Introduction: Is it best to report on the progress of engineering work on a project using solely a Critical Path Method (CPM) schedule? It’s certainly possible to do so, but it is just 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. Project organizations should consider integrating their cost and schedule activities for accurate progress measurement.
Details matter, especially in projects and their progress. Many project managers wonder what the best approach for coming up with an accurate and objective measure of percent complete is— whether for a task, discipline, area, contract or even an entire project. The answer: You need to get into the details.
How to Report on a Project’s Progress of Engineering Work:
This is important from the perspectives of both Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) firms and Owner-Operators. EPCs need to know how they are performing against the project budget and plan, while Owner-Operators needs an accurate assessment of the engineering work done for payment purposes.
Is it enough to manage this using a 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?
No. To accurately assess engineering discipline progress, you need to first identify each deliverable– each drawing, specification, 3D model, or task the engineering disciplines are to produce. Each deliverable should include budgeted hours 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 dates, forecast dates, and actual dates. These deliverable milestones would be based on analysis of historical projects and industry best practices.
Then, on a periodic basis, the engineering disciplines have to 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; by creating activities for each deliverable and assigning a series of steps to represent the progress milestones. I agree that is possible, but it is 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 results 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 where the deliverables can be electronically linked to schedule activities to provide planned dates to packages of drawings (instead of individual drawings). This 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 third 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? Having this detailed data available electronically and at your fingertips provides due diligence. An Owner-Operator can now do a comprehensive appraisal on the status of an EPC’s work, and from there, evaluate the value of the work done.
Instead of requesting a hard copy or PDF report from an EPC showing the progress of each deliverable, an Owner-Operator 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 a practical, integrated and objective approach to accurately calculating overall engineering progress based on the engineering details.