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Evaluating Construction Scheduling Software

By Brad Wilson December 11, 2019

construction scheduling software

The construction industry is one of the paradoxes of the global economy. On the one hand, it employs about 7% of the global working-age population and accounts for $10 trillion of the global economy. On the other hand, construction is one of the least digitized industries, and productivity has remained flat for decades. 

In fact, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report, lagging productivity in the construction industry costs the global economy $1.6 trillion per year. Making matters worse, large projects typically take 20% longer than estimated and run up to 80% over budget.

There are many reasons the construction industry is struggling when it comes to productivity, and scheduling ranks near the top. It’s not as simple as scheduling employees for a shift at a restaurant or retail store, for instance.

When you’re scheduling your construction crews, you have to think about more than which warm body you put in a given time slot. You have to make sure you have the right individuals so that somebody on each site has the licenses or certifications that meet regulatory requirements. 

Moreover, you don’t just need to schedule people. You also need to schedule equipment and supplies. And some job sites might be subject to additional scheduling restrictions, like noise ordinances. 

That’s what makes scheduling construction projects so complex: the overwhelming number of moving pieces it takes to bring a project to completion, combined with a real-life butterfly effect in which a straightforward scheduling change disrupts everything downstream. 

Fortunately, today’s construction companies have access to construction scheduling software  that takes those complexities into account. The real challenge is evaluating the available options to find the best construction scheduling software for you and your organization.

Discover what SPARK Select, a personally configured app for construction &  trade contractors, can do for your company.

How to Evaluate Construction Scheduling Software

Evaluating construction scheduling software comes down to asking yourself to what degree a particular solution solves your pain points. For example, if you keep getting slammed with fines because you don’t have people with the right certifications on site, scheduling software that doesn’t take worker certifications into account isn’t going to solve your problem. 

So let’s take a look at some of the major “moving pieces” that go into creating a schedule as well as how the right construction scheduling software should handle each of them.

Scheduling multiple crews and locations

Any construction scheduling software you consider should be able to handle the complexities involved in having multiple crews working multiple projects in different states of completion. 

For example:

  • Dependent work: Construction involves a lot of dependent work: The drywall crew can’t come in until the plumbing and electrical crews have finished and the work has passed inspection. If the electricians and plumbers are running late, that leaves the crews who are next in line without any work to do. Look for construction scheduling software that will help you figure out where you can move those crews to keep them busy and productive.
  • Skills and qualifications: One of the hardest parts of construction scheduling is that you can’t just schedule a random combination of employees to a work site. You’ve must have the right mix of skills and certifications -- not only to protect your workers but also to comply with regulations from agencies like OSHA and the EEOC. 

When evaluating construction scheduling software, rule out any options that only do the basics of scheduling, such as putting names in time slots. Look for a solution that’s smart enough to look at things like dependent work and workers’ skills and qualifications. Some solutions will even send you a reminder when a worker’s license or qualifications are about to expire. 

Scheduling equipment

Equipment isn’t cheap. According to Equipment World, a piece of machinery in the 40-ton range might cost anywhere from $500,000 to almost $700,000. And then there are operating costs such as repairs, preventive maintenance, fuel, etc.

It’s easy to see why most construction companies don’t keep a lot of extra equipment sitting around. It doesn’t make sense to tie so much capital up in equipment you may not need.

However, the result is that equipment availability is a huge factor in scheduling. Ideally, you’ll strike a balance between equipment sitting around gathering dust and work on a site coming to a halt because the necessary equipment isn’t available. Look for software that can help you predict which equipment will be necessary at which site on a given date and make that part of your schedule. Having the right people at the right site won’t matter much if they don’t have what they need to do their jobs.

Scheduling materials

Scheduling materials is similar to scheduling equipment in the sense that, while you don’t want too much cash tied up in inventory, a late delivery leaves your crews with nothing better to do than sit around. Look for construction scheduling software that lets you schedule materials as well as people and equipment.

Other Variables

So far, we’ve discussed the low-hanging fruit of construction scheduling -- the things that anyone in the industry might think about regularly. But there are other factors that aren’t so obvious, such as:

  • Do you need to get special permits to close down a street? If so, construction scheduling software that can predict the dates when you’ll need those permits can help you make sure you get them in time.
  • Do you need to get special permits to park large equipment? Again, a good construction scheduling solution will help you estimate the dates when you’ll need those permits.
  • Will the site need 24/7 security to prevent theft of materials? If so, that’s another crew you’ll need to schedule.
  • Does work stop when a crew is waiting for an inspection? Look for construction scheduling software that can predict the approximate date an inspection will be needed and can move the workers to other sites.
  • Are there noise codes that constrain the hours you can work? If so, your schedule will need to take those time restrictions into account. 
  • Are there restrictions on where you can receive materials? Especially in busy urban areas, there may only be certain windows of time when you can receive materials, so that your truck doesn’t cause a huge traffic jam during rush hour, for example. So, look for scheduling software that will take that kind of detail into account.
  • What about the weather? In the early days of a construction project, rain brings work to a halt. Can the construction scheduling software you’re considering look at the weather forecast and schedule accordingly?

Changing Schedules on the Fly

As we’ve discussed, numerous factors go into making a smart schedule, and you’ll want to make sure the solution you choose addresses them. 

So far, though, we’ve only covered making a schedule. As competitive and complex as the construction industry is today, that’s not enough. When evaluating a construction scheduling solution, make sure you understand how easy it is to make changes on the fly, as well as how to communicate those changes to the crews on site. You don’t want to have to call every single supervisor – that takes up too much time. 

The ideal solution would be one that sends automatic notifications to workers onsite as soon as you make a change in the schedule (and lets them notify you when equipment, supplies, or employees don’t show up on time). That simple feature could eliminate a lot of the time your workers spend sitting around because they finished a task early and don’t know what to do next. 

Construction Scheduling Software Can Take the Hassle Out of Planning Your Projects

Regardless of the size of your company (or your wallet), construction scheduling software is an investment that can take the hassle out of planning jobs and deliver an exponential increase in productivity. It may even help you sleep better at night when you realize you can finally stop worrying about scheduling mistakes.

And you’ll be glad you made the investment when you see the ROI that results from having the right people, equipment, and materials at the right site and time. Whether you want software that’s custom-built  from scratch or you’d rather choose pre-built modules that you can customize with apps and integrations, we’re here to take the chores you dread off your back.

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