Chapter 18. Computer Applications in Scheduling, Resource Levelling, Monitoring, and Reporting – Construction Project Management: Theory and Practice

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Computer Applications in Scheduling, Resource Levelling, Monitoring, and Reporting

Introduction, popular project management software, functions of project management software, illustration of MS project, illustration of Primavera

18.1 INTRODUCTION

Modern construction management has fast evolved into an independent field of study to include a gamut of issues including financing of large infrastructure projects, construction equipment, planning and scheduling, and tender and contract management. The emergence of computers and their widespread use in the construction industry for data storage, retrieval and analysis have on the one hand made the job of the construction manager easier, and on the other hand made it more complex. Off-the-shelf software tailor-made for use in the construction industry is now commercially available. While it is not the intention of this chapter to present an exhaustive list of such software, or the nuances of using them to their full capability, it is essential to highlight some of the features of the more popular software.

The following sections briefly discuss some of the programmes that are readily available to the manager for planning, scheduling, levelling, monitoring and reporting functions. Once the basic data has been entered into the software, it is possible to schedule, reschedule and monitor at frequent intervals without much effort.

Although the advantages of the project management software may not be remarkably visible for a small project, it really pays off when used in management of large projects. In fact, in most of the large projects these days, it is contractually mandatory to use software for project scheduling and monitoring. This is perhaps the area that has caught the imagination of programmers to the largest extent, and a wide range of project management software is available in the market, varying in the degree of sophistication and features, and in the price.

Software is helpful at both planning and execution phases of the project. In the former, software helps to create a well-thought-out plan and, at times, also a more creative solution, based on logical sequencing of events, besides helping a planner to foresee problems. During the execution of a project, software is helpful for promoting effective coordination and better resource allocation.

Some of the advantages associated with project management software are:

  • Speed and accuracy have greatly improved.
  • It is not a very costly proposition and even medium and small companies can afford these software.
  • Most of the software are user-friendly and one can use them quite easily.
  • The software can handle complex problems involving multiple stakeholders as well as a number of constraints.
  • It is easy to modify the inputs, and maintaining the records has also become easier.
  • Decision-making has become easier. It is possible to try different possible alternatives and select the best alternative with the assistance of ‘what if’ analysis in project management software.

Nevertheless, it should be borne in mind that the use of (any) software does not make a project manager more effective—it is only a tool to make the manager more efficient. It is only the time required for carrying out calculations that can be reduced, and the basic models, etc., have still to be developed by a manager. Simply put, project management software does not help define the scope of work, or communicate to the client, or to carry out resource allocation. It only facilitates these processes and eliminates the possibility of computational errors, though judgemental errors can still be made.

The initial few steps are common to both manual planning and software-based planning. For example, in software-based management of projects, we need to think about the objectives of the project, the constraints, and the assumption on which the overall plan is based. There has to be clear and measurable objectives, and the plan should include a list of deliverables and milestones or dates of delivery. Due to the presence of unknown factors in the beginning of a project, the software-based plan also utilizes the planner’s previous knowledge and experience to come up with ‘educated guesses’ for many of the input parameters.

At the initial stage, often there are many unknown factors—for example, the resource requirement of key activities and the overall available resources for different stages of the project. Experienced planners can rely on their previous knowledge and come up with ‘educated guesses’. The accuracy of these assumptions will determine the quality of the plan. Constraints on a project are factors that are likely to limit the project manager’s options. Typically, the three major constraints are schedule, resources and scope. Any change in one of these constraints usually affects the other two, and also affects the quality of the overall plan.

Given the unknown factors and potential changes in constraints, the planner needs to define a scope management plan to deal with the same during execution of a project.

18.2 POPULAR PROJECT MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE

The history of project management software is perhaps as old as the history of the computer. While the early project management software were limited in features, their modern counterparts are very powerful. Artemis, Can Plan, Hard Hat Manager, Microsoft Project, Primavera Project Planner, Primavera Suretrak Project Kick Start and Scitor’s Business Solutions—PC Suite are some of the project management software available in the market, besides Microsoft Excel, which is also used by managers. Based on a survey of the actual user base of software, it was found that MS Project was by far the most popular (about 48 per cent), followed by Primavera Project Planner (about 14 per cent).

18.2.1 Primavera

Primavera Systems, Inc. is the world’s leading provider of project, program and portfolio management software solutions. It provides the software foundation that enables all types of businesses to excel in managing their portfolios, programs, projects and resources. Primavera helps companies make better portfolio investment decisions, improve governance, prioritize their project investments and resources, and deliver tangible results back to the business. Primavera has product solutions specific to certain industries like construction, aerospace, manufacturing and power. For more details on this software, visit http://www.primavera.com

18.2.2 Milestone Professional

It is a fast and easy software to schedule, manage and report projects. It has Gantt chart software for creating presentation-ready project management charts and also works with Microsoft Project. It can function as an add-on tool for Microsoft Project. It can create presentation reports, combine cost and schedule, manage large projects, create reports from Microsoft Office Project, calculate earned value, and distribute schedules via print, email and Internet. The website address is http://www.kidasa.com

18.2.3 ‘Candy’—Construction Project Modelling and Project Control

‘Candy’—Construction Project Modelling and Project Control is a single-package, project control system designed by construction professionals specifically for the construction industry. Estimations, valuations, planning, cash flow and forecasting components can be integrated. The operation in candy is similar to manual methods. One of Candy’s most powerful features is the unique facility to dynamically link money and time, i.e., linking the bill of quantities to the programme of work. More details on this software can be found out by visiting http://www.ccssa.com.

