Introduction: Is it best to report on the progress of engineering work on a project using solely a CPM schedule? I agree that it is possible, but not practical. Creating, in some cases, hundreds or thousands of activities, resource loading them, manually assigning progress steps, and linking the activities with logic connectors would result in a scheduling nightmare. Consider integrating your cost and schedule activities for accurate progress measurement. Here's why...
We’ve all come across the proverb “The Devil is in the Details”. This negatively connotes that mistakes are usually made by not paying attention to the small details in life. Or we can look at the positive version of this and say that paying attention to the small things brings rewards. Regardless of which version you prefer, they both imply that the details are important.
I think of this proverb when people discuss project progressing. People ask, "what is the best approach in coming up with an accurate and objective measure of percent complete for a task, discipline, area, contract or even overall, for a project?" My response is… you need to get into the details.
An example I often come across is, how best to report on the progress of engineering work on a project? This is important from both an EPC’s and Owner/Operator’s perspectives. The EPC needs to know how they’re performing against the project budget and plan. The Owner/Operator needs an accurate assessment of the engineering work done for payment purposes.
Is it enough to manage this using a Critical Path Method (CPM) schedule? Would it suffice for a scheduler to create activities by engineering discipline or in each area of a project, and rely on the engineers to provide a subjective assessment of their status?
I would argue no. To accurately assess engineering discipline progress, you need to first identify each deliverable, i.e. each drawing, specification, 3D model, or task the engineering disciplines are to produce. Each deliverable should include budgeted and estimate to complete hours, which can be summarized to provide engineering discipline totals. For progressing, all drawings and specifications, depending on their classification (plans, sections, isometrics etc.) should be assigned a series of progress milestones, with a weighting applied to each, as well as planned, forecast, and actual dates. These deliverable milestones would be based on analysis of historical projects and industry best practices.
Then, on a periodic basis, have the engineering disciplines update their data, by indicating milestones achieved per deliverable as well as an assessment of estimate to complete hours. This detailed progressing data is subsequently summarized to provide percent complete and earned hour totals at the discipline or engineering package level.
This approach significantly reduces or eliminates the subjective approach of just using a CPM schedule.
Some have argued that this approach is possible by using a CPM schedule. Create activities for each deliverable and assign a series of “steps” to represent the progress milestones. Yes, I would agree, this is possible, but not practical. Creating, in some cases, hundreds or thousands of activities, resource loading them, manually assigning progress steps, and linking the activities with logic connectors would result in a scheduling nightmare. The costs of setting up and maintaining a CPM schedule at a deliverable level would far exceed the benefits derived from such an approach.
A more practical solution is to maintain the deliverables in a separate database. A database where the deliverables can be electronically linked to schedule activities to provide planned dates to packages of drawings (instead of individual drawings). In addition,the database is linked to a cost management system for developing engineering cost budgets and to use the detailed progressing data to calculate the cost of the work done for billing purposes.
Such an approach is available using ARES PRISM cost management software. PRISM provides an Engineering Progress module where detail progressing of deliverables is maintained. It also allows for summarizing engineering progress to an engineering discipline or package level for reporting purposes, and electronically linking scheduling activities from 3rd party scheduling software for planning purposes and calculating engineering schedule variances and indices. Finally, engineering data is linked to cost management data, in the PRISM Cost Management module, in order to calculate the cost of the work done.
As an Owner/Operator, you may be thinking; we don’t do engineering, so how can having this detail data help? I would argue that having this detail data available electronically, and at your fingertips, provides due diligence. An OO can now do a comprehensive appraisal on the status of an EPC’s work, and from there, evaluate the value of the work done.
So, instead of requesting a hard copy or PDF report from an EPC showing the progress of each deliverable, an OO who uses the PRISM Engineering Progress module would be able to electronically import the deliverables data from a spreadsheet. They can then use the software’s earned value features to independently calculate the value of work done, and thereby justify the payment owed.
This is not rocket science. What it is, is a practical, integrated and objective approach to accurately calculating overall engineering progress based on the engineering “details”.
Interested in learning more about Engineering Progress? This on-demand video highlights how you can budget and monitor engineering tasks, deliverables, and packages by work-hours.