The Value of a Scheduling Standard of Care

LACK OF ACCURATE PERFORMANCE DATA

Since 2011, individual construction disputes have globally averaged $40 million and 17 months to resolve.1 The resolution of construction disputes is most often constrained by the lack of accurate and detailed project performance data. The schedule is arguably the single most important record of project performance data. Presented with a construction claim, one of the most common first tasks of a claims analyst is to determine the quality of the project schedules. There is a linear relationship between the quality of the schedules and the accuracy of  information determined from their analysis. Determining the quality will inform the type of analysis that should be performed and how accurately the results will represent project events.

THE NEED FOR STANDARDS

When evaluating the quality of anything, one must have a standard by which to perform the evaluation. Typically, the first place to look is the contract. Many contracts including standard forms like AIA A102 “Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and Contractor,” and C191 “Multi-Party Agreement,” include a clause requiring the contractor to exercise a standard of care in the performance of its work. Scheduling is typically included as part of the contractor’s responsibilities under the general conditions section of the contract but specific quality standards and metrics may not be provided. Absent quality requirements and metrics in the contract, to what might a claims analyst turn in evaluating the quality of a construction schedule?

One answer might be a scheduling standard of care. A standard of care establishes a baseline performance that a professional must meet.

Standard of care is generally defined by common law as the ordinary and reasonable care usually exercised by one in that profession, on the same type of project, at the same time, and in the same place, under similar circumstances and conditions.

Some may argue that schedulers are not professionals but technicians and therefore not held to a design standard of care. This may be true historically but professional level certifications such PSP (Planning & Scheduling Professional) have been introduced by groups like AACEi (American Association of Cost Engineers, International), and scheduling is becoming more professionalized at an accelerating pace. Modern scheduling software has enabled schedules to become orders of magnitude more complex than a generation ago. Today’s schedulers must be fluent in complex software suites like Primavera, and may have to maintain schedules of tens of thousands of activities and relationships. The question of scheduling professionalism is beyond the scope of this essay; but, if current trends such as 5D BIM continue to revolutionize construction management, scheduling will continue to become more complex and to be pulled ever further towards professionalism.

THE BENEFIT OF STANDARDS

The idea of a standard of care exercised by scheduling professionals presents many benefits. It can serve as an objective standard against which to measure performance, shielding the competent scheduler. Additionally, a standard of care in scheduling would serve to publicly communicate scheduling expectations to all parties, thereby reducing some of the risk associated with uncertainty.

Note that the general definition of standard of care does not preclude mistakes in performance, much less delivery of a perfect product. The standard of care for design professionals is not the creation of a perfect plan or even the delivery of a reasonable result, but a comparison of the skill and care applied by the professional to the skill and care ordinarily applied by a similarly situated professional.

Importantly, regardless of their not being codified into a formal standard of care, scheduling best practices do already exist. Identifying and compiling these best practices can be a good place to start when considering a standard of care for scheduling. One place to find these best practices is among the published guidelines of the “major” industry groups. The Project Management institute’s Best Practices Guidelines presents detailed step-by-step recommendations for schedule creation, and describes itself as being a “reflection of the concept that some sort of order was needed to come to the construction industry in terms of scheduling best practices and guidelines, based on an awareness of a need for improvement and standardization of the scheduling process.” The Defense Contract Management Agency’s 14-point assessment states that it, “provide(s) the analyst with a framework for asking educated questions and performing follow-up research” related to the project schedule. The Government Accountability Office presents, “10 best practices associated with developing and maintaining a reliable, high-quality schedule.”

There is significant overlap between the recommendations of these three standards, as well as among many other industry standards; however, while these standards have significant overlap, they are not identical and the decision on which to use remains largely personal preference.

This raises the possibility for the claims analyst to “cherry pick” standards that suit the needs of her client, thus undermining the objectivity of her analysis. A standard of care is an objective, industry-wide measure of performance.

Every project is different, and the schedule should reflect that. Typical practices like eliminating open ends and minimizing constraints are applicable in most situations, but not all. Certain best practices (for example, bifurcated schedule updates, in which multiple versions of monthly schedule updates are submitted in order to track the effect of schedule changes separately from the effect of progress updates) can drastically increase workload (more schedules created means more schedules to be reviewed) without a necessary direct improvement in project performance. Construction projects have numerous variables that affect the sophistication required for a schedule to track progress accurately. Sophisticated schedules required by large and complex projects would likely be a waste of resources in smaller or simpler projects.

Additionally, large and complex projects typically have greater resources to accommodate greater schedule sophistication. The definition of standard of care provided above accounts for project individuality by specifying that the comparison shall be to a project of similar type, time, place, circumstance, and conditions.

The inconsistent quality of project schedules represents a failure of the industry to leverage the potential power of new technologies to reduce claims costs and increase certainty.”
Bryan Van Lenten, Managing Consultant, HKA
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