18.2.4 AMS Realtime Projects

This is a powerful, easy-to-use tool that provides integrated project, resource scheduling and cost management. It supports the needs of individual project managers and provides consolidation, aggregation, analysis and management through powerful multi-project facilities. The details of the software are available at http://www.amsrealtime.com/products/projects.htm

18.2.5 Project KickStart

Project KickStart helps save time and money by organizing thoughts quickly with easy user interface. It has straightforward task management and progress tracking, both of which are essential for efficient, successful projects. Its other features include basic budgeting and cost tracking. It also supports Gantt chart to keep the project on time—or better still, ahead of schedule—and helps in keeping the project organized with centralized document repository. The details of the software are available at http://www.projectkickstart.com/

18.2.6 MS Project

MS Project is a popular software offering a number of functions such as scheduling, resource levelling, tracking and reporting, in a user-friendly manner. In appearance, it is almost like a spreadsheet. Preparation of schedule and identification of critical path are easily achievable in MS Project. MS Project distinguishes between work resources and material resources. Tracking is possible by entering the information on percent completion of task. The newer versions are equipped with work breakdown-structure tools, risk analysis tools and multiple project-planning tools. The details of the software are available at http://www.office.microsoft.com/project

18.3 FUNCTIONS OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE

While the features of different software may differ, all project management software make an effort to address the following key areas:

  1. Scheduling function
  2. Resource management including labour, equipment and materials management
  3. Monitoring of a project during execution to assess compliance with schedules and estimates prepared prior to commencement
  4. Generation of appropriate progress reports, which could be different depending upon the target reader (audience)—reports for internal circulation within a contractor’s organization could be quite different from those submitted to the client. Similarly, the issues of interest for a financer could be quite different from those for an end user.

The following paragraphs discuss the above functions in slightly greater detail.

18.3.1 Scheduling Function

This function focuses on creating a project schedule using software with available information on tasks, resources, etc. As has been mentioned elsewhere, once a project concept has been identified, the most important phase of a successfully managed project is a definition or planning phase wherein the project is detailed and planned. During this phase, a plan is created based on the defined requirements of a project.

As mentioned already, the first step in drawing up a plan is to establish the project’s requirements in terms of goals and objectives, and use this information to establish a work breakdown structure (WBS), which has been described elsewhere. In a large or complex project, it may be necessary to develop a high-level work breakdown structure. In order to be able to come up with a schedule output, we need to feed in the WBS, the duration of the activity, their dependence, and an initial commitment of resources to different tasks. This output serves as a draft initial plan, which becomes the basis for further refinement. Once a tentative schedule is available, effort is directed to improve it, and the following could be some of the strategies adopted for the purpose.

  • Applying minimum late start time
  • Applying minimum late finish time
  • Looking for highest resource demand
  • Redistributing to achieve best resource usage
  • Looking for opportunities for parallel activities to provide more float
  • Cascading activities calling for similar skills to improve efficiency and avoid ‘downtime’

18.3.2 Resource Management Function

It is very common to face resource constraints when a project is undertaken. It is never felt that there are enough resources for the project. Under the circumstance, a look at resource scheduling may help.

As was discussed earlier, resource scheduling is a way of determining schedule dates on which activities should be performed to rationalize demand for resources or avoid exceeding given limits or availability. Depending on the arrangement of activities on the project, you may be able to do this without jeopardizing the end date. More often, it means a prolonging of the project.

On the other hand, resource levelling aims to examine resource requirements during specific periods of the project. The primary objective here is to minimize the variations in resource demand to improve efficiency or reflect reality by modifying activities within available float. In other words, modify resource loading for each unit of time—that is, day, week, or month.

By now, it must have been realized that resource scheduling is not that simple. For example, one can only redistribute the same resource but cannot substitute a different resource unless it has the same skill set. The project’s new end date may exceed the mandated end date, requiring more juggling. The resource levelling may change the route of the critical path requiring a recalculation of the schedule network.

As mentioned elsewhere, construction projects involve consumption of different resources and a planner needs to know the timing and quantum of a resource required. Software often address this question on the basis of the information provided for the scheduling function.

It needs to be borne in mind that the scheduling function itself cannot be carried out unless some initial assumptions about the resources required and committed, as well as the productivity are known. To that extent, the resource management function provides a basis for refinement of these initial estimates or assumptions. It may also be borne in mind that this function of software can be easily exploited during the planning phase, even before physical commencement of work at site.

In Chapter 7, we presented two class of scheduling problems—resource levelling and resource allocation. A number of heuristic-type computer programs are available which address the two types of problems. The decision rules employed for such computer programs vary and, accordingly, the final resource-loading chart may also vary. Essentially, these programs tend to smooth out the resource requirement and they also prioritize the activities competing for the same resources on a particular day, based on some ‘decision rules’. Commercial software employs a number of decision rules and sometimes the rules are not even known to the user due to proprietary concerns. Some commonly used decision rules employ early start–total float, late start–total float, etc., for prioritizing activities competing for the same resources.

We had utilized visual inspection and jugglery for resource-levelling problem, while for resource allocation a typical decision rule was used. A number of heuristics exist utilizing a number of ‘decision rules’. Some of these have been patented and are not in public domain. An illustration of resource levelling using software has been given in latter sections.

18.3.3 Tracking or Monitoring Function

Once a project gets underway, it needs to be ensured that relevant information about resources and tasks underway or completed is updated and mid-course corrections appropriately made. In fact, a manager needs to constantly update data such as the likely date of completion or the likely cost at the time of completion, on the basis of the latest available information.

Given the complexity of this function in a large project, there are software with inbuilt modules to address these issues, and provide the manager with appropriate information to be able to compare current progress status with (original or a modified) schedule, sort and arrange data in a useful manner, identify specific portions of a project in terms of problem areas, and monitor resources to make sure they are being used efficiently. The function is also useful in foreseeing any likely conflicts in resource utilization by different agencies (within the organization), and taking measures to resolve them by readjusting the schedule of activities within a certain framework. While the matter of ‘what if’ analysis is dealt with in greater length elsewhere, it may be noted here that this feature in certain software helps a planner to explore different possibilities before making a decision.

18.3.4 Reporting Function

Using good project management software, different kinds of reports can be generated to address specific concerns of managers at site or head office, corporate heads of companies, clients, or bankers. Such reports can be prepared with the intention of review, feedback and updating progress. It may be borne in mind, however, that all these reports are based on the input data provided to the software and follows the simple dictum of ‘garbage-in-garbage-out’. Therefore, utmost care needs to be taken at the time of updating information.

