9. Construction Planning
9.1 Basic Concepts in the Development of Construction Plans
Construction planning is a fundamental and challenging activity in the management and execution of construction projects. It involves the choice of technology, the definition of work tasks, the estimation of the required resources and durations for individual tasks, and the identification of any interactions among the different work tasks. A good construction plan is the basis for developing the budget and the schedule for work. Developing the construction plan is a critical task in the management of construction, even if the plan is not written or otherwise formally recorded. In addition to these technical aspects of construction planning, it may also be necessary to make organizational decisions about the relationships between project participants and even which organizations to include in a project. For example, the extent to which sub-contractors will be used on a project is often determined during construction planning.
Forming a construction plan is a highly challenging task. As Sherlock Holmes noted:
Most people, if you describe a train of events to them, will tell you what the result would be. They can put those events together in their minds, and argue from them that something will come to pass. There are few people, however, who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve from their own inner consciousness what the steps were which led up to that result. This power is what I mean when I talk of reasoning backward.
Like a detective, a planner begins with a result (i.e. a facility design) and must synthesize the steps required to yield this result. Essential aspects of construction planning include the generation of required activities, analysis of the implications of these activities, and choice among the various alternative means of performing activities. In contrast to a detective discovering a single train of events, however, construction planners also face the normative problem of choosing the best among numerous alternative plans. Moreover, a detective is faced with an observable result, whereas a planner must imagine the final facility as described in the plans and specifications.
In developing a construction plan, it is common to adopt a primary emphasis on either cost control or on schedule control as illustrated in Fig. 9-1. Some projects are primarily divided into expense categories with associated costs. In these cases, construction planning is cost or expense oriented. Within the categories of expenditure, a distinction is made between costs incurred directly in the performance of an activity and indirectly for the accomplishment of the project. For example, borrowing expenses for project financing and overhead items are commonly treated as indirect costs. For other projects, scheduling of work activities over time is critical and is emphasized in the planning process. In this case, the planner insures that the proper precedences among activities are maintained and that efficient scheduling of the available resources prevails. Traditional scheduling procedures emphasize the maintenance of task precedences (resulting in critical path scheduling procedures) or efficient use of resources over time (resulting in job shop scheduling procedures). Finally, most complex projects require consideration of both cost and scheduling over time, so that planning, monitoring and record keeping must consider both dimensions. In these cases, the integration of schedule and budget information is a major concern.
Figure 9-1 Alternative Emphases in Construction Planning
In this chapter, we shall consider the functional requirements for construction planning such as technology choice, work breakdown, and budgeting. Construction planning is not an activity which is restricted to the period after the award of a contract for construction. It should be an essential activity during the facility design. Also, if problems arise during construction, re-planning is required.
9.2 Choice of Technology and Construction Method
As in the development of appropriate alternatives for facility design, choices of appropriate technology and methods for construction are often ill-structured yet critical ingredients in the success of the project. For example, a decision whether to pump or to transport concrete in buckets will directly affect the cost and duration of tasks involved in building construction. A decision between these two alternatives should consider the relative costs, reliabilities, and availability of equipment for the two transport methods. Unfortunately, the exact implications of different methods depend upon numerous considerations for which information may be sketchy during the planning phase, such as the experience and expertise of workers or the particular underground condition at a site.
In selecting among alternative methods and technologies, it may be necessary to formulate a number of construction plans based on alternative methods or assumptions. Once the full plan is available, then the cost, time and reliability impacts of the alternative approaches can be reviewed. This examination of several alternatives is often made explicit in bidding competitions in which several alternative designs may be proposed or value engineering for alternative construction methods may be permitted. In this case, potential constructors may wish to prepare plans for each alternative design using the suggested construction method as well as to prepare plans for alternative construction methods which would be proposed as part of the value engineering process.
In forming a construction plan, a useful approach is to simulate the construction process either in the imagination of the planner or with a formal computer based simulation technique. By observing the result, comparisons among different plans or problems with the existing plan can be identified. For example, a decision to use a particular piece of equipment for an operation immediately leads to the question of whether or not there is sufficient access space for the equipment. Three dimensional geometric models in a computer aided design (CAD) system may be helpful in simulating space requirements for operations and for identifying any interferences. Similarly, problems in resource availability identified during the simulation of the construction process might be effectively forestalled by providing additional resources as part of the construction plan.
Example 9-1: A roadway rehabilitation
An example from a roadway rehabilitation project in Pittsburgh, PA can serve to illustrate the importance of good construction planning and the effect of technology choice. In this project, the decks on overpass bridges as well as the pavement on the highway itself were to be replaced. The initial construction plan was to work outward from each end of the overpass bridges while the highway surface was replaced below the bridges. As a result, access of equipment and concrete trucks to the overpass bridges was a considerable problem. However, the highway work could be staged so that each overpass bridge was accessible from below at prescribed times. By pumping concrete up to the overpass bridge deck from the highway below, costs were reduced and the work was accomplished much more quickly.
