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Critical path


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Tim's Forum Posts: 35

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By Tim in Philomont, VA on 10/7/2002


New forum! Great! Thought I would start things off with this: it seems the best guide to scheduling is to know and understand and follow the "Critical Path" mentioned in various contracting books such as MacGuerty's "The Complete Guide to Contracting Your Own Home" and Warren Jeager's contracting book. These books list what the critical path is, and show that although there may be many tasks that don't necessarily have to follow an exact sequence of tasks/events, there are other tasks that can only take place after certain other tasks have already been completed. An obvious example is that the foundation can't be started until the hole is excavated. An example of a non-critical task could be your drainfield, which can be installed almost anytime (some times are better than others), which allows you to best use your equipment, labor, and the weather to your advantage. It is the scheduling arena that demands the most concentration from me, since this is my weakest point in my contracting experience. The Critical Path gives me a guideline to follow.
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By Jeff in Provo, UT on 10/24/2002


You are precisely right. Get someone in your area that understands the building techniques you will be using and sit down with them for a while. When you are getting a few general contractors to bid your house is a perfect time to have them explain to you in detail how the construction process works for your type of construction. Many generals will take the time to help you understand what will need to be done.
You could also use this as a time to get sub's names from the general. Tell him that you would like to check-out the references of some of the subs that he would be using prior to telling him whether or not you are willing to go with him.
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By George in Merriam, KS on 8/12/2003


I agree it would be good to know the critical path. There are several things to consider though. First of all, you should be aware of all the tasks involved. If you are like most of us, you probably will inevitably leave out a few, but hopefully they will not in the critical path. Second, what happens if a task in the critical path slacks? Will you be able to "crash" the task and add either more money, resources or both? If not, the project deadline will not be met. I am figuring a critical path for my house building project but am going to allow slack time within each of the major areas. For example, after the foundation is poured, you should allow 28 days for curing. I will probably add 3 extra business days before the framers are scheduled. This way if there were any problems, I have already scheduled the time and will hopefully finish on schedule. I know you may think, well that just is pushing the real schedule back bc the whole objective is to finish on time and on budget. The reason I am though is bc if you push one sub back, all the others will be pushed back too and if you lose one to a bigger job bc his schedule was off, you run the risk of having to scramble for another at a greater cost. Plus, I will factor in penalty clauses for being late into the subs contracts. It's only fair that if I give them a date, I hold to that date too!
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By Steve in Lee's Summit, MO on 9/11/2003


I am considering building in the Kansas City Area. Any advice, where did you build and what was your experience with subs and cities. Steve
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By Connie in Syracuse, UT on 11/6/2003


We are a little far down the road ..I didn't ever catch the critical path idea. So we have been going in "order" of what the contractor told us to do. blue stakes stake lot Site prep excavation underground plumb footings foundation window wells gravel (we about forgot this one) outside walls concrete porch concrete steps inside garage trusses roof Now it is time for HVAC and plumbing...they both want in first, so I scheduled them on the same day. That way they can work around each other and not have any redos. Windows come on Friday the 14th, we will install them on the 15th. Doors I am still hunting deals. What is the critical path. Obviously we will have the inside framing done before the hvac and plumb. Is having them on the same day going to be a problem. The plumber didn't care. He said he could do a neater job without hvac already there. It makes sense to us. Any other helps would be great... Connie
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By Connie in Syracuse, UT on 12/18/2003


Well, we still don't know what "the critical path" is...but as for scheduling I hit the learning curve hard. Due to bad weather our back and side patio was not done on Monday. No big deal right? THe brick was delivered all around the house with the mason to start on Tues. So far so good right..here comes the learning hairpin curve. The concrete was poured at 7am on Tues. the sheetrock showed up at 8 (they were to deliver after 1pm. Then the insulation sub came late to finish up. Of course the brick mason was Johnny on the spot and had all of the entrances tented off and brick everywhere. So with a cement truck, insulation truck, concrete trailer, 2 sheetrock delivery trucks and worker vehicles we had a little traffic clog going. Not to mention no openings for anyone to get into. We worked it out. BUt next time...ok I am not ready to say that yet.. but in the future I will give more wiggle room in the schedule and let the brick mason have a good start so we aren't tripping over brick trying to find a way in. Now we are waiting for the garage doors so we can mud the garage. We are still ahead of schedule, the budget is stretching a bit , but mainly because we decided to finish the basement and get the mess out of the way. So if anyone knows what the "critical path" is, I would like to know what it "should" have been. Happy Holidays...Connie PS Has anyone ever ordered carpet over the internet?
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By Marie in Rocklin, CA on 4/4/2004


Could a few of you out there post your samples of your Critical Path? It would be great to see what others are doing and then use them to formulate our own CP that best fits our situation. But a sample would do us wonders! Thanks! Marie http://www.thegormleys.com (Our Owner Builder Journey)
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By Lena on 9/12/2004


Can you post your schedule - its sounds like it would nbe a great assest and learning tool Thanks Lena
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By Chad in Fort Smith, AR on 8/17/2005


Here is an example of a critical path scheduling problem.  Just download the attachment.