Also, these reports hardly ever add any new information, and are essentially formatted to present one set or the other of raw data, appropriately packaged. Finally, it is up to a project manager to communicate this data (or report) in a manner that the target audience gets the intended message.

The reports could be in graphic or tabular form. Some of the reports generated by various software are given elsewhere in this chapter.

18.3.5 Additional Functions

In addition to the above-mentioned functions, some of the available software incorporates the following as well.

Calendars

Modern projects involve multiple participants from different countries and time zones, abiding by different workweeks and different sets of holidays. Further, some activities may require different workweeks relative to other activities. For example, curing of concrete works may be required to be done on all days up to a particular number of days, while one need not work on all days for other activities. Also, in some projects some specialists may visit the site only for a few days in a month. Under such constraints, the calendar feature of software becomes very handy. One can create multiple calendars not only for different activities but also for different resources.

‘What If’ Analysis

Most of the software can be used for performing ‘what if’ analysis. For example, the user may be interested in knowing the effect of increase in a particular resource on the project schedule and project cost. It may also be desired to know the impact of reduction in duration of project on the project cost. Since software can perform the analysis faster, the user would be better equipped to know the impact of changes made in a particular variable on project schedule and project cost, and thus would be in a better position to take decisions.

Budgeting and Cost Control

It is possible to associate cost information with each activity and each resource in a project in modern project management software. The normal cost and overtime cost pertaining to human and equipment resources are entered, while one-time cost or per-use cost is entered for material resources. The accounting and budgeting codes associated with each of the resources can be set up. The cost data and code entered are used to calculate the budgeted cost of the project. Further, at the time of monitoring when the data on actual cost is provided, the software can calculate the variance in budgeted cost versus the actual cost and forecast the cost at completion.

Sorting and Filtering

Sorting feature allows the user to view information in a desired order, such as the list of activities in the order of their early start date or the total float, and so on. Most programs allow multiple levels of sorting (for example, first filter early start date, second filter total float, and so on). Using the filtering feature, the user selects only certain data that meet certain specified criteria. For example, if the user wants information only on those tasks that use tower crane, it can be done through filtering option.

In addition to the above-mentioned features, some of the project management software can handle multiple projects and, thus, can be quite useful for corporate applications. Compatibility of the software with import and export data from other applications is also an important feature. Some of the software come with Internet capabilities which facilitate easy communication of project data among different users. The software have inbuilt security features and they can provide password access either to the project file or to some specific data which the user does not want to disclose to other users.

While some of the software may have only a few of the above features, some others may have all. The frequent newer releases provided by software developers go on adding new features and improving the existing ones. As mentioned earlier, there are large numbers of vendors selling project management software with different degrees of sophistication. It may become very confusing while taking the software-purchase decision.

While choosing software, the user needs to evaluate the function for which he/she is intending to purchase the software and, accordingly, look for the software that closely meets its requirement. Some other criteria for evaluating software are—its user-friendliness; its integration capability with other applications; the requirement of installation; and vendor support.

In the following sections, we illustrate two of the most popular project management software—MS Project and Primavera Project Planner.

18.4 ILLUSTRATION OF MS PROJECT

We explain certain terminologies specific to this software and then discuss some of the primary features.

18.4.1 Definitions of Some Terminologies

Although technical terms have been defined in individual chapters related to planning and scheduling, inventory control, and accounts, it may be appropriate to focus on the definition of some of them in light of the software that are available for professional construction project management. The following terminologies are frequently used in the context of MS Project application:

Task

A task is a work package with clear deliverables, a well-defined starting date and duration. The duration for any task may be determined by dividing the total work involved by the resources committed to the work. For example, if it is stated that three painters work 8 hours each day for 2 days to complete a task, the total work involved can be stated to be 48 man-hours (3 men 3 2 day 3 8 hours/day); and the resources committed to the task total 24 man-hours per day (3 men 3 8 hours per day); thus, the duration for completing the task would be 2 days. Naturally, if the resources committed to the job (task) were increased (or decreased), the duration would appropriately decrease (or increase). It should be pointed out that this is a rather simplistic, though illustrative, way of defining a task. In practice, different types of tasks may be encountered as suggested below:

Fixed work   A task where the work is fixed and changes in the duration and units do not affect the work to be done

Fixed duration   Total span of active working time (from start to finish of a task) required for completing a task

Fixed units   Task in which the assigned units (or resources) are a fixed value and any changes to the amount of work or the task’s duration do not impact the task’s units.

Task Hierarchy

In any large project, there could be hundreds of tasks associated with the different phases. In MS Project terminology, summary task is equivalent to a phase and the tasks within a phase are called subtasks. The start date of summary task is the start date of the first subtask, while the finish date of summary task is the finish date of its last subtask. The subtasks, in turn, can have their own lower-level subtasks. Thus, the whole project schedule becomes a task hierarchy with several levels.

Milestones

Milestones are intermediate goals that need to be achieved in order to realize the overall objective of a project. They are also review points where project progress can be assessed. In MS Project, a milestone can be set by entering a task with zero duration.

Resources

MS Project distinguishes resources into work resources and material resources.

Work resources refer to people and equipment that directly participate in, and are obviously required for, completion of a task. These resources actually expend time or work on the task, and are always referred to with the context of time. Usually, they are expressed in terms of how much time or maximum units the resource is available for the project. In other words, if a resource is simply dedicated to a project, the value assigned is 100 per cent. Similarly, if a resource is available to a project for one day in a five-day week, the value assigned is 20 per cent. On the other hand, if five electricians as a consolidated group work only on a certain project, a value of 500 per cent is assigned for the resource.

Material resources do not participate in a task in an active manner but are required for its completion. Supplies, stock and consumable items fall under the larger umbrella of material resources. Some examples of material resources are cement, concrete, timber and steel. It may be noted that the concept of maximum units (discussed in the context of work resources) is not applicable in the case of material resources. Further, unlike calendars for work resources, material resource calendars are not prepared and these resources cannot be ‘levelled’ either. Material resource[s] can be created for the project, or can be shared from other project[s] or from a standard resource pool.