Example 9-2: Laser Leveling
An example of technology choice is the use of laser leveling equipment to improve the productivity of excavation and grading. In these systems, laser surveying equipment is erected on a site so that the relative height of mobile equipment is known exactly. This height measurement is accomplished by flashing a rotating laser light on a level plane across the construction site and observing exactly where the light shines on receptors on mobile equipment such as graders. Since laser light does not disperse appreciably, the height at which the laser shines anywhere on the construction site gives an accurate indication of the height of a receptor on a piece of mobile equipment. In turn, the receptor height can be used to measure the height of a blade, excavator bucket or other piece of equipment. Combined with electro-hydraulic control systems mounted on mobile equipment such as bulldozers, graders and scrapers, the height of excavation and grading blades can be precisely and automatically controlled in these systems. This automation of blade heights has reduced costs in some cases by over 80% and improved quality in the finished product, as measured by the desired amount of excavation or the extent to which a final grade achieves the desired angle. These systems also permit the use of smaller machines and less skilled operators. However, the use of these semi-automated systems require investments in the laser surveying equipment as well as modification to equipment to permit electronic feedback control units. Still, laser leveling appears to be an excellent technological choice in many instances.
9.3 Defining Work Tasks
At the same time that the choice of technology and general method are considered, a parallel step in the planning process is to define the various work tasks that must be accomplished. These work tasks represent the necessary framework to permit scheduling of construction activities, along with estimating the resources required by the individual work tasks, and any necessary precedences or required sequence among the tasks. The terms work "tasks" or "activities" are often used interchangeably in construction plans to refer to specific, defined items of work. In job shop or manufacturing terminology, a project would be called a "job" and an activity called an "operation", but the sense of the terms is equivalent. The scheduling problem is to determine an appropriate set of activity start time, resource allocations and completion times that will result in completion of the project in a timely and efficient fashion. Construction planning is the necessary fore-runner to scheduling. In this planning, defining work tasks, technology and construction method is typically done either simultaeously or in a series of iterations.
The definition of appropriate work tasks can be a laborious and tedious process, yet it represents the necessary information for application of formal scheduling procedures. Since construction projects can involve thousands of individual work tasks, this definition phase can also be expensive and time consuming. Fortunately, many tasks may be repeated in different parts of the facility or past facility construction plans can be used as general models for new projects. For example, the tasks involved in the construction of a building floor may be repeated with only minor differences for each of the floors in the building. Also, standard definitions and nomenclatures for most tasks exist. As a result, the individual planner defining work tasks does not have to approach each facet of the project entirely from scratch.
While repetition of activities in different locations or reproduction of activities from past projects reduces the work involved, there are very few computer aids for the process of defining activities. Databases and information systems can assist in the storage and recall of the activities associated with past projects as described in Chapter 14. For the scheduling process itself, numerous computer programs are available. But for the important task of defining activities, reliance on the skill, judgment and experience of the construction planner is likely to continue.
More formally, an activity is any subdivision of project tasks. The set of activities defined for a project should be comprehensive or completely exhaustive so that all necessary work tasks are included in one or more activities. Typically, each design element in the planned facility will have one or more associated project activities. Execution of an activity requires time and resources, including manpower and equipment, as described in the next section. The time required to perform an activity is called the duration of the activity. The beginning and the end of activities are signposts or milestones, indicating the progress of the project. Occasionally, it is useful to define activities which have no duration to mark important events. For example, receipt of equipment on the construction site may be defined as an activity since other activities would depend upon the equipment availability and the project manager might appreciate formal notice of the arrival. Similarly, receipt of regulatory approvals would also be specially marked in the project plan.
The extent of work involved in any one activity can vary tremendously in construction project plans. Indeed, it is common to begin with fairly coarse definitions of activities and then to further sub-divide tasks as the plan becomes better defined. As a result, the definition of activities evolves during the preparation of the plan. A result of this process is a natural hierarchy of activities with large, abstract functional activities repeatedly sub-divided into more and more specific sub-tasks. For example, the problem of placing concrete on site would have sub-activities associated with placing forms, installing reinforcing steel, pouring concrete, finishing the concrete, removing forms and others. Even more specifically, sub-tasks such as removal and cleaning of forms after concrete placement can be defined. Even further, the sub-task "clean concrete forms" could be subdivided into the various operations:
This detailed task breakdown of the activity "clean concrete forms" would not generally be done in standard construction planning, but it is essential in the process of programming or designing a robot to undertake this activity since the various specific tasks must be well defined for a robot implementation.