To download the Excel Add-in used for this example (for free) go to:

me.utexas.edu

Not sure how the Excel attachment will appear if you do not have the Project Management Add-in already installed...

I hope this helps someone..


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By Chad in Fort Smith, AR on 8/23/2005


Here is a great free resource for project management and solving the critical path.

http://ganttproject.sourceforge.net/download.php

I've played around with it for a few minutes and it seems like a really helpful program.  You do need to have java virtual machine installed on your computer.  There is a link under the FAQ section of the website linked above. 

I downloaded the Zip archive after I couldn't get the Windows installer download to work.  More likely that was an issue with me and my computer rather than their download.


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By Terry in Phoenix / Oracle, AZ on 5/4/2007


I actually got a degree in this stuff and did project management for the Navy (manufacturing metal products and equipment like missile ground support equipment etc) for like 15 years. Gantt charts are not PERT/CPM systems. The two are distinct.

Critical path is used to lay out the whole project and show the order in which everything has to get done. You will find that some things are sequential (you have to do A to do B) while others are parallel (you can do A and do C at the same time as they are not dependent).

Once you have a chart (it looks like a flow chart at this point) you assign the time required to complete each task. There are many methods to do this from the SWAG (scientific wild a$$ed guess) to time studies to using industry standards or using your own knowledge of the process. The times are then added along each route from starting processes to finished product. The shortest time along any one route is the critical path...i.e. the one with no slack.  The other paths have "slack." That is, extra idle time to get them done. 

A Gantt chart is used as a take-off from the CPM (Critical Path Method) chart for scheduling tasks. It can cover the whole project or be a daily task scheduling tool. It can also show you production bottlenecks like where a particular operation (say running lumber through a miter saw) will change the predicted time because of insufficient capacity. This allows you to go back and either change the time or, to add sufficient capacity to eliminate the bottleneck (really you just move it somewhere else most of the time).

These are good planning tools. I would suggest it well worth your time to study them enough to be able to produce basic examples for your project. 

Just a note; I have a bunch of different programs that produce these charts but usually just end up doing them by hand on a long piece of fold up perforated computer paper or even butcher paper rather than spend the time typing everything into a computer. But whatever works for you and you are comfortable with should be what you go with.


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By Arne in Houston, TX on 5/1/2011


There are multiple software applications that can be used for project planning and management.  


The workhorse of the commercial construction industry is Oracle Primavera.  It is a robust application that is used for projects involving thousands of activities.   Not appropriate for small scale projects, but if you want to the most powerful, Primavera is it.  

For smaller projects,

If you're a Windows user, MS Project is an application that works well and is well regarded.

Mac OS X users need not despair,  there are OS X project management software solutions as well:

Merlin is an OS X project management application that you can download for free and play with - you just can't save more than 30 activities. I have used Merlin extensively in my graduate school courses in construction management and it is an extremely capable program and will display the critical path as well as lay out late start and late finish dates for each activity that will not delay the total project completion.   Some of fellow grad students who actively work in project management were impressed at what I could do with the app.  Even the professor liked how during a recent final example how I could quickly create precedence diagrams and perform scheduling calculations - the final was open note, open book, bring whatever tools you want, just couldn't make it a group effort. 

OmniPlan is another OS X application that offers a free trial, but it is time limited. It does not do some of the calculations that Merlin does.   It does let you export projects plans to Omni Graffle and other Omni Group applications.   Available through the Mac App store.  

You can try doing this stuff with MS Excel, but that's a pain unless you are an Excel wizard and want to show off your excel skills.     

If you are going to spend tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars on the project, investing $100-$400 in a project management software application is just common sense.

To support my future project, I just completed a professional certificate in construction management at the University of Houston and have decided to continue on and get a Master of Science degree in construction management which I will complete in Dec, 2012. Whole program is online and is well respected with many students from major project engineering and construction firms enrolled.   I can speak from experience, what I know now after taking 4 classes for the professional certificate has given me a new perspective. 

In my day job, I am in commercial banking and I can tell you the lack of effective project management is a significant contributor of failures in construction projects.

 

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By Roger in Beverly Hills, CA on 5/31/2019


There are several things to consider though. First of all, you should be aware of all the tasks involved. If you are like most of us, you probably will inevitably leave out a few, but hopefully they will not in the critical path.
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