Baseline Plan

A set of original start and finish dates, durations, work, and cost estimates constitute the baseline. Although some adjustment can be done before commencing the actual project execution (for example, during the fine-tuning of the overall plan), the final baseline serves as a benchmark (or reference point) for monitoring and tracking as the work progresses. Any changes are measured with reference to the baseline.

Interim Plan

As the project progresses, data from activities completed, resources used, etc., start becoming available and there is a need to generate ‘interim plans’ to facilitate the task of a project manager. The software has an inbuilt ability to save information related to current start and finish dates of tasks, and generate several interim plans.

18.4.2 Working with MS Project

As explained earlier, MS Project is the most widely used project management software. It is very easy to understand and is user-friendly. It can carry out the major functions required of project management software, namely scheduling, resource levelling, tracking, and generating reports. Further, new features are added every now and then, and the versatility of the software is improving with every new version. Familiarity with any version will make the user understand and adapt to the newer version quite easily. We cover the basic functions of MS Project 2002 in a step-by-step manner.

Providing Input on Project and Task

Input on project   After completing the initial planning (scope, objectives, assumptions and constraints of the project are determined), the planner starts a new file in the MS Project program. At this point of time, the window screen looks like the one shown in Figure 18.1. The default view in MS Project program is the Gantt Chart view, which can be changed to other views such as network diagram view, task usage view, and so on.

The project information such as start date and finish date if applicable, the planning process such as schedule from start date or schedule from finish date, project priority on a scale of 0 to 1000, and some other general information are entered by clicking on ‘project information’. Entering all these information is not compulsory and if nothing is specified, the program considers the default option and proceeds. The information on different tasks of the project is entered next.

Input on working times   Working calendar is defined in which the working days in a week and the working hours are specified. By default, MS Project considers 8 working hours per day, 5 working days in a week, and 20 working days in a month—thus, it considers 40 working hours in a week and 800 working hours in a month. The user can make changes to these values if required. Different resources of the project do not follow the same calendar. For example, some specialist may be required on the project only for a few days in a week or on some particular days in a month. In such cases, separate calendars can be made and attached to the specialist resource. Similarly, separate calendars can be made for different activities. For example, for the activity ‘curing of concrete’ we can have a calendar that has seven working days in a week.

Input on task list   The task is either individually entered or it can be copied and pasted in MS Project window as shown in Figure 18.1. The tasks are normally entered in the order that they occur. For each of the tasks, the duration and its predecessor(s) is (are) defined. The task duration could be in terms of minutes, hours, days, weeks and months.

Figure 18.1 Screen view after the File—New command is invoked

Tasks should be entered in the order they occur. For each task, enter its task name, duration and the relationship. It is advisable not to enter the start date and finish date of tasks manually, and to let the program calculate these dates on their own.

Information on milestones, if any, in the project is also entered at this point of time. For creating a milestone, the user just needs to assign zero under duration column against the milestone. The milestones are important review points in a project.

Hierarchy among different tasks can be created by invoking the indent and outdent options of MS Project. For example, let us assume that a project consists of the tasks plain cement concrete (PCC) and reinforced cement concrete (RCC). Further, let us assume that RCC has three subtasks—formwork, reinforcement and concreting. Thus, RCC is known as summary task in the MS Project terminology. Clearly, the start date of a summary task is the start date of its first subtask and the finish date of the summary task is the finish date of its last subtask. For making RCC the summary task, the tasks formwork, reinforcement and concreting are selected and indent option is pressed. The final result is as shown in Figure 18.2.

Additional information on any task can be provided by selecting the task, clicking the right button of mouse, and selecting the ‘task information’ option. In addition, the information pertaining to a task can be given by inserting a column and selecting from the default options. If the default option does not have the column that the user desires, the user can create his own column wherein he can enter the information pertaining to that task.

MS Project offers the option of specifying the deadline and constraints associated with a task. Deadline can be directly entered in the form of a date. For example, the completion deadline of activity xyz could be assigned as 09/09/2008, or it can be selected by clicking on a date on the calendar. An indicator is displayed if the deadline for a task is set. Examples of constraints given in MS Project program are—as soon as possible, as late as possible, finish no earlier than, and so on. Constraints and deadlines options are used when the user wants to set a specific start or finish date for a task.

Figure 18.2 Illustration of summary task

The user can also split a task as many times as necessary, if work on the task is interrupted and then resumes later in the schedule.

In addition to the above features, there are many other features associated with task in MS Project program, such as identifying risks to the project, publishing project information on the Web, adding documents to project, and so on.

Schedule tasks   The aim of task scheduling is to establish relationships between tasks and define task dependencies.

After all the tasks are entered along with their respective duration, the information on task dependencies is specified by means of specifying the predecessor and/or the successor of each of the tasks. A task whose start or finish depends on another task is the successor. The task that the successor is dependent on is the predecessor. The information is entered using predecessor and successor columns of the program. The overlap in tasks can be created by specifying lead or lag time between the two tasks. For creating the schedule, the easiest option is to use Gantt Chart Wizard. Using this, MS Project automatically calculates the start and finish dates for each of the tasks, and also identifies the critical tasks and critical path(s) of the project. It is possible to use all the types of relationship (SS, SF, FS and FF with leads and lags) in MS Project program. The default relationship type is FS with zero lead and lag.

Figure 18.3 Schedule for example project drawn using MS Project

The schedule for the example project (discussed in section 7.2-see Figure 7.1) is shown in figure 18.3. It can be clearly seen that duration of project is 16 days, starting on 1st Mar 2010 and ending on 16th Mar 2010. The critical activities identified by the software are A, C, E, and G, which are the same as obtained through manual computations.

If the user is not happy with the schedule generated, he can adjust the schedule by utilizing the constraints option of the software. Further, the user can increase or decrease the resource assigned for the project. All such adjustments can be carried out quickly and desired project schedules can be prepared.

