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Project programming

In order to deliver a successful project there are many moving parts that need to be accounted for. Building a programme requires forethought and input from the project team, such as the employer, contractor and design team, to give careful consideration to the planning and allocation of time to the different elements within the project. This must not be construed as creating programmes by a group exercise but rather drawing on the groups expertise to finalise a realistic, workable programme.


Generally the planning will be done by the Project Manager sometimes on large scale jobs there will be input from a Project Planner. The programme is a tool to monitor and manage time within the project, in theory there should be two programmes that combine to form the master programme. These are -

  • A planning and design programme to describes the sequence of design tasks from the initial appointment of the design team to the completion of the design.

  • The contractors programme which is submitted at tender stage where the contractor complies and plans his own activities during the construction period.


The client's need for a programme:

  • Allows for a mechanism to monitor the project/contractors progress to give certainty on the completion date.

  • Links cost and progress.

  • Providing there is sufficient detail in the programme, it can be used to value variations, particularly in the NEC form of contract.

The contractor's need for a programme:

  • List of deliverables in sequential order with realistic timescales.

  • Understanding how the task interdepend on each other.

  • To determine when material orders should be placed.

  • Will assist in managing project cost.

  • Identification and management of risk.

  • Identification of timely project completion.

  • Identification of when quality control will be undertaken.

  • Management of labor and plant resource whether in-house or subcontracted in.

Building programmes requires estimating durations for tasks and evaluating the order and interdependency. Timing and duration must be realistic and achievable, this benefits both the client and contractor. It may require the Project Manager to manage the client's expectation in regards to when the completion date is using the time, cost, quality triangle to explain how one normally requires sacrifice if they want to proceed with tighter completion dates. During these discussions referring back to the project brief is important to ensure that the key drivers of the project are being met.


The key to developing solid reliable programmes can be done by undertaking the following -

  • Ensure that the programme goes into enough detail and the tasks are broken down to be able to check the durations at a granular level. Using large blanket tasks that cover multiple activities is exceptionally hard to evaluate.

  • As mentioned before use the project team and call on experienced individuals to build the programme. It may be necessary to involve suppliers to understand lead in times that will effect tasks in the programme which otherwise would not be accounted for.

  • Include a float where possible, this allows for a certain level of buffer or risk allowance.

  • Try to balance out a programme so it is smooth and consistent, avoid volatile spikes in resource demand that could create bottle necks. Balancing should allow for a smooth resource allocation and realistic timescales and has the potential to add float to the project.

  • When delivering programmes to clients there is a tendency for pressure to be applied and to try and squeeze tasks, stack items, remove float and contingency to provide a more desirable timescale. This can result in the programme becoming unrealistic, again, managing the clients expectation is paramount.

Using ESTA and it's easy to use interface allows you to build and compare programmes, log progress and create reports in one click.


Programme and the contract


The contractual significance of the prgramme will be dependent on the conditions set out in the contract, this can be a case of contractual interpretation. In the realms of construction contracts (NEC, JCT & ICE) the client specifies the completion date and the successful tender provides a 'contract programme'.


Once the contract is let, the contractor is bound by this completion date. If the date can't be met by the contractor then the client can apply for damages, which is generally under the liquidated damages clause (A fixed or determined sum agreed by the parties to a contract to be payable on breach by one of the parties.). Presented at tender stage, tenderers should make sure they have a robust programme to ensure the project achieves practical completion by the agreed date or they will face paying those damages. In real terms, if the programme is too tight this may deter tenderers or the client will be paying a premium for the risk. In traditional construction contracts, such as JCT, it is the contractor’s prerogative to carry out the works in whatever order or timescale they wish to complete those works on time. Accordingly the programme is a little more than a guide to how this will happen.


In contrast to traditional construction contracts, such as JCT, the NEC contract is very particular in relation to the programme. The programme is a live document frequently referred to in regards to the evaluation and quantification of delay. The contract requires the programme to be regularly updated and resubmitted for acceptance by the Project Manager. Therefore, becoming the new accepted programme under the contract, and superseding any previously accepted programmes. When administered properly, this should lead to both parties having a clear understanding of how the contractor plans to carry out the works in accordance with the works information and any associated liabilities in relation to the movement of the completion milestones.


Outside of contracts, other drivers of the programme include The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. These regulations require the project to have enough time for parties to carry out the work in a safe and sufficient manner. Therefore, the client may be held accountable if an incident arises from their failure to allow the parties sufficient time for delivery. Again, the Project Manager should be advising clients against squeezing programmes into to the smallest time frame possible.


Programming is a very large and important part of the project process with various contracts placing a large amount of onus on the programme. This article has touched briefly on this and we will look to explore programming further in future posts.




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