Planning is possibly the most important part of any construction project – if planning is done badly, the construction will run into multiple problems, causing delays, cost over-runs, poorly performing buildings and unsatisfied clients. However, careful planning should mean a smooth build, on budget, on time, and with high levels of satisfaction for all stakeholders.
Planners must ensure that the project has an appropriate budget, a realistic schedule and a clearly defined strategy to deliver the project in an efficient way, to the highest standards of quality and safety.
A project’s success will depend on a fundamental level on the knowledge and skills of the planners, and how they overcome the challenges they face.
Project planners take the vision as laid out in the architect’s plans and construct the ‘road map’ to delivering the final build to the owner, within its time and budget constraints.
They work closely with decision-makers from the very beginning of a project. They will collaborate with the owners, architects, engineers and main contractors to figure out the optimum way to delivering the project.
Before any ground is broken or concrete poured, the planners will analyse all aspects of the project, from technical data to constraints of the location, and anticipate the requirements and obstacles that are likely to arise during the construction process.
They will use this to estimate costs, work out the sequence of events, assess equipment needs and material needs, build schedules and workflows, engage various subcontractors to carry out the work on-site.
They will assign deadlines to the various milestones within the project, and then share responsibly for these deadlines being met. In partnership with the project manager, the planners are ultimately responsible for managing the project and project teams through the life cycle of the project.
Due to the complexity and responsibility that comes with the role, project planners face many challenges. And the stakes are high – if challenges in the planning stage are not met and overcome, the ramifications will be felt throughout the project, and lead to problems, delays, cost over-runs or even accidents.
One challenge a planner faces is creating a tangible picture of the process towards which to plan, while working with many different types of data coming from various sources, and communicating this vision effectively to the other stakeholders. The complexity of the many factors means bigger projects are huge undertakings with many moving parts and contingencies – ranging from material prices, health and safety regulations, and environmental concerns.
With data flowing in from many stakeholders, planners are vulnerable to human error, both on their own behalf and also on behalf of all other stakeholders – if one person slips up with a calculation or an estimate, the entire plan could be thrown off.
Once the project is underway, the planner must work with other stakeholders to oversee progress and track costs, to ensure that the milestones they have set are met on schedule, and to the appropriate quality. This involves monitoring workflows to ensure they are running smoothly and staying on top of the huge amount of documentation that is created.
It means they must be able to effectively communicate with other stakeholders to ensure smooth progress, while making minor adjustments to plans as the project develops.
By using an integrated digital software solution, project planners have the means to overcome or alleviate all of the common challenges they might face on a job.
When a digital solution is used from the very start, all the data that flows in from the different stakeholders does so within the digital eco-system, reducing the risk of human error and allowing the planners to create a clearer and more accurate picture of how the job will progress.
One central tool in this is building information modelling (BIM) software, which offers great advantages in the planning stage, with the later benefits that work on-site will be done more efficiently. It takes all of the information that flows in and uses it to create a 3D virtual model of the finished project, making it much more tangible to work with, for planners and other stakeholders alike.
BIM allows different sections of the job to be isolated and planned in granular detail – for example, it helps to calculate more accurate quantities of building materials to be used. It facilitates milestone planning and efficient sequential planning of the project. It also means measures such as just-in-time delivery of materials can be employed, or perhaps offsite pre-fabrication.
BIM means planners face fewer problems because it offers ‘clash detection’ – this means it highlights possible pain points in the design or functionality of the virtual construction, allowing solutions to be found before the problems have a chance to materialise in bricks and mortar.
A digital software solution also helps planners in their oversight of the job once work on-site has begun. The accumulation of data through inspections gives them greater control over workflows and makes tracking costs easier, as they have full transparency over progress – or lack thereof – in real time.
And it allows them efficiently deal with any minor tweaks to plans as work progresses, and to make sure everyone on the job is working from the most up-to-date versions through easy access to the plans via digital apps.