Providing Input on Resources

Resource management function is carried out in MS Project in two steps. In the first step, the user identifies the different work and material resources proposed and committed for the project. In soft ware parlance, this is called ‘creating resource dictionary’. In the resource dictionary (See Figure 18.4), the working times of work resources are also to be specified. It may so happen that different resources have different working times and, hence, different calendars. Further, in order to perform the cost analysis, the user has to specify the rates (options of standard rates, overtime rates, and per-use rates exist) for different work and material resources. The fixed cost associated with work resources can also be entered if it is known. The costs of resources are accrued on ‘prorated’ basis by default in MS Project. The other options available for distribution of cost are ‘at start’ or ‘at end’ of task.

Figure 18.4 Screen view of resource dictionary

In the next step, the resources are assigned to the different tasks of the project (see Figure 18.5). The user can specify one or more resources to a task and also specify whether a work resource works full-time or part-time on a task. MS Project automatically decreases the duration of a task in case more resources are assigned to a task. For example, a task with two days duration and one assigned resource has 16 hours of work. With effort-driven scheduling, if a second resource is assigned to it, the task still has 16 hours of work but its duration is reduced to one day. MS Project has the option to switch off effort-driven scheduling before assigning another resource. The task will then have 32 hours of work and still have duration of two days.

Using the resource usage view, the user can view the assignment of different resources to different tasks.

For example, the user can find out how many hours each resource is scheduled to work on specific tasks. Besides this, one can also see which resource is over-allocated (shown in red colour in Figure 18.6). It may be noticed that Figure 18.6 is the software result of the example problem taken in section 7.2. Compare Figure 18.6 with Figure 7.2 (Resource–loading chart based on early start). Figure 18.6 can be obtained by clicking on ViewResource Graph.

The user can also exercise the option of levelling in MS Project by invoking the command Tools → Level.

The resulting levelled resource profile is shown in Figure 18.7a and 18.7b. Compare Figure 7.4 with Figure 18.7a Resource assignment profile of Men (time constrained leveling) - The results obtained by software and manual computations match. The Figure is obtained by clicking Tools → Level and selecting the leveling order as Standard and choosing the option ‘Level only within available slack’. This is MS Project Output corresponding to the time constrained leveling. In Figure 18.7a, it may be noted that the project duration is still 16 days and the peak resource requirement has come down from 11 to 10 units.

Figure 18.5 Resource assignment view for activity A

Figure 18.6 Resource—loading chart based on early start

Figure 18.7a Resource profile after levelling (time-constrained)

Compare Figure 7.15 with Figure 18.7b - Resource assignment profile of Men (Non time constrained leveling). The Figure is obtained by clicking ToolsLevel and selecting the leveling order as ID and choosing the option ‘Levelling can adjust individual assignments on a task’. This is MS Project Output corresponding to the non-time constrained leveling. In Figure 18.7 b, it may be noted that the project duration is now 17 days and the peak resource requirement is within the maximum available 8 units.

The user can also see the current cost of the project corresponding to the current assignment of resources and revise the allocation if the current cost does not suit the requirement of the user. The cost gets updated each time MS Project recalculates the project.

Providing Input for Tracking

Using MS project, the user can keep project information up-to-date and identify problems early. For this, the user needs to track project information such as time, money and scope.

On the day of monitoring, the user enters information on the actual progress achieved for a particular activity and its actual start date. The process is repeated for all the affected activities as on the date of monitoring. If there is any change in other parameters of the activity—for example, cost, scope and planned dates—they are also updated. Once the information is provided, the user can get the updated project schedule by invoking the command—View → Tracking Gantt. The user gets a report as shown in Figure 18.8. The Figure is the software solution of example problem illustrated in Section 16.2.2 of Chapter 16. It may be noted that the revised project duration is now 22 days, a delay of 6 days from the original project duration. The results match with the manual computations performed earlier in Chapter 16 (Compare Figure 16.4 with Figure 18.8).

Figure 18.7b Resource profile after levelling (non-time constrained)

The tracking Gantt Chart shows the current schedule with the original schedule, along with the progress achieved as on the date of monitoring for each task. The chart helps the user in identifying the trouble spots—for example, it identifies the tasks that varies from the initial plan (baseline plan). The variance can be good as well as bad depending on the nature and severity of variance. A negative variance may caution the user to take urgent measures immediately. The user controls the variations by adjusting task dependencies, reassigning resources, or deleting some tasks to meet deadlines. MS Project uses the actual values entered by the user to reschedule the remaining portions of a project. Thus, it may so happen that the end date gets changed or there is a new set of critical activities on the date of monitoring.

MS Project can also track the cost of the project by individually comparing each task for its budgeted cost and actual cost. For this, the user has to enter the actual cost associated with each task. MS Project then compares the actual cost with the baseline cost and calculates the variance in cost for each task. By doing so, it is possible to identify cost overruns in a task early and adjust either the schedule or the budget accordingly. It is also possible to view the project’s current, baseline, actual and remaining costs to see whether the budget is being adhered to. MS Project uses earned value analyses to compare baseline schedule with the actual schedule for each task in terms of cost. Besides the variance in cost and schedule, MS Project can also predict the cost at completion.

Figure 18.8 Tracking Gantt Chart for the example project

Reports

MS Project offers the option of reports mostly in tabular form and with limited customization.

In order to generate reports, the user clicks on view and then on reports. The user has the option to choose the reports from five categories—(1) overview, (2) current activities, (3) costs, (4) assignments, and (5) work load. The custom icon shown on the screen (see Figure 18.9) is used to customize the look of the report obtained from each of the five categories. The list of reports corresponding to each of these categories of reports can be seen by clicking on the desired report type. The screen appearance shown in Figure 18.9 is obtained by clicking on the overview icon. It can be observed that five different reports are available under this category. Similarly, other types of reports can be obtained by clicking on the relevant icon. The different reports corresponding to each of the five categories of reports are listed in Box 18.1.

Box 18.1

Figure 18.9 Screen view after invoking tools-reports-overview

18.5 ILLUSTRATION OF PRIMAVERA

The terminologies frequently used in the context of Primavera application have been explained here.

