Good construction managers are often the unsung heroes of construction projects. Thanks to their skills and diligence, construction projects can be delivered without delay, to budget, and within scope. Good resource management makes sure the right people are working with the right equipment on the right job at the right time.
However, if just one of these four “right” factors is mismanaged, projects start to run late, lose money, and even lose customers.
When you then factor in multiple projects that compete for the same resources, it becomes clear that making an effective resource management plan for your commercial construction company takes more than jotting down notes on a pad or the back of an envelope.
From Project Wish List to Resource Reality
Resource management and project management are interdependent in construction work, but they address different aspects. A project management plan is drawn up according to customer requirements and construction objectives. It tells you, for example, that in four weeks from now you will need to complete the roofing for the office block you are building. It may also tell you that you will need eight appropriately skilled roofers for a period of one week, but it won’t tell you where to find them, or even if they are available.
The aim of the resource management plan is to identify and reserve resources to meet those objectives and requirements. That sounds simple enough, but there are strings attached. The resource plan should:
- Ensure the availability of resources, meaning both workers and equipment, by spotting and resolving any resource conflict. For instance, a cement mixer cannot be on two building sites at the same time.
- Optimize time, effort and money, for example by having workers work on a succession of tasks with minimal downtime or transport between sites. The resource planning process itself should also be quick and efficient when building construction teams to match project objectives.
- Apply common sense and a little psychology. Allocating the same worker to a bewildering variety of different tasks can be as counter-productive as specifying the same monotonous task to be done repeatedly. Smart resource management will take account of individual worker preferences where possible, or at least strive for a happy medium when larger teams are involved.
- Incorporate the realities of the construction site, such as any limitations on access for trucks or backhoes, or the different possibilities for delivering concrete to where it’s needed in order to speed up work and decrease worker effort.
- Respond to changes in project objectives to reassign resources as required and maintain good overall productivity and profitability.
- Track resource utilization in a timely, accurate way to correct or prevent excessive staffing or under-utilization of equipment.
Sometimes resource management meets a conflict it cannot resolve, such as two building projects with the same priority competing for the same limited resource at the same time. Senior management may then have to decide which project gets the required resource first.
Examples of Construction Resource Planning
A couple of simple examples will illustrate the need for a clear resource management plan for the different stages of a construction project.
Option 1: Use multiple teams if space and other resources allow this
Option 2: Add an extra helper to each team if scaffolding or big blocks are used
Option 1: Use a concrete chute direct from a delivery truck, instead of the pump, with a smaller team of a supervisor, four laborers, and finisher.
Each item in these examples is essential, either for the activity itself or for follow-on construction work. Lack of an item, i.e. poor resource management, will delay completion and put a dent in productivity, as will the unavailability of a team member.
Creating Your Resource Management Plan
There are four basic steps for resource management to help a project plan turn into a satisfactory deliverable:
1. Get the latest, viable project plan with clear indications of project phases and timings. Without this, your resource management plan will simply be wrong!
2. Determine which types of resources are needed. This may be indicated in the project plan, in which case check the information given. Otherwise, calculate this for the different tasks using experience, judgment, industry standard resource units or a suitable mix of these items.
3. Identify resources by name and check the possibility to re-use them to simplify your resource allocation and management. In the examples above, a helper for the concrete block foundation wall might work afterwards on pouring a concrete slab.
4. Get authorization for the resources to reserve them well ahead of time. If you are the owner or general manager of your construction company, authorization may not be an issue. On the other hand, if you are one resource manager among several, you may need to use business arguments and “soft skills” to ensure that you get the necessary agreement for you to book the resources you have identified.
Your plan should then list the key pieces of information about the resources required, per activity:
- Type of activity (for example, “build concrete block foundation wall”)
- Start date/duration of the activity
- Activity or task owner (such as the project manager for that part of the construction)
- Team resource types (for example, bricklayer)
- Quantity required of each resource type
- Source of each resource type (internal and/or named third-party/subcontractor with details on physical location, name of contact person, and their contact details)
- Hours required for completion of activity
- Controller (for instance, the supervisor managing the bricklayer)
- Materials to be supplied
- Equipment to be supplied
- Cost estimate for each of the resource/materials/equipment to be supplied
- Assumptions made (a cost estimate yet to be confirmed, for instance)
- Risk mitigation (“Plan B” in case the specified resource becomes unavailable.)
