Project management and the planning process


In this article Mr. Devlin, of Brown & Root, Inc., Houston, Texas, expresses his concern over the way he sees many construction projects managed during the planning phase. His criticisms lead him to a plea for better application of the theoretical concepts of project management early in the project. We believe his criticisms will strike a responsive note not only in those of you in the construction field, but to many of our readers who have been involved in the operational aspects of project work.


Most discussions of the role of Project or Construction Management in a building project dwell almost exclusively on the services performed during the construction phase of a project. Emphasis is placed on the importance of construction scheduling, cost control, prepurchasing critical materials, advising on the method of obtaining contractors and awarding contracts, and coordinating and directing construction activities. Writers frequently stress procedures for computerized operations and some dwell at length on such specifics as the proper method of processing shop drawings. It is not the intention here to belittle the importance of any of these activities. If little is written, however, than one assumes that little is being done to manage the planning process involved in the project.

Management personnel are seldom referred to as anything more than consultants during the planning and design phases of the project, in which capacity they are expected merely to clarify the time and cost consequences of certain decisions and design options as they occur. There appear to be two reasons that the design process apparently does not receive the concentrated management attention it deserves and requires, especially in the conceptual design – investigative planning stages:

  1. Too often only top-level management exists on a project at this stage. These people have limited amounts of time to devote to any specific project. In addition, because of their background, they are usually not able to enter into discussions and decision making on an equal basis with the professional design team. Hence options, priorities, values and decisions are taken and/or made which affect the entire life of the project without a real, in-depth, understanding and participation by management personnel.
  2. The amount of money paid as a fee for planning is often considered to be risk money. Since it usually represents the smallest area of total cost on a project, owners are all too willing to slough off this phase of the work without providing proper or even adequate supervision. Yet this is the very moment when every step, every decision should be considered and monitored with infinite care.

If project management is truly to perform as a single source of overall integrative responsibility for the total project from inception to completion, it follows that management personnel must provide close integrated planning and predictive control of all functional areas throughout the life cycle of the project, including particularly the planning and design phases. Design is, after all, the principal controller of costs. Decisions made during the design phase have the greatest impact on the total cost of a building.

It is an accepted function of management, for example, to properly schedule the delivery and erection of structural steel on a multi-story building. But if somewhere in the design process the floor-to-floor height became excessive, the added cost of the steel, the exterior walls, the partitions, the air conditioning, the electrical service and the elevatoring can far outweigh the savings incurred by the timely delivery of the steel. Further, the long term implications of maintenance and operation lend additional credence to the need for careful and well-directed supervision of every design decision. As another example, consider certain items of power equipment specified for a building and installed at cost of, say, $5,000.00 per unit. The contractor, during the construction phase, can influence the cost of the installation only a few percent. The maintenance and operations personnel, during the life of the equipment, can influence the cost of the installation only slightly. The decision to install a specific type of equipment, once made, essentially establishes the total cost of the installation for the operational life of the equipment.

The January 1971 publication of the G.S.A. Public Buildings Service document, “Performance Specifications for Office Buildings,” reported that the initial cost of a building represents only 14.1 percent of the total cost over a ten year period, and shrinks down to only two percent of the life cost over a forty (40) year period. All of the remaining costs involve maintenance and operation of the building during its life span. Decisions made during the planning process concern not only the finished surfaces, but all those building systems which continue to function for many years. These decisions require all of the wisdom and skill that knowledgable and involved managers can contribute to them.

A great deal of time and money consuming consultation and decision-making has to take place before the planning team can prepare conceptual schemes and then follow through with the completed design. If not carefully managed, this stage of a project can experience not only time and cost overruns, but it can also produce items of design whose benefits can neither justify the cost nor be achieved realistically within the constraints of the program.

These considerations demonstrate that in building construction, managers must rivet their concentrated attention on the planning process. They must function as true decision makers, coordinators, and integrators, not just as the monitors and integrators they have all too frequently been in the past. In other words, they must plan the planning.

In order to achieve the results desired by proper planning, management must break the project into its events and activities, plan and schedule them within the total cost limits, and monitor the quality and effectiveness of the activities. All this must be accomplished within a systematic and disciplined procedure. For instance, as soon as it is determined that a building project will be pursued, a detailed program and interrelated schedule for the project development should be established. In early discussions various milestones should be determined based upon the combined experience of the team members, to give an overall time frame within which all activities must be accomplished. It then becomes necessary to prepare a comprehensive structure of relationships within this time frame. A schedule developed along lines similar to the Critical Path Method would be an appropriate vehicle for implementing this approach.

The designer’s freedom of expression and freedom of choice need not be unduly hampered by this procedure. As a matter of fact, the program and schedule for the project, prepared by management with the help of the planning professionals, should be realistic yet in such a form that it minimizes iterative procedures on the part of the design team and directs the teams’ efforts into the most productive and fruitful channels.

