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An essential tool for business continuity through the Covid-19 pandemic

Civil engineer Jack Tregartha explains how a planning software tool – CS Project – has proved its importance to the effective delivery of projects during the health pandemic.

An essential tool for business continuity
An essential tool for business continuity

During this unprecedented global pandemic, the UK construction industry has managed to continue to operate under guidance from government with an increased focus on implementing social distancing measures. Although this has been a massive challenge to the construction industry, I have found a small silver lining in the discovery and implementation of the planning software, CS Project, which has proved its underlying importance to the effective delivery of projects.

Covid-19 has put a great deal of strain on project teams. Civil engineering is a multi-disciplinary industry and the pandemic has hurt the supply chain including specialist sub-contractors, material suppliers and labour resources.

Managing project delivery

The procurement of site materials has become extremely difficult due to shutdowns and furloughed staff, meaning supply companies are working at a reduced output to produce essential site products. Reduced output means longer lead times which has a detrimental effect on project delivery.

For example, in my case, one supplier of drainage materials was working at a 70% reduction in manufacture, so this automatically pushed lead-in dates back from 2 weeks to 6 before the works even began.

This is where I have found CS Project planning software to be so beneficial. This commonly used software is a Gantt chart style format that demonstrates when tasks are required to start and finish. The tasks are linked using logic, so if one task isn’t completed then this has a knock-on effect to the following task, which is known as the ‘critical path.’ In a nutshell it demonstrates how the project is going to run and highlights key milestones which need to be met throughout the project to ensure successful completion.

Understanding complex processes

Being able to demonstrate tasks in a logical form, displayed in a graph style made me aware of how increased lead times were going to impact the programme. I found this to be one of the key strengths of the software tool for a successful project delivery. It also offers a manageable way to understand complex processes and break them down for everyone at site level. Printing and displaying this chart on the office wall for all site staff to visualise is another benefit of the tool. This has a positive effect and enables the whole management side - from project manager to foreman, engineer and quantity surveyor - to be constantly aware of what works are being carried out and when.

Understanding the programme requirements enabled me to produce a procurement schedule which simply put is a date in which components will be purchased and delivered to site. In my particular case, a schedule was implemented for drainage works and the ordering of approximately 4.5km of storm water perforated pipe ranging from 150mm – 1050mm in diameter. This was specialist material with only skilled craftsmen able to produce it so this made the product already difficult to obtain in normal circumstances.

An example of CS Project in action
An example of CS Project in action

Something as simple as a Gantt chart enabled me to quickly understand which components of drainage would be required and when. A phased delivery schedule was then put in place to allow the timely delivery of these products. This tool also gave me an understanding on scheduled lead times for materials which could be inputted to show which areas of work could be completed with the available materials.

If materials had been ordered to match the original programme, we would have had large elements of the site which would only be partially complete due to lack of materials and resources so a strategic approach, procuring only materials for elements of work which could be completed in full, was essential. Also, bulk buying materials would have left the company with an expenditure for the installation but no income until the works had been completed and the 45-day payment term could have been harmful to the business’s cash flow.

Affecting a positive outcome on projects

All too often throughout construction projects, programmes do not get updated due to the lack of a deep understanding on how using tools such as CS Project can positively affect the outcome of construction sites.

I believe a two-week ‘look-ahead’ provides a snapshot of the overall contract programme. This allows information to be digested by site teams and gives a realistic target each week to help keep the project on course. If these targets are then missed, then we can ask appropriate questions; Was it due to external factors? Was it poor organisation? Was it lack of information? Was it due to poor communication? This helps to find the root cause of the issue and to then correct this moving forward before the project falls too far behind and delay damages are incurred.

The two biggest causes of delay in the construction industry are variation in designs and construction planning. As demonstrated earlier in the blog this tool is essential to the management of changes and variations and seeking optimal solutions to minimise the impact. Not only does this information need to be shared by the contractor this can be distributed to all stakeholders, ultimately saving time and money.

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