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WPL Publishing's Inaugural Construction Scheduling Software Survey Yields Interesting Results

By Paul Levin

 

Last month, WPL Publishing launched a survey to better gauge the extent to which computer-generated schedules are being used in construction projects and the types of software being used to create the schedules. We especially wanted to find out who is using Critical Path Method (CPM) scheduling, how and why they are using it, and whether users' needs are being met by the current state-of-the-art CPM software. With more than 400 responses, we believe we have gathered a representative sampling of the construction industry to meet the objectives of this survey. The complete research report will be available in the ConstructionProNet.com bookstore later this month and be accessible to ConstructionPro Network members free of charge.

 

The Demographics

 

Almost half of the respondents represent the contractor-side of the construction community and include contractors, sub/trade contractors, and construction managers. The second largest group of users, at 26 percent, is consultants: project controls, project management and claims consultants. The third group, at 11 percent, consists of public and private owners. The balance of respondents represents engineers, academics, trainers, software vendors, and one attorney. If we assume half the consultants work for owners and the other half work for contractors, we are left with approximately 75 percent of respondents on the construction side and 25 percent on the owner side.

 

A good cross-section of industries is represented, with commercial construction at 48 percent of respondents being the largest segment and energy the lowest at 23 percent. We were probably remiss in omitting healthcare and residential construction, but we did get several write-ins for each. 

 

 

Twenty-seven percent of the respondents described themselves as schedule professionals -- scheduler, schedule engineer, schedule manager, or schedule consultant.  Approximate 42 percent placed themselves as project professionals, including project engineer, project manager, project controls engineer, project controls manager, superintendent or construction manager.  The remaining 21 percent was a mix of job functions including academics, estimators, and executives. The full survey report lists these titles in details. As shown later in the survey, most respondents do use schedules, and coupled with the number of those who do not consider themselves as “schedule professionals” underlies the importance of scheduling to the construction process.

 

 

As a group, 68 percent of our respondents said they have used CPM software for 10 years a more -- a very experienced group indeed. Less than 9 percent have never used CPM software, and 21 percent have used CPM between 1 and 10 years. Of the 34 respondents who do not use CPM software, only 14 people said they use the output produced by CPM software, such as bar charts, network diagrams, or reports. [No diagram necessary for the non-users.]

 

Why Use CPM Software?

 

One of the key reasons for the survey is to find out why people use CPM software in the first place. We are taught that use of CPM software is an important tool for successfully managing projects. However, only 53 percent of respondents use it for actively managing projects. The bulk of the remaining group use CPM software because the owner requires it, for either payment, reporting and/or claims support. It was interesting to learn that at least three people use it for building information modeling (BIM) purposes, and several others use CPM during the design and engineering phase.

 

 

CPM Software – Which Program(s) Are Used? And The Winner Is…

 

Eighty-five percent of survey respondents said they had experience with CPM software. Of this group, Microsoft Project, at 81.2 percent, is the software most respondents have used. Close behind are Primavera P6 at 70.9 percent, Primavera P3 at 67.8 percent, Primavera SureTrak at 58.1 percent, and Primavera Contractor at 22.5 percent. Note: multiple answers were allowed, and certainly many P6 users are also current or former P3 users. Clearly, Oracle’s Primavera and SureTrak products are the dominant applications out there. Our next or follow-up survey will attempt to find out what people prefer and/or use exclusively.

 

There were 28 other CPM programs that respondents reported using, including 11 listed on the survey, but none with more than 6.8 percent experience rating. Software applications used range from programs that run on a mini-computer to home-grown software. 

 

Thirty-six percent of respondents reported having experience with tools that work with CPM software, including schedule data analysis, risk analysis, 4D scheduling, and data integration tools. The product with the highest experience ratings are Schedule Analyzer by Ron Winter Consulting Inc. and Acumen Fuse by Deltek, both in the schedule data analysis category, followed by Synchro and Autodesk’s Navisworks in the 4D scheduling category. 

 

Other Scheduling Methods

 

Fifty percent of respondents reported they performed their scheduling activities manually, with computer spreadsheets, or with desktop software calendar functions. Probably the most novel method we encountered is the company that reported it uses a whiteboard and camera phone.

 

The Software Wish List

 

With almost 600 written requests, this is perhaps the most challenging part of our survey report.  “Simpler,” “easier,” “more intuitive,” and “more user friendly” dominated the response wish list.  We also received several specific technical requests related to specific software products, as well as requests for a multitude of functionalities. Several people would like to see Primavera P3 and SureTrak work with newer versions of Windows. Others wrote down requests for solutions that are, in fact, available in some products. For example, a request for model-based scheduling can be found in the 4D scheduling applications. Other general categories on the wish list include improved output graphics, more training, and interfaces to other applications. A few people suggested outlawing Primavera P6, while others suggested outlawing Microsoft Project, which happen to be the two leading CPM applications used! Finally, several people raised concerns about accuracy and data consistency. The full survey report will have a more complete review of the wish list results.

 

Coupled with the fact that there are more than two dozen CPM applications, the large number of wish-list items point to applications and processes comprised of a wide range of needs, capabilities, and experience that are frequently mismatched.

 

Project Delivery Method and Conclusion

 

Our objective in this question was to learn specifically how the delivery method influences what scheduling method and software is used on any given project. Respondents did point out that design-build either compels the use of CPM software or greatly benefits from its use, but overall, the responses to this question clearly indicate that either the owner specified the use of CPM software or the size of the project was an important factor. This issue was brought up again in the survey’s concluding question asking for user comments.

 

There seems to be a mismatch of which applications should be used on which projects, as well as issues dealing with the actual persons using the software on various projects. Readers pointed out the software might be too complex for use on smaller projects or that expertise and experience to use the software properly is not in place. There seems to be a need for more training, not merely in using CPM software but in understanding construction scheduling itself.  Indeed, someone may be proficient in using Microsoft Project or Primavera P6, or at least believe they are because they can add activities and produce a report. But these users may not understand the nuances or maintenance functions necessary to ensure the software is updating the schedules properly or even calculating the correct dates. 

 

This author generally concurs with these observations that the industry can benefit through a combination of improved software, training, and specifications. A schedule can be as simple as several lines on the back of an envelope or as complex as 25,000 activities in a CPM schedule.  For more complex projects, however, a significant component on the success of the CPM scheduling effort is going to rely more on the skill and experience of the person creating the schedule no matter how simple or sophisticated the CPM software. One could say that CPM software, particularly the more sophisticated programs, is intended for use by experienced schedulers. But less than 27 percent of respondents fall into that category, indicating that a large percentage of construction professionals who are using CPM may not have the training or experience level required to match the sophistication of the software.

 

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