Part 1: Machines vs People

Many thanks to my fantastic colleague Georgia Stillwell, who co-authored this article with me.

nPlan is in the business of forecasting risk on projects, by using machine learning to predict the outcomes of construction schedules. We spend a lot of time thinking about subjectivity, forecasting accuracy, schedule quality, and the way people think about uncertainty and artificial intelligence.

People often ask two questions during the early phases of an engagement with us:

  • How can an algorithm be better than an expert at forecasting risk?
  • How can your algorithm work on my unique project?

We’ll look…


In Project Risk Analysis it is very common to use the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) and other similar methods to estimate risk. This methodology utilises a probability distribution to represent the possible duration of an activity in a project. This is in direct contrast with the Critical Path Methodology (CPM), where durations and sequences are entirely deterministic and only have one possible value. By using probability distributions and combining them appropriately based on the project schedule, PERT allows practitioners to model uncertainty in a way that wasn’t previously possible.

However, a certain set of assumptions is made in…


On stage at DCW, classic nPlan background slide
On stage at DCW, classic nPlan background slide
On stage at DCW, classic nPlan background slide

A few weeks ago, I got up on the main stage at Digital Construction Week to share my thoughts on the title of this blog. The audience that morning was full of construction professionals , half of whom thought I was crazy and the other half left having learnt something new. I had achieved my goal — to throw a cat amongst the pigeons, to catalyse discussion about the way we deliver projects today.. Here is what I shared:

The construction industry has been the same for a very long time, in some alarming ways. For one, projects consistently are…


Let’s start by accepting the part about how COVID-19 is unprecedented in its impact, and to most, it is a Black Swan*. To read more about Black Swan events, check out my co-founder Alan’s blog post here. This article is designed to share thoughts on how best to think about reducing the system-wide impacts of COVID-19 on construction projects, the tools and methods we have at our disposal and how best to utilise them.

“I was late on my last 3 projects but this project will be different” — anonymous Project Manager

Given that delays are frequent, unforeseen and can…


This is part of a series we did on the Advent of Code 2020 problems. You can see a list of all the problems we wrote about here.
If you are a fan of AoC, and had fun working on these problems, it is likely that you would be a good fit with our team. Our engineering team had a blast with it, as we like to be challenged with hard problems. If you like what you see, we are constantly looking for great talent, please consider joining us!

Day 24’s story involved renovating a hexagonally tiled floor. Each of…


This is part of a series we did on the Advent of Code 2020 problems. You can see a list of all the problems we wrote about here.

If you are a fan of AoC, and had fun working on these problems, it is likely that you would be a good fit with our team. Our engineering team had a blast with it, as we like to be challenged with hard problems. If you like what you see, we are constantly looking for great talent, please consider joining us!

The task for day 3 involved counting the number of trees…


This is part of a series we did on the Advent of Code 2020 problems. You can see a list of all the problems we wrote about here.
If you are a fan of AoC, and had fun working on these problems, it is likely that you would be a good fit with our team. Our engineering team had a blast with it, as we like to be challenged with hard problems. If you like what you see, we are constantly looking for great talent, please consider joining us!

Day 18’s puzzle involved helping a child with their maths homework…


This is part of a series we did on the Advent of Code 2020 problems. You can see a list of all the problems we wrote about here.
If you are a fan of AoC, and had fun working on these problems, it is likely that you would be a good fit with our team. Our engineering team had a blast with it, as we like to be challenged with hard problems. If you like what you see, we are constantly
looking for great talent, please consider joining us!

This story is part of our series on AoC 2020

Oh no! It seems like we have brought the incorrect form…


The need for a pipeline made for iteration

nPlan’s purpose is to inspire the world to forecast correctly and empower it to tackle risk. This is no small feat because, as much research has pointed out, the human brain is not made for forecasting [1, 2]. For instance, think of the weather forecast: if it says 70% chance of rain, does this mean it will rain or not?… Trick question, it means neither. It means that if you were to repeat the same atmospheric conditions observed now 10 times, 7 of those times it would rain. So, the question you should be asking yourself is whether the 70%…


This is part of a series we did on the Advent of Code 2020 problems. You can see a list of all the problems we wrote about here.
If you are a fan of AoC, and had fun working on these problems, it is likely that you would be a good fit with our team. Our engineering team had a blast with it, as we like to be challenged with hard problems. If you like what you see, we are constantly looking for great talent, please consider joining us!

This story is part of our series on AoC 2020

This exercise, being the first in the series, was designed to…

nPlan

At nPlan, we use machine learning to predict the outcomes…

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