Who Owns Project Float and Why it Matters

Who Owns Project Float and Why it Matters

Project Float Ownership

‘Project float’ is a much bandied about term that is monopolized by technical operators who understand it in a way that the average contractor does not. Ironically, contractors could make better use of the knowledge of project float management in practicum than technicians ever could in theory. That’s a disadvantage to contractors pressured into acceleration and absorbing delay costs.

In CPM networks there are two types of project float: free float, and total float. Free float can be defined as the amount of time that an activity can be delayed before it impacts succeeding activities, and total-float as the amount of time that an activity can be delayed before it impacts overall project duration. Activities with negative float on the critical path cause the project to be late.

Project float is usually measured in days. Float values can be positive, negative, or zero. Any value less than zero is called negative float. The highest negative float value is called the longest-path. Best practice is to monitor any activities with negative float paths as being on the critical-path. If you are tracking multiple float-paths this distinction makes sense. This becomes clear when activities clock-in at different float paths in the course of forward progress.

Optimally, a construction baseline schedule has zero project float in its longest path. The shortest paths should also be examined for veracity, as they state free-slack time that can become problematic. For example, if a contractor states optimal duration for an activity based on ideal circumstances, and there is ample free float, it seems like a counter-intuitive thought: especially if he accelerates production when he can’t avail himself of an early finish.

What’s more, he is technically under-performing when he doesn’t meet his baseline targets with accelerated original duration. If a delay arises, he will be expected to use the same production rates in his recovery schedule, even if his measured-mile progress refutes these rates. For example, a contractor’s EOT or NOD may be rejected if it isn’t based on original production rates – even if these are known or proven to be too aggressive.This is one reason to always use honest duration that is scientifically calculated.

There are several reasons contractors show unrealistic duration: to present a less risky critical-path with liberal float values; to meet aggressive contractual milestones; to minimize labor and soft-costs; and to make a bid seem more attractive to ownership. In most cases, since activity duration isn’t based on bona fide production rates, accelerated duration is even less so. 

When negative float rears its ugly head one of two things happen: either a recovery or mitigation schedule is drafted. A recovery schedule is intended to recapture lost time (float). If an activity was 50% late, a subsequent activity must be accomplished 50% sooner – robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak. A mitigation schedule is a plan to minimize or eliminate late work, a recovery schedule is intended to eliminate a given delay. Owing to the similarity of the terms they are often confused.

Unrealistic truncated duration is frequently introduced into recovery schedules. This is most often a counter-intuitive proposition: for example, if a contractor falls behind with a 75% production rate and proposes recovering with a 150% production recovery rate, a lot of heads should start turning: better he propose to get back to 100% and ramp up in increments, especially if his measured-mile production rate is underwhelming. Such reversals of fortune are extremely rare.

As a rule, parties like to say that if there is positive float, they own it. If there is negative float someone else owns it. Some contracts will state exclusive float ownership to one party whereas others award it on a first-come first-served basis. Negative float ownership is a more volatile commodity, as it allocates blame: no one wants to own it. In most cases, all parties contribute to delays, yet there is seldom more than one party held responsible for a project delay, and that tends to be the contractor.

A hidden risk of excessive positive project total float to a general contractor is that trades and ownership can avail themselves of the surplus of time, even though they didn’t create it: if a contractor or trade over-delivers shouldn’t they be offered the first opportunity to reap the benefits? In theory, it is a good thing to get forces in earlier. However, enhancing site presences with workers, materials, and equipment could backfire, reversing the gains of positive float.

if it’s positive float, I own it. If it’s negative float, someone else owns it.

Project float-ownership is at the heart of delay and disruption disputes. So much, that many oversight and delay ‘experts’ only focus on that one aspect, thereby only providing reductive context. Ongoing float ownership disputes overtake the monthly meeting and turn them into conflict workshops. In this way, oversight consultants merely function as  float ninjas, doing the work of attorneys. Such efforts can quickly undermine an initiative by second guessing when lay experts try to second guess the contractor’s means and methods.

When a delay turns into litigation, the forensic and analysis work of the contractor and his oversight nemesis comes under the exacting scrutiny exigent to demonstrating fact. The shortcomings of guess work and unvalidated data then become painfully apparent when reports don’t make the mark, and must be set aside as unreliable evidence. The bar is considerably higher in litigation, higher than most theoreticians can even imagine.

‘Instead of playing team ball, oversight consultants thrive on undermining and second guessing  contractors’ means and methods.

For that reason, I only use the Deltek Acumen Fuse platform to validate my schedules. Over the years, I have been a bit surprised to learn that most oversight “experts” not only don’t use Deltek Acumen Fuse – they haven’t even heard of the company, despite it being the largest industrial enterprise platform in the world, and a requirement of DCMA for all time-impact-analysis. In the small scheme of things, oversight consultants can skate around this shortcoming, however, their arguments will evaporate in any litigation that relies on case law.