Examining The Concept Of Construction Planning Construction Essay

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Traditional construction planning processes are based on ``design-oriented'' models, and application of traditional planning methods, such as the critical path method, have been criticised by several researchers. The critical path method emphasises a rigid planning approach of defining and logically linking detailed activities before commencement of work on site (Ballard and Howell, 1997).

While this is vital, it is argued that the critical path method neither encourages holistic learning about projects nor adaptation to the environment within which it functions - it fails to recognise flexibility adequately (Ballard, and Howell, 1997). Also it is argued that the critical path method does not allow

for the consideration of the sociological issues involved (Rwelamila and Hall, 1995; Andersen, 1996). Thus, by relying on a technique such as critical path method, construction planners are in danger of placing their trust in a ``black box'' aid rather than take the additional time and effort to think more positively through the implications of proposed actions. This may be exacerbated by reliance on planning and scheduling software packages to generate automatically plans which may have input errors and/or poorly thought through production strategies. As a result, there has been a shift in construction research about how to improve the effectiveness of construction planning.

Researchers are now focusing more on the construction planning process rather than developing advanced planning methods and techniques. One of the important conclusions that distinguishes the significance of planning and control functions at different stages of the planning process, particularly draws attention to the pre-construction stage, and addresses the importance of key project participants gaining a high level of project understanding (Walker, et al., 1998).

Project understanding is a function of detailed understanding about the project such as project scope, characteristics and constraints. The degree to which a design is fixed or agreed on by client and design team influences the level of detail knowledge available for project understanding. Therefore design fixity influences further development of construction methods and time schedules.

Another important input to project understanding is the level of understanding that various members of project teams share about project characteristics. The term ``constructability'' is often used to describe the intellectual input provided by construction team and members of the supply chain in building construction (Griffiths and Sidwell, 1997). It highlights more workable or buildable design solutions to solve design problems in a cost- and time-effective way that often enhances quality.

Outcomes of construction planning are often communicated in a set of documents called ``method statements''. Method statements describe the way in which a project may be executed to achieve its stated aims.

Method statements fall in two distinct categories. A global method statement specifies the general approach to executing the project. It encompasses the overarching purpose of the project and describes the general methods by which objectives may be achieved. A global method statement is also required to assist project participants understand and formulate at the individual activity level a detailed plan. This detailed method statement informs the entire project control system. There is a crucial link between the global and detailed method statement as indicated in Figure 1. Thus the global method statement must be comprehensive to add value to the detailed method statement on which much of the project control system depends. The global method statement, therefore, provides the planning infrastructure necessary to facilitate project success.

A global method statement usually comprises several documents representing a project ``master plan'' including both graphic and textual outputs. Critical path method networks and Gantt charts (bar charts) are regarded as the most common output form for scheduling construction progress. Critical path method plans describe the logical interactions between activities in the detailed plan. A critical path method network is useful for planning at a detailed task level with milestone events marking significant occurrences in terms of project schedule, such as ``start of . . .'' or ``completion of . . .''. These are often translated into Gantt charts to supplement global method statement information because they more effectively represent time schedules for most users of planning information. Planning information conveyed by critical path method networks and Gantt charts also provides a decision support system to help determining an appropriate procurement strategy on how to schedule supply chain inputs such as subcontractors and suppliers (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Project understanding and its relationship to project management

The freeway project case study: UK

The freeway case study described in this paper relates to one of UK's largest urban road infrastructure development projects (Shen, 2000). The entire project includes 22km of multi-lane expressway joined by two new tunnels and a major bridge.

The case study focuses on the western section of the project development, which was delivered using a build, own, operate and transfer (BOOT) approach. The western link (freeway) project was sub-contracted using a design-and-construct approach. The estimated cost for the western section was AU$140 million and the contract period was 37 months.

Figure 2 shows that a construction orientation rather than a design-orientation was the dominant project management influence adopted by the design and construct contractor on the project. Thus the practicality of the design was more highly valued than any aesthetic merit though the visual appearance and aesthetics of structures were considered to be both desirable and necessary. The managerial organisation on the project included the construction division and the service division. The construction division was divided into four business units.

Figure 2: Project control and services relationship chart

Four senior project managers, which according to Masterman's categories are the equivalent term to construction manager (Masterman,1992), were appointed to be responsible for each unit. The service division included: the design team, the environment team, the OHS team and the quality assurance (QA) team. These teams were service groups across each business unit. The design team was only one of the service groups and it was no longer the dominant factor in the project management. The construction team now filled this role. The planning process undertaken on the freeway project is illustrated in Figure 3 and is explained as follows:

Initially, four senior project managers and a design manager were employed to develop project plans. Master project programs were developed and design priorities established with due considerations to the client's requirements and the project scope. Numerous experienced engineers and foremen assisted in this process as and when required.

The design team started the preliminary design based on the information illustrated in Figure 3. After the preliminary design was developed and approved, it was issued to the construction team for construction planning.