18.5.1 Adding a New Project

This is done by invoking the command File → New. At this point, the screen would look like Figure 18.10. The software accepts the project name in four characters only. Providing the number/version, the project title (up to 36 characters), and the company’s name (up to 36 characters) is optional. The planning unit could be hours, days, weeks, or months, and needs to be specified. The default planning unit is ‘day’ in the software, and the default start day of a week is Monday. Also, by default the project start date is taken as the current date on which the schedule is created. Project end date is also optional.

When all the above information has been entered, one simply clicks ‘add’ and the screen shows the activity form. In this form, different activities of the projects are entered. Although there are a number of options for entering the activities in the software, we will discuss the inserting of an activity directly in the activity table. For this, we click 1 in edit bar to add an activity or press 1 on the keyboard. If an activity is highlighted, the new activity is inserted below the highlighted activity. An activity is characterized by activity ID, activity description, activity duration and activity type. The software accepts activity ID up to 10 characters, activity description up to 48 characters, and activity original duration up to 4 characters. Primavera has an option of dealing with nine types of activities—task, start flag, independent, finish flag, meeting, hammock, start milestone, finish milestone, and WBS. If the user has not assigned any type of task out of the nine mentioned, the software treats the activity as ‘Task’ by default.

Figure 18.10 Screen view at the time of adding a new project

18.5.2 Preparing Schedule

For preparing the schedule using this software, the four minimum inputs required to be given are—(1) activity identity, (2) activity description, (3) activity duration, and (4) the relationship among different activities in the form of assigning relationship in the predecessor and successor columns.

Activity identity is an important feature and the software can accept up to 10 characters. Although for some small projects the benefits of activity identity cannot be realized, for larger projects involving a number of activities of different types, the advantages are quite visible. For example, we can create activity identity such as CIVILB1241, representing civil engineering-related activity number 241 of Building 1. Similarly, ELECTB2003 could represent electrical engineering-related activity number 003 of Building 2. Now, when the activities are sorted out based on activity identities, it would be easier to visualize the different activities under different works such as civil, electrical, and so on. The screenshot has been captured in Figure 18.11 showing the activity ID of two activities in project BCDC.

Figure 18.11 Screen view of the activity ID of two activities in project BCDC

The relationship among different activities is assigned by first activating F7 command and then choosing predecessor or successor as the case may be. Primavera P3 supports four types of activity relationships—finish-to-start with lag; start-to-start with lag; finish-to-finish with lag; and start-to-finish with lag.

For illustrating the preparation of schedule using P3, the example project discussed in section 7.2 (see Figure 7.1) is taken. The four inputs mentioned above for each of the 7 activities are entered. In order to perform forward pass and back pass, and thus to view bar chart and network, choose tools and select schedule, or press F9. Choose a data date and press OK. Upon invoking these commands, Primavera generates the schedule report in Primavera Look. If the user finds deviations, it is advisable to quit Primavera Look and make necessary changes in the plan and reschedule the network to generate a fresh report. One such report generated for a project is shown in Figure 18.12a and its corresponding network in bar chart view is given in Figure 18.12b. It can be clearly seen that duration of project is 16 days, starting on 1st Nov 2010 and ending on 16th Nov 2010. The critical activities identified by the software are A, C, E, and G, which are the same as obtained through manual computations.”

A common mistake while preparing schedule using this software is that in addition to providing the first three inputs, the user also inputs the start and finish dates by manually working out these dates. This obviously is not a correct approach since the capacity of the software to calculate these dates on its own is not utilized.

18.5.3 Resource Levelling

Resource levelling is achieved in three steps in the soft ware. As a first step, one creates a resource dictionary by clicking on ‘data’ followed by ‘resources’. Here, one can enter all types of resources—namely human, material and equipment. For each of the resources, one has to enter its (a) eight-digit code, (b) unit of measurement, (c) information on whether the resource is driving or not, and (d) the description of the resource. Further, as can be seen from the lower parts of Figure 18.13, one can record the normal and maximum limits for each of the resources along with their prices. The software has the option to take care of different normal and maximum limits besides price, through different periods of time in a project. The resource dictionary need not be created every time afresh and it can be imported from other files and then modified accordingly.

Figure 18.12a Screen view of schedule report generated by P3

In the next step, the resources are assigned to different activities as the case may be (see Figure 18.14). For this, ‘assign’ followed by ‘resources’ command is invoked, and the required units of different resources are assigned to different activities. The screen shot of resource profile (resource assignment on a periodic basis in a graphic form) after the assignment of resources to different activities are shown in Figures 18.15a and 18.15b. The resource profile can be viewed after rescheduling the project by invoking Tools → Schedule. The attentive readers might have noticed that the two Figures 18.15a and 18.15b are the resource profile based on early start and late start respectively (before leveling) for the example taken for illustration in section 7.2 of Chapter 7. Figures 7.2 and 7.3 should compare with Figures 18.15a and 18.15b. If the resource profile is not up to the liking of the planner and there are too many peaks and troughs besides the situation of over-allocation (exceeding the maximum limit) of resources, one needs to run the ‘level’ command.

The last step in this exercise is to run the command ‘tools’ followed by ‘level’. The screen view after invoking the Tools → Level command is shown in Figure 18.16. It may be noticed that P3 has a number of options for leveling the resources. The option shown in Figure 18.16 is corresponding to the non-time constrained leveling of resources. The resource profile after leveling is shown in Figures 18.17a and 18.17b for non-time constrained and time-constrained cases respectively. Figures 18.17a should compare with Figure 7.15. In Figure 18.17a, it may be noted that the project duration is now 17 days and the peak resource requirement is within the maximum available 8 units.

Figure 18.12b Schedule for example project drawn using P3

In Figure 18.17b, it may be noted that, on days 8 and 9, the resource requirement is 10 while on days 10 and 11, the resource requirement is 7. This is in contrast with Figure 7.4, wherein the resource requirement for days 8 and 9 were 7 while on days 10 and 11, the resource requirement was 10. In Figure 18.17&b. Thus there is slight variation in the resource profile (Figures 18.17b and 7.4) in the case of time-constrained leveling. This is because of different algorithm used for leveling. However, in both the figures, it may be noted that the project duration is still 16 days and the peak resource requirement has come down from 11 to 10 units.

