CPM Schedule Oversight

CPM Schedule Oversight

Float Ownership Theory Precludes Practicum

CPM schedule oversight
Photo by Feliphe Schiarolli on Unsplash

The art of CPM schedule oversight becomes vulnerable to the rapid moving components of its parts. Once the baseline is set and the project engages, float management can become a shell game of perpetual resequencing. It is the responsibility of the scheduler to control this phenomenon, but ultimately it is the accountability of upper project management. 

Project managers with little or no training generate some 75% of all CPM schedules. In this capacity they tend to be rather feckless: unable to prosecute the work in a way that resembles the baseline schedule or its trajectory. For that reason, it is the rare project manager’s schedule that survives intact for the duration of a given project, or for that matter – post baseline. The tendency is a for a baseline to deprecate proportionally to duration. As it does, it loses relevance, and its value to project management.

Contractors with larger, or more complex projects, are reliant on a professional scheduler, and are under more scrutiny in the guise of CPM schedule oversight. They will have no choice but to hire a professional, who will report to upper management, such that operations may be facilitated. These project teams make joint efforts to maintain the project logic of the schedule. If these efforts fail, the project accountability will suffer, and the schedule will fail to be useful as a predictive tool.

“if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with BS.”

Even the greater majority of professionally crafted construction project schedules will inevitably fail to be useful. This is partly owing to chronic resequencing that is imposed on the scheduler by project management: schedulers seldom unilaterally resequence projects. Chronic resequencing deprecates project logic. As it does, the scheduler is tasked with interpolating the vicissitudes of instability created by project management. If he is unsuccessful in this endeavor, the knee jerk reaction is to hold him blameful.

That sounds unfair, and it is. Project managers, at best, have something less than a working knowledge of CPM and scheduling applications. They either know nothing of it, or a minimal comprehension – enough to feign understanding. Few are honest enough to admit their ignorance, as that may appear to compromise their ability. Finally, they lack the patience that comes with comprehensive CPM knowledge.

“To most project executives, CPM schedule oversight is an abstraction of which they believe they can feign acumen or knowledge. This is merely for show.

For these reasons, savvy owners don’t trust contractors’ schedulers. As a measure of control, they will appoint a CPM schedule oversight consultant to evaluate the schedule. Over my twenty-seven years as a scheduler and oversight consultant on hundreds of projects, I am able to tally on one hand the number of oversight consultants who performed with anything other than a cheap imitation of a true oversight professional.

They do so in two ways: by overstating their knowledge of building practicum, and relying on improvised and selective theoretical knowledge of insufficient data applications and management. Contractors are easily fooled by smooth tongued oversight consultants, whose survival seems to be dependent on the level of criticism and flaws in the schedule they state as fact. In this way, the project scheduler’s reputation and ability may come into question. When it does, the scheduler must defend his schedule. If he is unsuccessful, the contractor will be pressured by the owner to make corrective changes as necessary, which a contractor may translate as either mollifying the oversight consultant’s suggestions, or by replacing the scheduler: both knee-jerk responses to appeasement.

It’s a rare pleasure to work with a qualified CPM schedule oversight consultant. In my career, I have worked with perhaps four or five. They had in common the virtues of long field experience, and enough technical ability to make legitimate arguments that inform a scheduler and project team in a way he can appreciate and effectively make changes.

If an oversight consultant merely makes his nut pointing out alleged deficiencies, it isn’t always clear to anyone other than the scheduler. If an oversight consultant only focuses on negative float ownership, he simply isn’t a bona fide oversight consultant, but merely a technical hack. This behavior serves to draw attention away from their own deficient knowledge of practicum. We all have heard the tenet “if you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with BS.” This is the official motto and modus operandi of the oversight consultant.

The focus on float ownership is a diversion that precludes proper schedule oversight, and taints the project team relationship with litigious distractions that divert attention away from the practical execution of a project. Surely float ownership is the bailiwick of legal counsel, not the unsubstantiated opinion of an oversight consultant. In this way a poor facsimile of a lawyer is superfluously overlaid onto the project team – in fact, an adversary.

CPM schedule oversight is largely a subjective business, because few consultants have the knowledge or tools to verify their findings. Fortunately, for schedulers, these tools exist in software solutions, such as offered by Deltek. Surprisingly, I don’t believe that I’ve ever met an oversight consultant who uses such software, or even heard of it, for that matter. If not, they will refuse to recognize it. 

Contractors who don’t use validation software are more vulnerable to subjective oversight reports. Because they don’t fully understand CPM, they can’t make the jump to validation tools that separate real schedulers from charlatan oversight primadonnas. This lag in technology adoption is what differentiates the building industry from all others: always the slowest to change. 

It’s surprising that contractors don’t trust their schedulers, or refuse to make small investments in validation and analytic tools, that would directly enhance their return of investment, while making them more efficient and accountable at the same time. Neither MS Project, Primavera, nor MS Excel can accomplish what validation software can do. This disparity of acumen is as great as that between the worlds of the Flintstones and the Jetsons.

A practitioner knows from hands-on experience how long a given activity will take. A theoretician only knows from hear-say.

There is little in most any CPM schedule oversight report that can’t be borne out in Deltek Acumen Fuse, or any other DCMA metric based analyzer in a fraction of the time. Moreover, without validated forensics and analytics, a CPM schedule oversight consultant report is typically subjective and speculative.

Contractors need to have a competent CPM scheduler on staff to refute CPM schedule oversight allegations. Otherwise, an easy victory is given the consultant – one earned without challenge. Many contractors are vulnerable in this way, and for that reason seldom make successful EOTs, and more infrequently – compensable EOTs.

In sports, this is called a victory by default: by merely showing up when opposition is absent. That’s too bad, because even if a contractor doesn’t have the ability to challenge with his own scheduling team, if he is smart, he can deconstruct and refute the means and methods of the theoretician.