It is generally advantageous to introduce an explicit hierarchy of work activities for the purpose of simplifying the presentation and development of a schedule. For example, the initial plan might define a single activity associated with "site clearance." Later, this single activity might be sub-divided into "re-locating utilities," "removing vegetation," "grading", etc. However, these activities could continue to be identified as sub-activities under the general activity of "site clearance." This hierarchical structure also facilitates the preparation of summary charts and reports in which detailed operations are combined into aggregate or "super"-activities.
More formally, a hierarchical approach to work task definition decomposes the work activity into component parts in the form of a tree. Higher levels in the tree represent decision nodes or summary activities, while branches in the tree lead to smaller components and work activities. A variety of constraints among the various nodes may be defined or imposed, including precedence relationships among different tasks as defined below. Technology choices may be decomposed to decisions made at particular nodes in the tree. For example, choices on plumbing technology might be made without reference to choices for other functional activities.
Of course, numerous different activity hierarchies can be defined for each construction plan. For example, upper level activities might be related to facility components such as foundation elements, and then lower level activity divisions into the required construction operations might be made. Alternatively, upper level divisions might represent general types of activities such as electrical work, while lower work divisions represent the application of these operations to specific facility components. As a third alternative, initial divisions might represent different spatial locations in the planned facility. The choice of a hierarchy depends upon the desired scheme for summarizing work information and on the convenience of the planner. In computerized databases, multiple hierarchies can be stored so that different aggregations or views of the work breakdown structure can be obtained.
The number and detail of the activities in a construction plan is a matter of judgment or convention. Construction plans can easily range between less than a hundred to many thousand defined tasks, depending on the planner's decisions and the scope of the project. If subdivided activities are too refined, the size of the network becomes unwieldy and the cost of planning excessive. Sub-division yields no benefit if reasonably accurate estimates of activity durations and the required resources cannot be made at the detailed work breakdown level. On the other hand, if the specified activities are too coarse, it is impossible to develop realistic schedules and details of resource requirements during the project. More detailed task definitions permit better control and more realistic scheduling. It is useful to define separate work tasks for:
For example, the activity "prepare and check shop drawings" should be divided into a task for preparation and a task for checking since different individuals are involved in the two tasks and there may be a time lag between preparation and checking.
In practice, the proper level of detail will depend upon the size, importance and difficulty of the project as well as the specific scheduling and accounting procedures which are adopted. However, it is generally the case that most schedules are prepared with too little detail than too much. It is important to keep in mind that task definition will serve as the basis for scheduling, for communicating the construction plan and for construction monitoring. Completion of tasks will also often serve as a basis for progress payments from the owner. Thus, more detailed task definitions can be quite useful. But more detailed task breakdowns are only valuable to the extent that the resources required, durations and activity relationships are realistically estimated for each activity. Providing detailed work task breakdowns is not helpful without a commensurate effort to provide realistic resource requirement estimates. As more powerful, computer-based scheduling and monitoring procedures are introduced, the ease of defining and manipulating tasks will increase, and the number of work tasks can reasonably be expected to expand.
Example 9-3: Task Definition for a Road Building Project
As an example of construction planning, suppose that we wish to develop a plan for a road construction project including two culverts. Initially, we divide project activities into three categories as shown in Figure 9-2: structures, roadway, and general. This division is based on the major types of design elements to be constructed. Within the roadway work, a further sub-division is into earthwork and pavement. Within these subdivisions, we identify clearing, excavation, filling and finishing (including seeding and sodding) associated with earthwork, and we define watering, compaction and paving sub-activities associated with pavement. Finally, we note that the roadway segment is fairly long, and so individual activities can be defined for different physical segments along the roadway path. In Figure 9-2, we divide each paving and earthwork activity into activities specific to each of two roadway segments. For the culvert construction, we define the sub-divisions of structural excavation, concreting, and reinforcing. Even more specifically, structural excavation is divided into excavation itself and the required backfill and compaction. Similarly, concreting is divided into placing concrete forms, pouring concrete, stripping forms, and curing the concrete. As a final step in the structural planning, detailed activities are defined for reinforcing each of the two culverts. General work activities are defined for move in, general supervision, and clean up. As a result of this planning, over thirty different detailed activities have been defined.
At the option of the planner, additional activities might also be defined for this project. For example, materials ordering or lane striping might be included as separate activities. It might also be the case that a planner would define a different hierarchy of work breakdowns than that shown in Figure 9-2. For example, placing reinforcing might have been a sub-activity under concreting for culverts. One reason for separating reinforcement placement might be to emphasize the different material and resources required for this activity. Also, the division into separate roadway segments and culverts might have been introduced early in the hierarchy. With all these potential differences, the important aspect is to insure that all necessary activities are included somewhere in the final plan.
Figure 9-2 Illustrative Hierarchical Activity Divisions for a Roadway Project