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Planning is a part of life. We all make plans every day — for holiday celebrations, for dinner and a movie with friends, for a pick-up basketball game, for job advancement, for vacations and even for the rest of our lives.

It’s no exaggeration to say that planning is the most important aspect of any major construction project.

With proper planning, dams and bridges, highways, subdivisions, and high-rise buildings get built according to plan and are completed on time and on budget.

Everyone is happy. Right?

But what are the effects of poor planning?

Minus constant attention to details, the appearance of “Problem Causers” during the course of construction can rock your world — and not in a good way. Poor planning leads to conflict and upheaval. Progress is significantly affected, supervisors become frustrated, workers become discouraged, teamwork suffers and morale plummets!

That’s not an overstatement. It’s reality. Chances are you’ve been there a time or two. I know I have.

Poor planning resembles the disaster of a slow-moving flood. The water starts rising, and you might not even notice at first. Small issues arise; but as you try to plug holes and stem the tide, the “water” continues to flow and an isolated trickle becomes a stream that, without serious intervention, can becomes a flood.

A flood of small issues quickly evolves into a major catastrophe, overwhelming and jeopardizing the entire project.

Identifying Poor Planning

During my career, I was privileged to act as a troubleshooter on multiple jobs; I was occasionally assigned to intervene in projects that were in dire straits. The cause was always the same: POOR PLANNING.

The warning signs had existed, in most cases, for some time, but they went unrecognized. As the “flood waters” rose, production schedules suffered, follow-on operations ground to a halt, and even minor operations were adversely affected. Lack of effective planning threatens the success of an entire project.

The good news is that my experiences opened my eyes: There is an effective antidote to the ills caused by poor planning. 

Remember that prevention is the best cure. Address the problem in a logical way. Follow these basic principles to keep every project out of the “flood zone” and running “high and dry”.

Schedule Planning

Critical to the success of any project, large or small, a solid project schedule is necessarily developed at the very beginning of each job or job phase. It starts the whole ball rolling effectively. Lacking a defined schedule, no project can move forward because there is no foundation on which to build.

But a project schedule chart or phased spreadsheet should never be written in stone. Instead, it is a kind of “living” document, subject to revision and modification as necessary.

Without a critical path for allocating resources, ordering materials and managing people, a project may be doomed from the outset. Proper planning addresses the overall timetable, details short-term goals,
typically 90-120 days in duration, and establishes realistic benchmarks. As the project progresses, it’s important to review and adjust as needed, and to identify the reasons for any delays.

As a project leader, it’s imperative to keep an eye on the schedule. You must be aware of what each crew is doing on a daily and weekly basis, what equipment is needed, and the best ways to utilize resources.

Focus on multi-discipline interaction and teamwork, and strive to recognize areas of strength and weakness.

Constant attention to the schedule is needed, with daily and weekly planning being the glue that holds it all together.

Operational Planning

Focus, first and foremost, on:

  • Intense Weekly Planning — Look at every detail of every operation for the entire week. Have a solid, well-thought-out plan for every single day and each individual operation;
  • Daily and Weekly Coordination Planning — Assure that multiple disciplines and trades on the project are in sync, working together for a single successful outcome. Stress teamwork and set up each discipline or operation to succeed. Demonstrate the truth of the dictum that “the good of the many outweighs the good of the few.” Preach it and believe it!
  • Plan Field Operations to the Smallest Detail — Try to leave no stone unturned. Play out “What if” scenarios and develop contingency plans for anything you identify that might go wrong. Act to prevent those occurrences rather than relying on your ability to react effectively. Dig into the details to ensure that all aspects of the plan have been reviewed and agreed upon prior to implementation.
  • Always Brainstorm with Key Team Members — Never underestimate the power of considering diverse viewpoints and out-of-the box ideas. You gain a unique opportunity to assess the strengths and commitment of key personnel. This is your first opportunity to get it right. 
  • Hold Daily Planning Meetings — Gather the right people to make the meetings truly effective. Identify your key people, and also be pro-active enough to identify possible replacements should the need arise. Promote and expect total “buy-in” to the detailed plan.
  • Schedule Start-of-Shift or Early Morning Meetings — It’s important to review and reinforce the plan on a regular basis; daily is not too often! Always assure that every discipline is on the same page. Review any changes, and assess the previous day’s accomplishments. If any alterations to plans or schedule are necessary, communicate them clearly and effectively.
  • Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate Some More — Don’t leave anyone out of the “planning circle.” There’s a very good reason for a football team huddle prior to every play: It’s important for every individual to know how they fit into the big picture, and that each part of the play is vital. If you need a good project slogan, use “Over-communicate!”
  • Check Your “Hit Rate” Regularly — At least weekly, take stock of how your planning paid off. But be honest. If you detect some shortcomings and “holes,” take steps to fix and plug them now. Never excuse a planning failure. Learn from it instead!

Identify Those Problem Causers!

Once you understand the scope of work on a specific project, and have a realistic timetable, the task that remains is to match available equipment and personnel in a way that makes it possible to get the job done right!

That may sound simplistic, but it can be simple if you have worked to build your team in advance and learned how to apply effective planning principles.

Make adjustments as needed, as often as necessary. Be prepared in advance for changing conditions.

Have a Plan B or C or D in place for every contingency you have identified. Support and listen to your team. Keep those Problem Causers off your project. Do not accept mediocrity. Half-assed planning will bring you nothing but grief.

The time you take and the effort you put forth will determine the eventual outcome. Your best and absolute ultimate protection is derived from daily and weekly planning habits. But, like any habit, planning requires ongoing attention.

Army General George S. Patton, said it best: 

“Nobody ever defended against anything successfully; There is only attack, attack and attack some more”

That is the attitude that pays dividends in terms of planning and project success. “Attack” planning at every opportunity, with every possible method, and from every angle. Train your field managers and field supervisors to do the same, with intense focus on daily and weekly planning. 

I assure you that the end result will be remarkable!