The master construction program served many purposes including long-term coordination, construction time management, and initiating detailed construction plans. The time-planning programmer was responsible for developing, monitoring and updating the master construction program.

Productivity information was acquired from the senior project manager, site manager, site engineer, foreman and time-planning programmer or from the historical data.

The construction method statement was the document that stated how to carry out the construction work on the project. It was activity-based, and considered in detail the following constraints: activity scope; construction techniques; time program objectives; personnel and equipment resources required; environmental management requirements; OHS requirements and QM issues. The site manager started drafting the detailed construction method statement after the preliminary design was issued and the master construction program (global method statement) was developed.

At the construction stage, the site engineer and foreman were responsible for implementing and controlling planned activities. The time-planning programmer monitored construction progress. Other management staff took responsibility for site inspections and staff induction for each of the service divisions illustrated in Figure 2. The site manager was then in a position to develop the preliminary design and to draft the detailed construction method statements for the next activity.

Figure 3: Construction planning process on the freeway project

Conclusion

Construction planning techniques adopted on the Freeway project included a range of constructability and value engineering approaches that considered not only time planning but also OHS, ES and QM issues. In each instance, the intellectual focus on understood how the project's delivery process could facilitate identifying risks and opportunities and simpler and more effective design alternatives, evaluating these and selecting a best-fit solution. This is the essence of planning.

To achieve an integrated approach it is necessary that the planning process be concerned with more than merely scheduling design, project delivery and management activities. Moving beyond this to an integrated and broader QM approach would require the collective support of project team members and their early involvement of knowledge and skills in the construction planning process. The broader scope of planning activities would include a variety of management activities, e.g. design, OHS, ES and QM activities. Moreover, team members need to have a clear understanding of the project's goals, constraints and characteristics. This is the kind of information that a sound and comprehensive construction method statement should provide.

Evidence presented from the Freeway project case study analysis supports the argument that a project procurement choice can have implications on construction time performance.

Case Study: India

In a developing country like India, which is still in the process of providing adequate social amenities such as educational and health care facilities as well as decent housing for its teeming populace, the construction industry has an important role to play. About 69% of the nation's fixed capital formation is produced by the construction industry (FOS, 1998). This implies that the construction industry represents nearly 70% of the capital base of the national economy and is an indication of the significance of the industry within the economy. However, despite its significant position within the national economy, its performance within the economy has been, and continues to be, very poor. Although studies undertaken by the World Bank have found that construction should normally account for between 3% and 8% of GDP in developing countries (World Bank 1984), the contribution of construction to India's GDP has hovered steadily at around 2% for the past 15 years (FOS, 1997). Similarly, although the contribution of the construction industry to employment has been found to average 3.2% in developing countries (World Bank, 1984), the Indian construction industry's contribution to employment has remained consistently at 1.0% over the last few years (FOS, 1998).

It is acknowledged that the poor performance of the Indian construction industry could be related in some way to the poor state of the overall economy. Nevertheless, the premise upon which the study reported in this paper is based is that notwithstanding the prevailing economic climate, the performance of the industry can be improved through the implementation of appropriate and relevant management practices by operators within the industry. The need to acquire competencies and capabilities necessary for managing projects efficiently is particularly important as the new millennium approaches. Increased competition due to a more global economy and improvements in information technology means that local operators within the construction industry in developing countries need to deliver projects as efficiently as possible.

Project planning has been found to be one of the most significant factors for the efficient and effective delivery of projects (Arditi 1985; Clayton 1989; Syal et al 1992). Since the planning function of management is responsible for defining the work to be managed, planning can be said to provide the basis for the performance of other management functions and can therefore be considered to be the most important management function. The study reported in this paper examined the relationship between the project planning practices of contractors operating within the Indian construction industry and the occurrence of project delays.

The results indicate that a sizeable number of contractors operating within the Indian construction industry do not engage in any form of quantitative construction planning, but rather prefer to depend on "intuitive management" (acting on the basis of hunches or previous experience) for managing projects. Table 1 shows the proportion of respondents that use quantitative management techniques in planning their construction projects. 58% of respondent contractors indicated that they use some form of quantitative management technique (including bar charts, critical path networks, and probabilistic PERT analysis) for planning construction work, while 42% indicated that they do not use quantitative planning techniques.

Table 1: Extent of Use of Quantitative Planning Techniques

Table 2 shows the distribution of the quantitative management techniques adopted by contractors who used quantitative techniques for planning their construction work. All respondents in this category use bar charts as a planning tool. However, only 28% use critical path networks and none uses probabilistic PERT analysis as a planning tool. A large majority of the contractors did not provide the average annual turnover of their firms as indicated on the questionnaire. This was meant to serve as an indication of the size of the firms. It was therefore not possible to relate the size of the construction firms to their project planning practices.