Resource levelling uses the resource limits and then applies the resource for the most efficient use.

Resource levelling in Primavera allows levelling of up to 500 resources at one time, within the maximum and normal limits defined in the resource dictionary. For levelling, it delays the activities to ensure that the maximum limit is not exceeded. It tries to schedule activities within the available float of an activity and allows activities to be prioritized. It can perform either forward or backward levelling. The details on this can be found by referring to the ‘help’ command available with the soft ware.

18.5.4 Tracking the Project

As a first step in project tracking, a target project from the project under consideration is created. For creating a target project, choose Tools → Project Utilities and select target project. The target project created is given a four-character name such as TRG1, and other relevant details are filled up. The logic of creating a target project is to make an exact replica of the project under consideration, and allowing changes in the target project only so that the original project is not disturbed.

Figure 18.13 Creating resource dictionary in P3

Figure 18.14 Resource assignment to activity

Figure 18.15a Resource profile based on early start (before levelling)

Figure 18.15b Resource profile based on late start (before levelling)

Figure 18.16 Screen view after invoking Tools → Level (note the options selected above)

Figure 18.17a Resource profile after non-time constrained levelling

Figure 18.17b Resource profile after levelling (time-constrained)

After creating the target project file, it is opened. The activities are updated with the information available as on the day of tracking. For any activity, there could be three cases on the day of tracking. It may have been started or it may not have been started, or it may have been completed. For the first case, the planner needs to specify the actual start date and the percentage completion as on the day of tracking, while for the second case one need not do anything. One can also specify the remaining duration for an activity. For the third case, the actual finish date is to be specified. This exercise is carried out for all the activities that have witnessed changes during the day of planning and the day of tracking, or between two consecutive tracking days. Once this is over, the project is rescheduled on a given data date by invoking the command Tools → Schedule or by pressing the F9 key. The output of tracking of the example problem illustrated in Section 16.2.2 of Chapter 16 is shown in Figure 18.18. It may be noted that the revised project duration is now 22 days, a delay of 6 days from the original project duration. The results match with the manual computations performed earlier in Chapter 16 (Compare Figure 16.4 with Figure 18.8).

18.5.5 Reporting

A large number of reports can be generated in Primavera. The reports could be in tabular as well as graphical forms. Some of the reports that can be generated are given in Table 18.1.

For generating a particular type of report, choose Tools → Tabular Reports or Graphic Reports as per the requirement and select the report type. The steps are shown in Figures 18.19 to 18.21.

Figure 18.18 Screen view after progress update for the example illustrated in Chapter 16

Table 18.1 Some typical tabular and graphical reports generated by P3

Tabular report Graphical report

Schedule report—sorted by total float, early start, activity ID, and so on

Bar charts—construction summary by phase, cost, and so on

Schedule report organized by responsibility, department, late start, and so on

Bar charts by phase, activity logs, and so on Highlighting responsibilities

Schedule report—60 days look ahead

Activity schedule/resource loading

Schedule report—detailed precedence analysis, summary with budgets, comparison to target

Two-month early date window

 

Responsibility summary with costs

Schedule report with resource usage

Target showing current early finish

Schedule report comparison to target

Current vs target comparison

Resource control—detailed by activity, resource, and so on

Logic by phase, pure logic diagram

Earned value report, resource use—monthly/weekly report

Stacked bars for resource and cost

Cost control—summary by activity, detailed by resource, detailed by cost category, detailed by cost account, and so on

Total usage for all resources

 

Cumulative and monthly costs

Cost, price and rates report, earned value reports; tabular cost— monthly project cash flow; current/target early start and variance

Area profile—current vs target

 

Cumulative cash flow

 

Resource profiles

Figure 18.19 Screen view to generate tabular and graphic reports

Figure 18.20 Screen view after invoking the command Tools → Tabular Reports → Schedule

Figure 18.21 Different options of tabular reports under schedule-related report

Thus, in order to get one of the schedule-related tabular reports, we choose Tools → Tabular Reports → Schedule and select an existing template from the list and click ‘modify’, or click ‘add’ to add a template. Select the required report and click ‘run’.

18.5.6 Some Additional Features

Adding Constraint

Suppose there is an activity that can start no earlier than or finish no earlier than a particular date. In such cases, we will not be able to describe the relationship using the four types of relationships (FS, FF, SS, SF) with the provision of lead–lag factor mentioned earlier. Under such situations—and many other situations such as ‘start not later than’ or ‘finish no earlier than’—one can use the ‘constraints’ option given in the software. The assignment of a particular constraint type is achieved by clicking on the constraint option appearing in the lower window and clicking on the required constraints from the default constraints list of the software. The screen shot at the time of invoking the constraints option is shown in Figure 18.22.

Activity Box Templates

Primavera project planner provides default activity box templates that can be used and modified depending on the user’s needs. For making changes in the default activity box templates, in PERT mode, choose Format → Activity box configuration and select Modify Template. The cells of the default activity box can be changed according to the user’s needs, and the content of a cell can also be selected from a host of options available from the pull-down menu. The change in activity box configuration procedure is captured in Figure 18.23.

Figure 18.22 Screen view after invoking the constraints option

Figure 18.23 Modifying activity box template

Figure 18.24 Developing calendar in P3

Developing a Calendar

For creating a calendar, choose Data → Calendar and click on the option → Add. Specify the name of the calendar and assign workdays and holidays applicable for this calendar (see Figure 18.24). Once the calendar is made, assign it to the relevant activities or to a resource or resources that would follow this calendar. If a holiday is repeating every year on the same date, the repeating option is ‘double-clicked’ to mark the holiday every year.

Activity Codes

For a large project, the option of activity codes becomes quite handy. The activity codes are used for classifying an activity based on a set of attributes. The default activity codes are responsibility, area, milestone, item, location, step and WBS.