Techniques and Tools to Help Make the Plan Feasible
The detail and the precision required for successful resource management make good organization mandatory. Your construction resource plan must be clear and understandable to all involved, while maximizing efficiency and productivity, possibly across multiple projects. For this, you might choose to use:
1. A resource planning template. A template provides a checklist to ensure you cover all the bases when planning resources for a project and for each of its activities. It also offers a standard presentation format for others, so that they can easily find the information that interests them, each time. As a digital document on a PC, a template makes it easier to update and share the latest resource information.
2. A resource planning matrix. By displaying resource management information in a matrix or grid format, you get information about the resources for each activity and about the activities for each resource. This makes it easier to spot construction project risks like resource conflicts: for example, a person scheduled to work a total of 70 hours in one week, because of overlapping allocations to different projects. Similarly, it helps identify cases where a resource is under-utilized.
3. Leveling and shifting. Some resource conflicts can be resolved by lengthening the time allowed for completing the task or by making tasks sequential instead of concurrent (resource leveling); or by allocating activities to other team members (task shifting.) Resource managers who know their teams and projects will know if these techniques are feasible for a given construction project, without impact on the overall time, budget, and scope.
4. A coding system. Coding systems replace text descriptions of construction activities by numbers. They make resource planning information more concise and, especially when stored digitally, make it easier to organize and retrieve information about present and past projects. A commonly used format is MasterFormat, which offers a standard code for almost all the items associated with construction.
5. Resource development. Needs for resources may change over time. Part of good resource management is to make the most of opportunities to reuse existing resources through a small additional investment (training or equipment upgrades, for example), rather than spending more money to bring in new ones.
6. A software system. Manual preparation of a resource management plan soon becomes laborious and prone to errors, as construction projects become more complex. A software application can automate much of the resource planning process and accelerate execution. At the same time, while a construction project may involve tens or hundreds of individual tasks, many of the tasks are repeated across the project or are the same as in previous projects. People will not always spot the possibility to save time and effort, but a software program can automatically pick out inefficiencies, possible bottlenecks, and resource conflicts.
Purpose-built construction management software is more robust and reliable than ad hoc solutions using spreadsheets. Resource management templates created in Microsoft Excel are often too easy to change in terms of the way they calculate requirements, increasing the risk of errors. Construction management software developed specifically for project and resource management can prevent unwarranted modification and protect users from this risk. Systems that have this functionality include eSUB, ControlBoard, and Pantera.
There are also a number of resource management software products, like Resource Guru and 10,000ft, that can be easily used for construction projects.
Software Functionality for Improved Resource Management
Features will vary from one resource management application to another. Depending on the application, they can include:
- Automatic calculation. Resource requirements are displayed instantly after project data is entered.
- Simulation. Resource managers can try out different scenarios to see which one best suits the needs and business goals of their construction company.
- Re-evaluation. Costs and earned value can be re-calculated immediately, as resource management decisions change.
- Inclusion of extra information. For instance, photos of people, sites, and equipment can be attached to resource management plans and individual tasks.
- Real time resource utilization tracking throughout a project and during each activity.
- Online resource management workflows. Approvals for resource allocations can be given quickly as the managers involved receive notifications by email and access the application.
- Access via mobile devices (tablets and smartphones) for updating the resource management plan or viewing the latest version from the office, the construction site or on the go.
- Online collaboration for resource management between sites, offices, partners, and subcontractors.
With so much at stake and the risks of undermining construction project profitability, it is essential to create a good resource management plan. Although it cannot guarantee the absence of resource conflicts, it can help you to spot them before they have a significant impact. It is also an opportunity to streamline and increase the efficiency of resource utilization across the company. The use of a good software application for resource management, either as part of a project management application or as a standalone program, can help you manage the detail and complexity faster and more reliably, and help construction site teams and partners by offering mobile access too.
What are your tips for a great resource management plan? Share them with us in the comments.
Header by Rachel Wille
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