Continuing our COVID19 scheduling series: in our previous article, COVID19 | Re-Baselining with Uncertainty, we outlined what to consider when re-baselining the project schedule and a couple techniques for managing the inherent uncertainty of working in the post or ongoing pandemic environment. While our long-term goal is to complete the project as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible, the short-term goal is simply to get our projects going again—safely. In this article, we will introduce some tools for making the most of your Look Ahead Schedule.
The Look Ahead Schedule is one of the most frequently used schedule and communication tools in the construction industry. Requiring less software expertise to create—typically in Excel—the Look Ahead Schedule focuses management and the team’s attention on coordinating activities, manpower assignments, deliveries, and decisions needed for short-term goals.
In an ideal world, we would have the time to pro-actively manage all remaining work. However, in many of our projects, evolving conditions and constraints due to COVID19 may limit us to a reactive or short-term scheduling approach to the work. Look Ahead Schedules can serve as an excellent tool for engaging and aligning site superintendents, crew foremen, safety officers, and the rest of the project management team in the project’s short-term goals. The Look Ahead Schedule also documents work performed, impacted, and completed.
While Look Ahead Schedules might be easy to generate and consume, in practice Look Ahead Schedules can have a number of drawbacks:
- Level of Detail: Look Ahead Schedules have a greater level of detail than the CPM. This detail can be valuable performance data lost when not incorporated into the CPM project schedule.
- Correlation: activities in the CPM and Look Ahead Schedules do not always correlate one-to-one, one-to-many, or at all, leading to duplicative scheduling efforts that may not align or may confuse stakeholders when reporting.
- Comparison: comparing the differences between Look Ahead Schedules from one week to the next, and between the CPM and Look Ahead are very time-consuming tasks.
- Documentation: Extracting project planning and as-built information, project knowledge, and performance data from the Look Ahead Schedules may seem too difficult to be a good investment of time and resources.
In many modern projects, the day-to-day intelligence built into the Look Ahead Schedule and documentation of actual project performance is lost, simply because of the tools used to prepare them. In the highly competitive marketplace, we need to partner tried-and-true construction management practices and everyday desktop software with modern data management tools to help automate analysis, highlight problems in real time, and record project knowledge. Let’s review how ProjectControls.online’s Look Ahead Schedule module allows you to create, compare, and comprehend with just a couple clicks.
Creating Look Aheads from a Schedule (MSP or P6)
In the ideal case that the Baseline, Update, or post-COVID19 Re-Baseline Schedule has been sufficiently planned and built out, we can import the CPM schedule—from Microsoft Project or Primavera P6—and export a Look Ahead Schedule in Excel that is editable and customizable. If you’ve already put the detail in the CPM, don’t waste time copying it into an Excel format and updating both. Use ProjectControls.online (PC.o for short) to create your Look Ahead in one simple step. See Look Ahead Schedule example below:
Importing Look Ahead Schedules
One frequent constraint of harnessing the data in an Excel-generated Look Ahead Schedule is the formatting of the file. ProjectControls.online will guide you through a two to five minute process where you identify and locate key data fields. After doing this process once, any similarly formatted Look Ahead Schedule can be instantly imported, and its data processed using your user-defined template. Whether the tasks in your Look Ahead Schedule are designated by colors or characters, PC.o can identify and extract the data from a quick, memorized import process. The imported version of the Look Ahead Schedule can then be amended with custom fields for notes or additional task data. The Look Ahead Schedule can now be viewed, modified, and shared with all project team members using PC.o’s Gantt viewer, regardless of whether they have Primavera P6, Microsoft Project, or any scheduling software at all. As long as users have Excel they can now view the Look Ahead Schedule and provide input. See Gantt Chart example below:
Folders: A Shareable Space
On most projects, an Excel-based Look Ahead Schedule and file is produced every week and distributed by email and /or paper copy. To update the Look Ahead each week, the scheduling engineer collects information from a group of people. As a result, the number of files and versions can quickly add up. The Look Ahead Folders in PC.o offer an online location for organizing and sharing these files. Moreover, once imported, either individually or in bulk, the Look Aheads can be selected for comparison, analysis, or conversion.
Comparing Look Ahead Schedules
With the files imported into ProjectControls.online and stored in shareable folders, multiple Look Ahead Schedules can be selected for comparison. Typically a tedious job, PC.o can in seconds export to Excel summary and detailed analyses of the differences between two Look Ahead Schedules, including activities added and deleted, and how activities were changed. Automating the time-consuming work accelerates the scheduler’s ability to ask focused questions about weekly schedule changes.
Compare Multiple Look Ahead Schedules to a CPM Schedule
As we mentioned earlier, one of the major drawbacks of the Look Ahead Schedule (when not generated from the CPM) is the time it takes to correlate and compare it to the CPM. Most project teams do not have the time or resources to invest in this important analysis on a weekly basis. ProjectControls.online automates this tedious task for instant metrics on schedule correlation and alignment, allowing the scheduling engineer to focus on issues, highlight questions, and create custom comparison reports. Example analytics that are instantly available include:
- Matching activities within a Look Ahead Schedule’s date range
- Warnings when dates are later than planned
- Highlighting Activities in the CPM that are not in the Look Ahead Schedules’ date range
- Look Ahead Schedule activities without correlating CPM schedule activities
- CPM schedule activities in the date range, but not on the Look Ahead Schedule
Check out how this works by watching this quick tutorial: Look Ahead Schedule to CPM Comparison
Merging and Importing to P6 or MSP
One of the most powerful functions of the PC.o Look Ahead module is the ability to merge imported Look Ahead Schedules, edit within the application, and export to Primavera P6 or Microsoft Project. This may be particularly useful in the following situations:
- If you use the Look Ahead Schedule to capture start and finish dates for the previous week. Collected as-built information can now be merged and uploaded to the CPM.
- If you use the Look Ahead Schedule for short-term planning, these week by week planning and scheduling assumptions can be merged and retained.
- If you use Look Ahead Schedules to manage your project in an evolving or fast-changing environment (such as after COVID19), the as-built and as-planned activities during this window can be integrated with the project CPM, As-Built Schedule, and potential time impact analyses.
If you want to see how easy and powerful it is, check out our YouTube Playlist for step-by-step tutorials on how to make the most of your Look Ahead Schedules with ProjectControls.online. And, as always, don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions. email@example.com.