The preference of the contractors for "intuitive" management rather than the use of quantitative techniques to guide management decision-making is largely due to two major factors: (i) deficiencies in management skills; and (ii) the climate of uncertainty and unpredictability that generally pervades the Indian construction industry. A lot of domestic contractors are not familiar with quantitative management techniques such as bar charts, critical path analysis, probabilistic PERT analysis, resource planning, cost control, and management accounting. Lack of managerial skills has been highlighted as a major deficiency of local construction enterprises in developing countries (World Bank, 1984; Ofori, 1991). However, even those contractors that are familiar with quantitative management techniques are constrained in the extent to which they use these techniques by limiting factors such as political instability, excessive delays in payments, and unfavourable procurement and contracting procedures.

Table 2: Types of Quantitative Planning Techniques Used

Table 3 shows the severity index and ranking of delay factors for the entire sample. Table 4 shows the severity index and ranking of delay factors for contractors who use quantitative management techniques for planning construction work and contractors who do not use such techniques. An examination of the ranking of delay factors by contractors who use quantitative planning techniques shows that the delay factors ranked highest by this group (finance, weather, design changes, equipment failure and subcontractors) are factors that construction planning has little or no control over. On the other hand, delay factors ranked highest by contractors who do not use quantitative planning techniques include factors that can be managed effectively by appropriate construction planning techniques. Weather, material shortages, finance, labour supply, and equipment failure were ranked as the five most important delay factors by these contractors. Although project delays due to weather, finance and equipment failure might not be due to deficient planning practices, the use of quantitative planning techniques would be of immense value in eliminating, or at the very least, minimising delays that occur due to materials shortages and labour supply.

Spearman's rho and Kendall's tau-b rank-order correlation coefficients indicating the extent of agreement between the rankings of delay factors by contractors using quantitative planning techniques and contractors that do not use quantitative planning techniques are presented in Table 5. No statistically significant agreement (at 0.05 level of significance) in ranking was found between the two groups.

Table 3: Severity Index and Ranking of Delay Factors

It is evident from the results that have been presented that the project delivery process can be significantly improved through the use of appropriate quantitative techniques to plan projects. Quantitative planning techniques such as bar charts and critical path networks make it possible to know in advance periods during which specific activities take place on site. Arrangements can therefore be made in advance to ensure that the required material and labour resources are available on site when required, thereby averting possible delays due to material shortages or unavailability of labour.

Although there is an obvious need to develop project-planning skills in Indian contractors, cognizance taken of the practical situation prevailing in the operating environment of the Indian construction industry. For example, political instability due to the high turnover of government administrations results in frequent changes in government policy with incoming regimes terminating or abandoning contracts awarded by the preceding administration. In such situations, contractors often have to renegotiate existing project contracts, or even go through the entire tender process all over again. Excessive delays in payments are also a regular feature in contracts awarded by the government (the largest client of the construction industry). For contractors that depend on such payments to finance construction work and do not have access to alternative sources of funds, delays in payment disrupt carefully planned construction programmes. Similarly, government contract procurement procedures are mainly one-sided, focusing on the rights of the government as a client and the obligations of the contractors, with no compensation available to the contractor in the event of default by the government. These contract procedures are also excessively bureaucratic in nature and are characterised by overlapping authority of government agencies, excessive paperwork and requirements to comply with several different laws and regulations. All these conditions combine together to create an environment of uncertainty and unpredictability around construction projects which tends to frustrate planning efforts made by contractors.

Table 4: Severity Index and Ranking of Delay Factors: Contractors Using Quantitative Techniques versus

those not Using Such Techniques

Table 5: Contractors Using Quantitative Techniques versus those not Using Such Techniques

As the new millennium approaches, a challenge for researchers is the development of 'appropriate' management techniques and tools that are tailored to the operating environment of construction industries in developing countries. Training courses for local contractors in developing countries that are based on such 'appropriate' management techniques and tools will undoubtedly be of direct benefit because the concepts imparted in the courses will consider the practical situation prevailing in the local industry. Contractors in developing countries will then be able to acquire relevant skills that will be necessary for improving the efficiency of the project delivery process and consequently for remaining competitive in the construction industry of the next century.

Conclusion

The use of quantitative management techniques such as the bar chart and critical path networks for planning construction projects would assist significantly in reducing the occurrence of delays and minimising their impact when they do occur. This is because the use of quantitative planning techniques (as opposed to intuitive planning) makes it possible to know in advance when activities are due to take place. Arrangements can therefore be made early enough to ensure that required resources (for example, labour, materials and plant) are available at the appropriate time. Furthermore, whenever a delay does occur, its implications on the future performance of the project can be immediately determined and corrective action can be taken to minimise any negative impact on project performance. However, any programme developed for the purpose of enhancing the construction planning skills of Indian contractors must recognise the prevailing characteristics of the Indian construction industry if the programme is to succeed. Such characteristics include: frequent delays in payment, scarcity of construction materials, and poor operating conditions of available construction plant and equipment. As we approach the new

millennium, there is therefore a need for researchers to develop a body of knowledge on tools and techniques for successful management of construction projects in developing countries, taking into account the operating conditions within the local industries.

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