For using the default activity codes, one needs to enter the values corresponding to each activity code. For example, corresponding to responsibility, one can create values such as KNJ, DKS and PKO, standing for KN Jha, DK Singh and PK Ojha, respectively. Notice that three characters have been used here for coding the name of the person and, accordingly, in the length column one has to specify 3.

This feature is useful for grouping activities into similar categories. For example, at any point of time if a user wants to know the activities in which KNJ, DKS and PKO are involved, he/she needs to go to FORMAT → organize and select ‘responsibility’ from the pull-down menu. For defining activity codes, choose Data → Activity Codes and select an activity code from the already created activity codes. The activity codes shown in Figure 18.25 correspond to the activity code RESP (Responsibility) and its associated values.

One can also create activity codes other than the default codes given in the software. For this, one has to choose Data → Activity Codes and create the new code by clicking on 1 key. The code can take up to four characters and there can be a maximum of 20 codes per project. The desired length (up to a maximum of 10 characters) of the activity code is specified, and the values corresponding to each activity code along with its description and the order in which it has to appear in the lower window are specified.

Figure 18.25 Developing activity codes

REFERENCES

 

1. AMS REALTIME Projects, http://www.amsrealtime.com/products/projects.htm.

2. Chitkara, K.K., 2006, Construction Project Management: Planning, Scheduling and Controlling, 10th reprint, New Delhi: Tata McGraw-Hill.

3. Construction Computer System Planning System, http://www.ccssa.com.

4. Issues and Considerations in Project Management, available at http://www.maxwideman.com/issacons.

5. Lock, D., 2003, Project Management, 8th edition, Gower Publishing Limited.

6. Microsoft Project, 1998, Reference Manual, Project 98 Windows, Microsoft Corporation, One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA.

7. Milestone Professional, http://www.kidasa.com.

8. MS Project, http://www.office.microsoft.com/project.

9. Primavera Reference Manual, Ver. 3.0 for Windows, Primavera, Two Bala Plaza, Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004.

10. Primavera, http://www.primavera.com.

11. Project KickStart, http://www.projectkickstart.com.

REVIEW QUESTIONS
  1. State whether True or False:
    1. Project management software may give wrong results because of the speed with which it performs the forward and backward pass calculations.
    2. Resource levelling function can easily be done using project management software.
    3. More customized reports are possible in MS Project when compared to Primavera.
    4. Software may not be much useful during planning phase of projects.
    5. Project monitoring is not possible using MS Project.
    6. ‘What if’ analysis cannot be performed using Primavera.
    7. MS Project does not have budgeting and cost control functions of project management.
    8. MS Project uses ‘baseline plan’ terminology.
    9. Primavera does not provide facility for PDM network but MS Project does.
    10. Primavera has more features compared to MS Project.
    11. MS Project is more user-friendly compared to Primavera.
  2. Activity network exercise: In a project there are nine activities (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and I). In the accompanying table, the duration to complete these activities, their dependence (predecessor), and the relationship among the activities are given. Also given is the total float of some activities.
    1. Sketch the activity network and calculate ES and EF for every activity.
    2. Identify the critical path.
    3. Calculate the LS and LF for every activity.
    4. Complete TF and FF for every activity.
    5. How did you find the duration of activity I?
    6. Can you shorten the project by shortening activity D? Explain.
    7. What will be the project duration if activity D takes 18 weeks to complete instead of 14 weeks?
    8. Will the critical path change?
CASE STUDIES

Case 1: Office Construction - Computer Applications in Scheduling, Resource Levelling,

Description

You have to construct a building to set up your office. You own a plot of 100 sq yard (30 ft 3 30 ft) in a prime location. For the time being, you are in a position to construct ground floor alone due to financial constraints. So, you have decided to construct a simple RC structure. It consists of individual footing for 16 columns (columns are spaced every 10 ft in both directions) and a plinth beam at about 1 m from the existing road level. All the columns are going up to roof level and you plan to have an RC roof slab and beam. In-between space is constructed by using locally available bricks. There is earth filling up to plinth level and after proper compaction of filled-up earth, flooring is laid. Other activities include plastering, painting, doors and windows, plumbing and electrical work. It is estimated that the entire building will be completed in about three months. For your ready reference, the estimated duration for individual activities and their dependence as well as resources consumed by them are listed in the following table.

 

Table Activity details

In the above table, USK represents unskilled worker and SK represents skilled worker.

FS represents ‘finish to start’ relationship.

SS represents ‘start to start’ relationship.

FF represents ‘finish to finish’ relationship.

5FS + 10d means the activity in question can start 10 days after activity no. 5 has been finished.

You may assume any other missing data.

Tasks

  1. Draw the network for the above project.

  2. Identify the critical activities.

  3. Draw the resource histogram.

  4. Level the resources when you have no limitation on their availability.

Case 2: Cross-Country Pipeline Project - Computer Application in Network Preparation

Description

In a cross-country pipeline project, a 600 mm diameter line having a thickness of 6 mm is to be laid over a distance of 100 km. Pipes are available in 5 m lengths, and welding is to be carried out at all joints. It has been found that in 50 km of the length referred to as ZONE A, the pipes are laid 2 m below ground level on a 100 mm thick PCC bed. In the remaining portion referred to as ZONE B, the pipeline is supported at 5 m c/c on precast RCC supports, resting on 100 mm PCC levelling course. The project is required to be completed within three months.

In the project, assume the following:

  1. Precast supports are available through a supplier @ Rs. 3,000 per piece (including transportation to place of installation)

  2. Cost of PCC is Rs. 1,500/m3

  3. Cost of pipe is Rs. 60/kg

  4. There is no bottleneck in procurement of materials, but there is a 10-day lead time for material to reach site (after placing the order)

  5. The depth of excavation for buried pipeline length is 2 m (top of PCC) from ground level

  6. Wage of a welder is Rs. 200/day of 8 hours

  7. In case of overtime work, the rate of payment is double (that of normal working hours)

Tasks

  1. List the activities, their estimated quantities, precedence table, manpower schedule, and total estimated cost of the project.

  2. Draw the network for this project.

Following are the possible activities for this project: