November 2004
  
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Job planning and Specific planning steps

  Al De Wachter
ICS Inc

 Better understanding and management of job costs.

This is part 4 of a series of commentaries that are intended to stir up ideas for the high-tech contractor. They consist of excerpts from “PLUG” or the “Plan Users Guide”, a practical catalyst intended to promote positive change in the automation contractor ‘s world. The complete series will be made available upon request after all modules have been published in AutomatedBuildings.com.

PLANNING – ASPECTS AND BENEFITS

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Unless he plans a project in advance, a Project Manager has not quite earned his job title. A project manager must influence to make an impact. Otherwise he's just 'letting it happen', even if he takes corrective action AFTER the fact. The influence may be subtle, or at times brutal or painful, as demanded by the circumstances.

Without planning, he will be fighting fires. And while planning takes time up front, good advance planning extinguishes most of these fires in the smoldering stages, and provides more productive time to the manager and all other personnel.

One major excuse why planning does not take place, is that people are putting out fires on the last job(s) they did not manage properly. The trick is to get out of the vicious circle. If they weren’t putting out those fires, they would have more time to plan and prevent other fires. You get the idea: catch-22.

Consider that good PRe-Execution Planning (PREP) is a virtual guarantee for increased profitability.

What constitutes good PREP? Figure out the 5 W’s – who, what, when, where, why. And finally, HOW.

The problem with PREP at some companies is that it’s delegated without support. Project Managers are told to, and expected to, plan a project. However there is no upper management support. Time is not set aside, and the culture is not ingrained. For PREP to be successful, it must be supported from the top down, and to be made part of the company culture and belief system.

An example sometimes cited to illustrate the potential for operational improvement is the dramatic change that has taken place in job site safety. Since foremen have been given the power to fire workers or even to stop work for unsafe work practices, job site safety has skyrocketed. Whereas serious and fatal “accidents” used to be considered the price to be paid for construction work, today the expectation is zero-tolerance on safety. A similar approach to planning is required to drive the attitude shift.

Good PREP may cost more on the first few jobs, but overall, there are few things that a project manager can do that will produce a better return on investment. Without PREP, expect two portions to the job: the FIRST 90% when great progress is supposedly made, and the NEXT 90% of the job, when all the loose ends are tied up and corrections made.

Should small and medium jobs also be planned?
Some companies have adopted a formal planning process on the monster jobs, but the smaller ones are essentially left to chance because they’re “easy”. Unfortunate choice, because that’s where a major opportunity for higher profit lies.

With good PREP, additional benefits are:

“Planning is optional only if Profits are optional”

MAJOR PLANNING STEPS

Control Solutions, Inc The major steps required to create and execute a workable plan, are as follows:

  1. THE MOST CRITICAL FIRST STEP: right after contract award, bring the project manager, foremen (if applicable), designer, and sales person together for a detailed de-briefing while the details are still fresh in the sales person’s mind. The purpose is to get 100% focused on the project, and uncover any major obstacles before the energy is spent in the wrong direction. The ESTIMATOR should set the tone at this meeting. This gets the project started at a ‘hit the ground running’ level, with everybody on the same wavelength.

  2. Establish general workflow, and payment terms and/or payment schedule to support cash flow needs. Produce a schedule of values to get billing claims pre-approved as early as possible.

  3. Establish the material / equipment needed for the Contract. This takes into account the plans, specs, P.O., and your experience. Schedule orders and deliveries to minimize cash flow drains.

  4. Establish Subcontract scope/cost. (if any). Get more than one quote. Prepare clear subcontract bid documentation.

  5. Define AREAS within the building which can be used as the basis for Labor planning / tracking references. These areas will be such that installation personnel can very easily recognize where one area starts and the next ends. Also, all work (systems) within an area will be subject to the same working conditions such as ceiling heights, wall construction, etc..

  6. Calculate / estimate the portion of the estimated installation labor which is represented in each building area. Also, calculate each non-installation labor category's hours and tasks.

  7. Communicate the tasks, areas and associated labor to the performing employees.

  8. Report and track the labor, and compare regularly against the planned labor.

  9. Analyze and take corrective action when labor is projected to exceed plan.

  10. Regularly communicate progress to performing personnel; get feedback from them.

  11. Keep accurate records.

TOOLS AVAILABLE

The 'tools' made available for planning are designed to accommodate the required planning steps with a minimum of effort, and a maximum of useful output. Effective use is made of labor saving computer software packages.

The following 'tools' are expected to be available to allow the Sales and Operations People to produce and use the plan:

**To reduce repetition and promote standardization, each job stage should flow from the previous stage**

The procedures that make up the 'Mechanics' portion of our suggested Job Planning system are designed with an eye on:

PLANNING STEP 1: ESTIMATING

SOCC is the estimating engine within the Concerto package. One of the features of SOCC is its ability to allow the estimator to define building areas. These ESTIMATING areas become the DESIGN and INSTALLATION PLAN areas that the designers will use to arrange the control systems, and that the Project Manager will use to schedule the field labor.

The SOCC system establishes CLEARLY the quantities of devices and their costs. It also establishes the Labor associated with the devices, and with installation materials such as wire, conduit, and pneumatic tubing. SOCC also determines the labor associated with the design and programming of systems and software packages.

The cost associated with subcontracts, as well as expenses and allowances, can be entered or calculated.

Hence, the cost impact of TANGIBLE as well as INTANGIBLE items can be nailed down with SOCC. All of the field labor details are available by AREA breakdown, in the following categories:

The labor which does NOT depend on building areas, is TYPICALLY available by TASK breakdown, in the following categories:

Detail reports are available for Material, Labor, and other job costs.

PLANNING STEP 2: DESIGN

Reliable Controls Guided by the Contract Documents, including the Estimate, the designer uses standards, and his skills and experience to prepare the System Sketches and Schematics. The equipment requirement is determined from the plans and specs, and compared with the SOCC estimate.

TWO basic approaches are possible with the transformation of the SOCC estimate into a COSMOS design format:

  1. If the SOCC estimate breakdowns are 'Reasonable', and the BUILDING AREA and SYSTEMS steps taken by the estimator in SOCC are useful to the Project Manager, the 'transformation' of the SOCC ESTIMATE into a COSMOS DESIGN is very easy and time-efficient. The SOCC estimate is 'transferred' in the design area of the program system via a single keystroke, and the basic 'design' as based on the job estimate, is DONE.

    The ESTIMATING AREAS can be accepted as PLAN AREAS, (or minor changes made), and the estimated SYSTEMS are 'cleaned up' to ensure complete equipment lists and costs. For instance, quantities can be adjusted, and full equipment part numbers and drawing tags are completed to match the job requirements as actually designed.

  2. If the Project Manager should decide to completely change the Building AREA breakdown approach, and the job AREA / SYSTEM design fails to resemble the SOCC estimate in any way, then the devices could again be 'manipulated' in the SOCC-originated estimate.

Concerto will produce a material deviation report, which clearly shows any material cost variance between SOCC estimate and design.

The drawings are then completed using CAD / Visio (etc) standards, and the job equipment lists automatically prepared for Project Manager approval directly from SOCC.

When approved, P.O. lists can be printed from Concerto to place the devices and installation material on order. If only DESIGNED material is ordered, via this method, then material costs are clearly under control of the designers and the Project Manager - - NO SURPRISES!

PLANNING STEP 3: Project Planning (“PLUS”)

SOCC has provided the estimate of material, labor, subcontract, and other costs, while COSMOS provided the MATERIAL detail required for the as-designed contract.

PLUS (part of Concerto) allows the designers and the Project Manager to establish the impact of Labor Costs, and other contract costs in addition to material, as expected to be incurred after the Concerto job design. MS Project files can be created from the design in Concerto.

PLUS produces the job Labor detail by Area, which is required to obtain a meaningful standard against which to measure AREA installation progress DURING the installation. The data obtained from PLUS represents the HOURS OF LABOR required to install and commission the DESIGNED systems in the planned job AREAS. This data is available broken down by the field labor CATEGORIES. This makes communication of the tasks and associated performance time expectancy possible without lengthy or time-consuming efforts.

The Planning procedure, starting from the completed Concerto DESIGN, consists of:

PLANNING STEP 4: MIS = Management Information System (Accounting)

CatNet Systems The MIS system is called upon to be the official company accounting 'keeper' of the job costs committed to a project. The MIS often tends to be less timely than the in-office control systems, but it provides the important link with the Company's FINANCIAL measurement system.

If the principles of Concerto programs are followed, the MIS system is capable of providing satisfactory feedback on job costs, in an acceptable timeframe, as follows:

Subcontract costs (if any) are determined when the subcontract is LET. Once again, the MIS costs being a week or month out of 'sync' with actual payments, does not pose a control problem if the payments reflect the known P.O. values which were issued, and the Estimated Final Costs in MIS are up-to-date.

From the above, it follows that the office can be IN FULL CONTROL of its job costs, based on the availability and correct application of the ICS project control programs.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

The Plan Users Guide concepts may be used by Project Managers and other company employees as a guideline for the successful planning, tracking, and completion of Installed contracts.

The Concerto support programs plus MIS go a long way to make the planning process "painless", i.e. less time consuming and more powerful than previously possible.

It should be pointed out that a Job Plan is REQUIRED even if these tools are not used. However it will be much easier to achieve the degree of detail and inter-related 'fit' between the various steps and actions with the tools.

The success of your company is closely tied to the success of its people; and in turn employee’s success is closely related to the company’s success in completing contracts for the estimated costs.

ICS wishes you great success in your contracting ventures.

Remember to visit the ICS website at www.ics-controls.com if you would like to download the complete PLUG manual in PDF format.


About the Author

Al De Wachter has been active in the Building Automation industry for over 35 years.  He has held senior positions with leading companies in the field and is currently the president of Independent Control Specialists Inc.  Al has directed the development of advanced productivity software for Building Automation Contractors since 1990.

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