic.
Countless meetings, time-consuming phone calls and a daily storm of emails can describe the working routine of the people in charge of short-term planning when there is no standardised way of exchanging data and information.
A very common challenge for many Site Managers is that they have to walk around the field and capture non-conformities with their pen, paper and Excel processes. Some of them might affect the schedule and others might be related to quality issues that should be reported to the subcontractors. At the same time, they need to complete a number of checklists with precision.
Collecting all these precious bits of information in their head and on post its, while trying to communicate the latest plan version to all project agents is overwhelming. This is where a reliable digital tool will bring a meaningful shift. Transitioning from pen, paper and excel to a collaborative data ecosystem can add efficiency and help Site Managers bring the necessary structure to their short-term planning.
Too many tools used at once
The more tools involved in a construction project the messier it can get. Data might never get shared with the parties they need, while everyone is working on a siloed and isolated manner. This can hurt the progress of your look ahead schedule and add a lot of confusion to your building process.
That is why the discussion around the adoption of one key platform for all different processes has become much louder lately. By enabling project teams to collect and store the data in a centralised hub, you ensure that everyone can find and access the information they need at the moment they need it.
In that way, the numerous project sides will be able to plan ahead and adjust quickly if any changes appear. That can be a true life-saver for those in charge of the 3-6 week planning as they will be able to prioritise the right tasks and the right checks that should come with them.
At the end of the day, breaking down the masterplan into actionable and assigned tasks with the help of a Single Source of Truth can make a big difference and unlock transparency and accountability across the whole project.
Lack of trust in contractual relations
Pointing fingers to each other is, unfortunately, a common situation when it comes to construction projects which are not data-driven. The lack of trust in contractual relations hurt the construction industry and affect how a project progresses.
This absence of accountability reflects also on the way the supply chain manages both the short and long-term planning of a construction project. When the different agents end up working on outdated or siloed versions of the plan a serious project dispute can emerge at some point as a result of the problematic communication between the different teams.
In that sense, when a mistake happens every team will try to avoid the responsibility and enter into a blame game. Of course, this can push your short-term planning back and by extension damage the progress of your masterplan, too.
Again, the use of a centralised digital platform that can function as an objective third party can give the solution. With all data stored on the platform, it will be easier to find out what really happened and who is responsible for that. Such an approach could gradually restore trust across the value chain and boost productivity.
Delivering your 3-6 week planning on time
Ensuring that your short-term construction planning will be delivered on time without affecting the development of the master plan is no child’s play. Simply put, you need to bring your construction schedule to the field and use digital technologies to replace your 10 feet long printed spreadsheets that are outdated the moment they are printed.
In short, here are the five steps to smarter 3-6 week planning:
1.Task-based communication in a centralised hub
During a construction project, all communication revolves around the task. At LetsBuild we understand this well and we try to support this concept through our platform. Every progress update, comment, and all documentation should be task-based and in full sync with the main plan. Like that, you won’t have to waste time with split email threads, chasing people on calls, or mixing papers and photos in different tools and archives. Keep all collaboration streamlined in a centralised place.
2. Bring your construction plan to life with real-time updates
No matter if you use 3rd party tools for your planning needs, or you choose to use LetsBuild, your construction project management software should be able to bring your short term plan to life. See everything that happens on site reflected instantly on the schedule.
With LetsBuild, for instance, workers on site are updating the project schedule in real time using their mobile or tablet device. This eliminates miscommunication, unnecessary phone calls and frustration with the daily routine of schedule updates. Now, the workers do the updates for you.
3. Lean planning linked to the main schedule
Connecting your lean planning to the masterplan can pave the way for a successful construction project. More specifically, you should choose a digital platform which will allow you to produce a 3-6 week subset of the master plan, so that you can enrich it with the details needed to manage daily activities on site. When activities are completed or changed, this should be instantly visible on the main project schedule, enabling better decision making.
4. Automate compliance processes
Trigger automated task-based compliance follow-ups. Go for a tool that supports compliance management to ensure that when a milestone is reached (i.e. a task or group of tasks are finished), you can trigger an instant QA form and notify the site inspector to perform the follow-up check. Since all information will be up to date, in sync with the main plan and in one tool, you can easily spot when and where problems arise, who is responsible and what the status is.
5. Material and resource management built-in
Too often, building materials are delivered the wrong time at the wrong place. That being said, you need a key digital platform where you can schedule material deliveries to fit with your work schedule. This provides you with a clear view of what needs to be ordered when and ensures that materials don’t get in the way or get lost.
One tool for all key processes and the importance of digital adoption
It takes heavy resource investment and a lot of hard work to drive strong results in construction. That’s why you need a key platform that is easy to use and onboard. It will enhance digital adoption and it will simplify the onboarding process for new people coming to the site (eg. subcontractors). Like that, everyone will be able to adopt your way of working in a quick and timely manner.
What is more, the App you will choose should be able to perform, and more importantly, connect a number of activities both on the site and the office. This will also give you access to all the documents you need online and offline. In that aspect, working on the live version of the short and long-term planning will no longer be an issue.
Another element that can pave the way for smoother communication has to do with segmenting your work communication. In other words, it’s important to submit the right information to the right people at the right time.
After all, the way you communicate with your Project Manager is different than the way you communicate with your subcontractors or with a client. In a way, it’s like the different Whatsapp groups you might have in your daily life with friends, family, etc.
Moreover, it’s essential that people on site have full visibility of what’s happening there so that they can work on their tasks with precision and without wasting any time or resources. APIs can also play a decisive role here as you can effortlessly gain access to all documents, whether it is for dashboarding or for linking back to the BIM model or external tools.
This will allow you to link the site to the back office and make sure that information flows smoothly between the different elements and stakeholders.
Additional reading: Construction progress tracking – Turning data into real-time insight
All in all, a groundbreaking shift like this requires time. However, it is important to remember that a digital culture can’t be “CEO-dictated”.
It should start from the site. People on the field should understand why they need to change their working routines and be able to do so in a simple and straightforward way. That is the secret behind digital adoption and fact-based decision making.
“Data is the bedrock of learning and information and in that sense, it is of paramount importance that construction becomes data-driven,” says Ulrik Branner, Executive and Board Member at LetsBuild.
So the next big mission for the industry is to find the culture drivers which will unlock a new way of work and communication in construction. In that way, stakeholders will ensure that their 3-6 week planning will be delivered on time without affecting the project’s masterplan.