Manage your own construction project (part one)

Norman F. Jacobs Jr., CSI, CPE
Project managers are the only ones who control each and every activity in construction so they must be synergistic. In many ways, after all, the ultimate success or failure lies in their hands. A responsible project manager is the chief motivator of people and positive actions and must take initiative for all operations—this means providing risk management with adequate documentation.

The astute project manager must also organize his or her game plan, and prioritize all construction activities. Then, he or she must prepare an organization chart showing staff members and their responsibilities.

This two-part series examines various strategies for effective project management, from contracts and billings to scheduling techniques.

Managing contracts, cost estimates, and billings
Risk management begins with reviewing, analyzing, responding to, and managing all contracts. There are essentially two opportunities to identify, manage, and resolve construction legal problems. The first, and best, is at the pre-contract or negotiation stage, while the second is during the contract management stage.

All construction contracts must refer to the plans and specifications, along with the general conditions. All cost estimates must be checked and analyzed to verify they include all plan and specifications requirements. The project’s schedule of values has to be prepared in the divisions shown in the specifications and be used on the monthly billings. Then, the estimate and the schedule of values can be updated to include all approved change orders.

Monthly billings for all subcontractors must be gathered, along with labor and material cost by specification divisions. Proper insurance needs to cover materials stored offsite. The project manager is to attend all monthly meetings to receive the architect’s approval of the monthly billings.

Managing all schedules
The assiduous project manager should obtain all critical path method (CPM) schedule input data from the subcontractors, architect, and engineers within two weeks after the notice to proceed. The schedule must include all work breakdown structure (WBS) activities, along with submit, approve, fabrication, and delivery activities. All activity logic and sequence have to be reviewed and critiqued.

The project schedule requires all activity durations consider the resources of manpower and equipment. Then, the specifications must be checked if dollar loading to activities are required on the schedule.

When applying durations to all activities, it is important to remember circadian rhythm—the balance of sleep and wakefulness that keeps us functioning. Research has indicated people are physiologically affected by change in the solar day cycle. Today, with the rapid trend of modern technology, every project manager must research and study the science of circadian rhythm in order to better manage the project schedule and improve productivity. The inefficiencies caused by crew size increases, or overtime work resulting from acceleration, may be avoided by working multiple shifts.

Each month, the prudent project manager is required to provide a contemporaneous update of the project’s CPM schedule, including all approved change orders and time extensions. With each update, one should also prepare a fragnet, showing each disturbance, delay, or impact.

Managing CPM schedule with TIAs
Network schedule techniques are useful in evaluating delay and impact on a project. Project managers use time impact analysis (TIA) techniques as simultaneous proof of both the facts and the cause of delays or impacts to projects. Accordingly, a TIA can be an effective tool for determining whether certain work was delayed and if it had an impact on the overall project. Some of the key advantages of networking techniques and TIA use to the project CPM schedule procedures are:

  • networking schedule techniques allow critical activities of work to be identified—the various paths of ‘criticality’ are visible, and those impacted by delay can easily be recognized (float time existing or expiring as the project changes can also be identified);
  • Time impact analysis is an effective tool for proving certain work was delayed and provides a means for isolating and quantifying delay periods;
  • when impacts or delays occur, these techniques can assist in determining correct action by the project manager; and
  • TIA aids in creating and preserving evidence of game plans, delays, impacts, and actual performance.

Managing FSA
Forensic scheduling analysis (FSA) refers to the investigation of events using CPM schedule calculation methods for potential use in a legal proceeding. It is the study of how actual activities interacted in the context of a complex model. Its purpose is to understand the significance of a specific deviation (or series) from some baseline model, and the role in determining the sequence of activities within the complex CPM schedule network diagram.

Since FSA is both a science and an art, it relies on professional judgment and expert opinion to make often-subjective decisions. The most important of these decisions are what technical approach should be used to measure and determine the causes of the delay or impact and how the analyst should apply the chosen method. The described objective is to reduce the degree of subjectivity involved in the current state of the art. This is with the full awareness there are certain types of subjectivity that cannot be minimized let alone be eliminated. Professional judgment and expert opinion ultimately rests on subjectivity.

Recommended minimum protocol for FSA is:

  • study and review all change orders and time extensions as to their placement into the project CPM schedule;
  • ensure there is at least one continuous critical path in the original CPM schedule and all monthly updates;
  • critique the project submittal log and when all entries were added to the project CPM schedule;
  • compare project daily reports as activity completions shown on the project CPM schedule; and
  • examine use of fragnets when documenting delays or impacts.

To be continued
In the next installment about project management, this author will examine the backbone of problem avoidance—construction documentation—and explore the concept of forensic documentation analysis (FDA).

Norman F. Jacobs Jr., CSI, CPE, is a principal at Jacobs Consultant Services, which offers cost management, schedule control assistance, project management, and claims preparation/negotiation. He has also served as an arbitrator, owner’s representative, and expert witness in arbitration and court involving multi-million dollar projects. Before creating his current organization, Jacobs provided design-build, construction management, and general contracting for developers, government agencies, and private clients for more than 30 years. He has served as the president of the Construction Specifications Institute (CSI) Richmond Chapter, chaired the Virginia Associated General Contractors (AGC) Documents Committee, and been a long-time member of organizations including the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the American Society of Professional Estimators (ASPE). He can be contacted via e-mail at

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One comment on “Manage your own construction project (part one)”

  1. Thanks for sharing this breakdown of construction project management, and how it is done. It is incredible the scope of tasks you have to do when you are managing construction. Since there are so many different aspects to construction, like managing contractors, billing and safety, it makes a lot more sense to hire a management firm to take care of those things for you. I know I would feel bogged down with all of these different tasks if I had to manage a project!

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