It often becomes necessary to modify a concept or design an item so that it can be achieved within the imposed project constraints. It is management who must evaluate the designs, determine the achievability of the concept, and decide when an acceptable solution has been achieved. As managers assume a more active role in the planning phase of building projects, the time for them to arrive at decisions must be factored into the planning effort. It is expected, of course, that they will provide their responses and decisions to the planning team on the same timely basis as that with which the team generates its information.

Most architects, (I am tempted to say all architects) do not have the necessary specialized ability to establish the type of team needed to manage modern building projects. Even a moderately sophisticated building today requires intimate knowledge of such specifics as environmental control, acoustics, life safety systems, communications, security, building maintenance, and parking systems, in addition to the commonly employed disciplines of structural and mechanical engineering, people movers, curtainwalls, graphics, interiors and landscaping. There is, therefore, a host of specialized building functions for which consulting expertise is required. When one considers the technological explosion which now is upon us it appears that even greater specialization in building planning and design is to be anticipated in the future.

In addition to these specialized disciplines, the skill and knowledge which are the general contractor’s stock-in-trade must be considered essential elements of the planning process from its inception. There is nothing mystic nor unique about his knowledge, but the contractor should be on hand to prepare periodic cost evaluations and estimates related to both the overall budget and to preliminary applications of budget to the various systems. In addition he should provide an early review of the drawings and the design concepts for the purpose of advising on site conditions feasibility and cost implications. He can also provide valuable information about the current condition and availability of materials and labor.

It becomes, then, an imperative of project managers to integrate the right expertise into the project at the right time; this requires a monitoring organization external to the planning process itself, not only to integrate all of the disciplines, but to guide iteration and forward progress as well. Such an effort requires the active participation of knowledgeable managers early in the planning stage of the project: only an involved management can provide the needed coordination and integration of effort.

The traditional Owner-Architect-Contractor relationships will not exist within the framework of the Project Management team approach to building projects. The Architect, whose responsibility in the past has been to coordinate the work of all the planning disciplines, will be freed to pursue those creative efforts for which he has been trained and at which only he can be considered expert. He will not be reduced in stature nor relegated to a lesser role. His contribution to the project will take on more meaning and carry greater weight as a result of his singleness of purpose. In addition, all of the other planning disciplines including the special-function consultants will be able to start and complete their work with the confidence that all of the parameters are clearly established, that schedules are firm and will be met by everyone involved and that their efforts can be concentrated on solving the problem at hand.

The concept of construction expertise as an independent service has become well-established. It remains now for Project Management to exert itself, assume its role as agent for the Owner and provide proper management not only of the scheduling and construction activities, but of the design and cost functions of building projects as well.


by    Keith C. Crandall1, Member, PMI

Several important parts were mistakenly omitted from Mr. Crandall’s article which appeared in the June, 1973 PMQ. We are reprinting the complete article in this issue.



The precedence networking convention using lead and lag notation provides a meaningful tool in the early stages of project planning and estimating. These concepts allow the user to formulate a viable scheduling network in much the same fashion as would be done to develop a standard bar chart.

Although lead/lag concepts have been utilized for some time the resulting network calculations most often ignore interruption to activities that can result when they are used. A formulation accounting for this interruption is presented and its use is demonstrated by example. The formulation is purposely described in a manner for easy conversion to computer usage but it is also usable in manual processes.

Computer generated output is shown in support of the basic conclusion that the more accurate results obtained are also more easily understood and are useful in all aspects of the scheduling process.


The introduction of network scheduling techniques in the late fifties greatly aided the timely completion of complex construction projects. For the scheduling of large projects, these methods have generally replaced the older bar charting (gantt chart) techniques. One area where the bar chart is still extensively utilized is in project planning and estimating. Reasons for this usage of bar charts include the vagueness of detail when projects are in the planning phase and familiarity of bar charting methods by the senior personnel associated with planning and estimating.

The Precedence Networking Convention (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) provides the flexibility to combine the logic processes used in developing bar charts with the more rigid accounting for time associated with networking techniques. The Precedence Networking Convention requires that every precedence constraint between the various activities in a network be shown with a precedence arc or arrow. Figure 1 illustrates this point by comparing the arrow and precedence conventions. In Figure la only one additional arc (arrow) is required to show that activity A precedes activity D; while all constraints in Figure lb are shown by arcs.

Popular Project Management Software Packages and Their Ratings (from Business Software, July 1985)


Since each constraint is defined by an arc additional information can be placed on these arcs that would not be possible under the arrow convention. This information is described in detail once lead and lag are defined but it

1. Acting Associate Professor of Civil Engineering, University of California, Berkeley.



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