Quality Planning Solutions Inc.
New firm schedules complex jobs, like this Virginia medical campus. photos courtesy of Quality Planning Solutions, Inc.
In a market where owners increasingly invest in fast-tracked projects of unprecedented scope and complexity, many contractors’ project-scheduling resources are being pushed to the limit. But for one national firm, today’s tough scheduling demands represent an emerging market to be tapped.
Many factors go into successfully delivering a project, “but at the end of the day it’s the schedule that matters,” says Dave Ambrose, president of Turner Construction Co.’s newly formed subsidiary, Quality Planning Solutions Inc., which claims to be one of the largest project scheduling groups in the nation.
Reston, Va.-based QPS was launched last May as Turner executives eyed the burgeoning market for schedulers that the industry boom has groomed. “We wanted to add a service to distinguish Turner from other contractors,” says Ambrose. “By becoming a separate entity, it allows us to continue scheduling for Turner, but be able to go outside and offer the service to others.”
QPS offers “advanced schedule development, change management expertise, schedule recovery planning and change recovery analysis that is required on many of today’s complex projects,” says William M. Brennan, executive vice president of New York City-based Turner.
Seven months after hitting the market, QPS so far has handled construction project scheduling for about eight outside clients in addition to scheduling about 50 Turner projects, says Ambrose. “We’ve set up critical-path-method schedules, and now we are doing monthly updates throughout each job,” he says.
Dulles, Va.-based contractor M.C. Dean Inc. is using QPS’s services on two projects—a $3.5-million security upgrade at Orlando International Airport and a $13-million security upgrade for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). “We’ve had to bring in schedulers because the projects we do have gotten much bigger than what we were typically used to,” says Greg Kraning, Dean program manager. “Four years ago, we did projects in the half-million-dollar range. Now, we have numerous projects in the $13-million to $15-million range. These kinds of projects require a totally different skill set to schedule and manage.”
Delays on the MARTA project have set the schedule back by about three months, a problem that Kraning says has been tempered by the outside scheduling. “There were many changes on this job,” says Kraning. “There are things we could have done better, but once we started calculating out the delays, it got very confusing and QPS has been providing support.”
Ambrose says the firm has 16 schedulers on staff, who can tap into Turner’s broad experience to reference how to best schedule current projects and react to changes. “We have an archive of past project schedules and we look at general time frames of similar jobs and try to identify any differences,” he says. “It helps owners and contractors bring in a second set of eyes, someone who can say ‘This is what we’ve done in the past.’”
QPS can “work with any type of project but it’s best when we can get in very early,” says Ambrose. “Design-build, fast-track projects or renovations and additions, for example, are very complex and can be very challenging to schedule, and the more complex the job, the more we can be of help.” He adds, “Any project over $10 million is when you start needing a scheduler.”
Owners’ demands helped the firm determine where scheduling services were needed most in the market. When owners are selecting project teams, “they will say they want someone on staff with at least five years of scheduling experience and can work with Primavera scheduling software. Often they have to go outside for that,” says Ambrose.
Headhunters have seen demand for scheduling skills shoot skyward in recent years. “In the last three years, the need for scheduling talent has become an everyday requirement. It’s not a secondary function like it once was,” says Frank Bruckner, executive vice president at Asheville, N.C.-based executive search firm Kimmel & Associates. Bruckner says contractors of all sizes now regularly seek project managers with strong scheduling skills.
The rise in demand is due partly to new scheduling technology available, but also because owners want to build better, faster and cheaper, Bruckner says. “Having scheduling skills on staff is no longer a luxury, it’s an absolute necessity,” he says. Today’s hyperactive market has prompted some firms to create a new staff position called “progress manager,” who rides herd on a project from beginning to end, Bruckner explains.
Jim Hovey knows a lot about what makes a schedule work, or not. As a project controls manager for Pasadena, Calif.-based Parsons Corp., which is managing construction projects at Baltimore /Washington International Airport, it’s Hovey’s job to review construction schedules for the 25 to 30 projects that take place at the massive airport each year. “Scheduling is fairly new,” Hovey says. “It didn’t become a real function until the invention of Primavera a few years ago.” In working with contractors on the airport’s projects, “most don’t have a scheduler, but we recommend they do,” Hovey says.
Quality Planning Solutions Inc.
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Hovey is working with QPS schedulers on two jobs that P. Flanigan & Sons Inc., Baltimore, is performing at BWI—a $28-million concrete apron project and a $13-million runway paving job. “Many times when we recommend a contractor get a scheduler, they end up going to the yellow pages and often we aren’t satisfied with the results,” He says. Reacting to scheduling snags is key. “It’s important to realize that every project has changes, what matters is how they are handled,” he says.
Clients invoice Turner for scheduling services provided by QPS, based on a lump-sum agreement. While costs for services will vary by geographic location, included are an initial setup and monthly updates. “If we hit a scheduling snag, we also will give the client a time-impact analysis,” says Ambrose.
QPS uses multiple software such as Primavera P3.1, Sure Trak and Prolog for scheduling and submittal controls. Critical path schedules are created in P3.1, and Sure Track is used in the field, says Ambrose.
Turner’s venture into project scheduling is a sign of the times, and it may be a glimpse of the future. “There is more and more need to speed up projects,” says Chris Hendrickson, an engineering professor at University of Pittsburgh, who authored the widely used book Project Management for Construction. “As you speed up a schedule, you reduce built-in buffers, that’s why project scheduling will continue to be critical,” he says.