October 7, 2015 | by Wayne Smith

Construction Project Management Part VII

Managing Multiple Project Schedules

A central activity in the Planning Phase of a standard construction project is to develop a schedule identifying all of the resources and activities expected in the project. In the wireless infrastructure construction business, the planning phase totally depends upon the type of the construction project. In this article, we will introduce a simple, structured scheduling technique for managing a large portfolio of small near-identical projects. This portfolio may consist of projects such as laying new fiber optics cable to cell sites or building small cell sites in hundreds of locations. These are repetitive “cookie-cutter” small projects.

Small projects such as these are commonly assigned each month of the year as the corporate planning or budgeting office issues them. Area project managers typically do not have much visibility into how many projects are in the pipeline. Each project will consist of several activities to complete, and they can be located over a very wide geographical area. Given the geographical dispersion of sites, the project may require the services of several different construction companies to execute the project. Using only one company may be cost prohibitive since travel costs could be greater than the actual cost of performing the tasks.

Since project management resources are scarce in most wireless companies, a large number of projects may be assigned to only one construction project manager to oversee their completion. Sometimes these projects can arrive with rather unrealistic expected completion dates.

The efficient and scalable approach to developing a project plan for each of these projects is to require the architectural and engineering firms to prepare detailed project plans and schedules as part of the project book. The last thing this lone project manager should do is sit down and take 10-20 hours to draft a specific project schedule for each and every site. The project manager simply does not have the time available to do this.

A useful technique to manage a portfolio of projects like these is to build a milestone oriented and date driven schedule table. This is an efficient way to organize the project portfolio into a defined structure with standardized performance periods for specific milestones. The Project Schedule Table below provides a hypothetical example of how to organize the projects.

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The table simply lists the milestones along the top row and milestone completion dates in each cell. The cells in the first column represent a date that the project clears funding and approval. This is the project start or assigned date. This table portrays the expected period intervals for projects that are assigned by the first day of each month. As an example, for each project listed and funded by the first day of March, it is expected the bids will be received for these projects no less than 20 days later. Similarly, equipment will be shipped to the site on April 1st, etc.

Project team members using a table like this will always know what is expected of a project that is issued in any given month. This includes the network employees, contractors, suppliers, etc. It also helps the project manager to organize and assess performance since suppliers and vendors should also meet the target dates of the project. It provides transparency and defines expectations for all project stakeholders.