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The Jobsite

How to Make Construction Planning the Rule Instead of the Exception

By Duane Craig

Construction planning often suffers from a lack of time. This leads to knee-jerk decisions whenever issues arise that need quick answers. Try these tactics so you don’t ever have to suffer the effects of poor decisions made with little to no project planning.

Recognize Planning Limitations

Planning always has at least two limitations-the limitations of the planning system and the limitations of the planner. Worse still, some project management planning systems don’t work well for some planners, and some planners don’t understand the nuances of the planning systems they use. By recognizing these limitations, you can limit how they affect the planning process.

For example, you might gauge the effectiveness of your current construction planning software. Is it thorough enough? Is it easy enough to use? Does it apply to the type of planning you need to do most? Would a Gantt Chart work better for you than a timeline? If your planning tools aren’t up to the job, adopt some that are.

To do that, make it collaborative. Ask those who do the planning in your organization to weigh in on what tools would make planning better. Use their input to select your company’s planning tools, and then don’t neglect training. The best planning tool in the world won’t make up for people who don’t know how to use it.

Assess Construction Scheduling Limitations

Of all the planning construction companies do, project scheduling has the most variables. From scope changes to unforeseen events, managing projects is a fine art of balancing schedules in construction. Knowing what factors can derail the schedule at the project level, however, can make your planning more accurate. Accurate plans assure you that all the planning is worth the effort.

Your ‘risk list’ is a primary tool for keeping project scheduling effective. You might have a master list that applies to most construction management projects. Then assess the remaining risks for each project and build those into your planning efforts.

With the risks of your schedule of construction under control, the other factor to address is schedule accuracy. Use the best tools available and keep your schedulers well trained so your planning stays relevant and effective.

Make Planning Accountable

You know your planning is accountable when it performs as expected. If your organization’s plans always fail, it’s likely because your planning isn’t accountable to your organization’s goals.

But any plan must also be accountable to effective planning principles. Make your planning goals specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely, or SMART. For example, that means a plan to assess your business continuity plan will:

  • Specify what aspects of the plan you will assess
  • State what makes up completion
  • Specify the resources needed for completion
  • Rely on known and available resources
  • State a completion time or timeframe

When plans are not accountable, people will complain about insufficient planning when they don’t have the materials, the equipment showed up late, or the specifications weren’t complete. But what caused those events? It was likely because the planning wasn’t complete enough, or the planning didn’t factor in the variables or risks well enough. The planning wasn’t accountable to the very reasons for having a plan in the first place.

The other aspect of planning accountability is holding planners accountable. You should review every plan. With construction project management everyone is bound to make mistakes, and a review can help catch those. Like everybody, some planners have temporary performance issues that affect their work. The quicker you work with them to address what influences their planning accuracy, the sooner the planning gets better.

However, be careful not to mistake knowledge or skill deficits for performance problems. If the people doing the plans don’t have the right training, don’t have proper tools, or don’t have the aptitude for the work, then performance isn’t the issue. You can train people to be better planners, and you can train people to have a planning aptitude. While your investments in training cost you upfront, they improve your planning accountability.

Make Planning Relevant and Valuable

Not everything needs a plan. People go about their jobs every day with no planning. They do familiar tasks in familiar surroundings, facing familiar risks, and familiar variables. Who needs a plan? Resist the temptation to make planning a requirement where no plan is needed. This is the quickest way to make people resist and reject planning.

Make planning a requirement only where it is necessary and provides a return on investment. Make your planning relevant to a specific business or project goal. Do you want transitioning from one project phase to the next to take less time? Make it a planning goal, show people the expected benefits, and make your planning SMART. Do you want your recruiting to attract better-qualified applicants? Make your plan SMART by getting very specific about the attributes your ideal candidate should possess.

A consistent theme in organizations with planning deficits is the attitude that planning takes too much time or is too much trouble. When you recognize planning’s limitations, you develop a laser focus on strengthening what makes planning more effective. When you make your planning accountable, relevant and valuable, you help people see the value in planning. With their buy-in, all your planning activities get better.◾️

Duane Craig is an esteemed writer who specializes in covering a number of sectors within the construction and real estate industry. Following roles as a photojournalist, education director, landscaper, and residential project manager/superintendent, Duane Craig moved to writing for a less stressful life. For the past 14 years, Duane has covered the construction, food, finance, and tech industries.

Originally published at on May 10, 2021.



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