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Proposal for Evaluation of Professional Scheduling Practices and Related Training Issues in Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi
 

 

Evaluation of Professional Scheduling Practices and Related Training Issues in Mississippi


Introduction
The following proposal outlines the phases of work to be accomplished over this semester and summer prior to August 1, 2003, my expected graduation date. The phases of the thesis are outlined in this proposal as follows: the description of the problem, definition of the objectives, statement of the hypotheses, the relevance of this study, the methodology that will be followed, a schedule of the timeline for the entire thesis process, and a summary of the proposal. This proposal describes the process that will be undertaken to research and evaluate professional scheduling practices and training issues related to those practices in the state of Mississippi.

Problem
Contractors who are not trained in construction scheduling will often not comply with the construction schedule. (Callahan, 3) These contractors rely on their past experience and prior knowledge to 'wing' the scheduling of their work. Without knowledge of how to read a schedule and identify the critical path, the contractor stands less of a chance coordinating their work with other members of the construction team. A contractor who uses only a minimally detailed schedule is prone to mistakes, complications, setbacks, and/or failure. (Feld, 373) Competent management, a good scheduling method, and lower level management follow-through in compliance with the schedule is vital to the success of a project and the avoidance of delays. (Feld, 374) The construction team's responsibilities are highly subdivided and this means that every team member is responsible for many things. One of these responsibilities is that everyone managing a crew on site must be able to follow the schedule of the prime contractor or coordinate their schedule accordingly. However, there are many incidences where subcontractors do not comply with the schedule.
The following example is a common problem on construction sites. In a New York lab building the mechanical, electrical, and HVAC systems were installed in a cellar ceiling without proper coordination and without sufficient scheduling to conduct them. The electrical subcontractor was the last to install and as a result the high-tension bus-ducts ended up within reach of anyone on the cellar floor. The prime contractor was forced to take out and reassemble the entire maze of pipes, ducts, and raceways. (Feld, 373)
The compliance by every member of the team with the schedule of the prime contractor is the best way to coordinate everyone. With proper training the contractor or subcontractor will be able to identify potential problems before they are encountered in the field. (Willis, 13) Also, if every member of the team is following the schedule the project is more easily controlled and managed by any level of management, prime or sub. (Harris, 12) The most economical and successful projects meet the required dates on the schedule, resulting in maximum savings in direct and indirect cost for prime and subcontractors. (Deatheridge, 2)
A survey completed in 1983 revealed that contractors in the 10 million plus range completed one-third of their work behind schedule. Of the companies who were surveyed 44% experienced delays and did not use detailed scheduling. In 1985, 493 owners were surveyed and almost 53% felt that poor scheduling contributed to or caused the budget to be surpassed. (Callahan, 3)
The problem of coordinating and scheduling construction work lies in insufficient training of present employees to schedule tasks of magnitude. There is also a lack of adequate training for company employees outside the company in scheduling practices. In the state of Mississippi these two points combined with a lack of resources and/or improvements in new training methods, creates an atmosphere in which there are no systematized methods for training the workforce.

Objectives
In order to address the scheduling problems faced by contractors, my aim is to survey general and specialty contractors with a project volume in the range of one million to fifty million-plus dollars. The survey as well as the literature review will determine the value of the proposal in regards to the institutionalization of a systematized training and/or accreditation program for working contractors. The range of contractors will be limited to Mississippi to increase return on the survey, focus on the local market, and determine the efficiency of local contractors. The project volume has been limited to medium-large scale contractors because the scale of the projects often requires complex scheduling procedures. These contractors may need/desire a more systematized schedule training program. Many local contractors operate small businesses with project volumes between 100,000 and one million dollars.(abc.org) It is yet to be discovered in the literature review, but Mississippi has many contractors who have no professional training and operate on knowledge gained from their experiences. The survey focus is to discover the opinions and behaviors of contractors in the specified range concerning a formal schedule training or accreditation program.
The concept of training inefficiency is defined as a lack of proficiency in recognizing the critical path of a project, being able to coordinate one's work with others, recognizing problems in scheduling before they occur in the field, coordinating the written schedule and the physical jobsite. Professional training in scheduling is defined as receiving instruction from an experienced professional in the practice of identifying the critical path of a project, creating the working schedule, the ability to monitor the project and update the schedule accordingly, and the ability to communicate the critical path to others on the project.
My goal with this survey is to clearly define the majority of contractor's attitudes and behaviors regarding the scheduling process as well as determine the need for substantive schedule-training and/or accreditation programs. There is an insufficient amount of attention paid to how contractors schedule a project. Scheduling is not only understanding how a software package works, it's understanding a logical thought process that will ultimately guide the construction project to completion. It is my thought therefore that the professional training and accreditation of schedulers would create a standardized training method to increase scheduling competency throughout the work force. To verify this theory, I will be researching the problem and the state of Mississippi extensively and surveying contractors. This research will aid in future processes of developing scheduling training for the Mississippi workforce.

Hypotheses
The two sets of hypotheses being presented here are first, that Mississippi contractors dealing with large project volumes need and would use schedule training and/or accreditation programs to improve their planning and scheduling skills. Secondly, that a training problem underlies schedule noncompliance with contractors that fall within the one to fifty million dollar project volume range. If a schedule training or accreditation program was available and accessible to working contractors and project managers then compliance with the prime contractor's schedule would improve, time and money would be saved by hiring only competent employees, and more projects would be completed without delays.
These problems can be exposed, in large part, through survey. By asking a number of questions regarding contractor experience, behavior, and attitude At this point in time, the general scope of the survey will include question such as the following:
· The extent of the scheduling problems contractors have experienced;
· The number of jobs that have been impacted because of noncompliance with the schedule, because of the company or because of another company;
· What methods did they employ to solve scheduling and compliance problems in the past;
· What type of scheduling program they use to organize their work;
· What, if any, type of scheduling training do the schedulers have (experience in the field, classroom training, company training, or other);
· The opinion of the competency level of requirements for scheduling and monitoring a project accurately;
· The opinion on if a scheduling training or accreditation program would be effective in reducing the problem of schedule noncompliance;
· The opinion on what method of training or accreditation program would be most beneficial or accessible, (university offered classes, classes through a contractor association, via the internet, or other);

Through questions such as these the nature and extent of the problem can be more clearly focused and then further defined by the specific methodology, which will be defined during the literature review and plan of research phases of the project.
The problem of coordinating a construction project is a massive undertaking in and of itself. When the prime contractor presents the subcontractor with the project schedule an even greater problem arises in getting the sub to comply with it. It is my hypothesis that noncompliance is based on lack of training in professional scheduling and that if programs of training or accreditation for schedulers existed then the issue of schedule noncompliance would be greatly reduced.

Relevance
This project will make a significant contribution to research on the importance of scheduling and training of schedulers. Scheduling is one of the most important aspects of completing successful construction work. Yet I have found no scheduling accreditation programs or workforce training for this problem in my initial research.

· Inefficient training is a solvable problem;
· Ensuring quality at all levels of the construction team via scheduling improvements should be a valuable aspect of a quality assurance process;
· By scheduling efficiently companies will complete more projects without delays, and save time and money by reducing delays;
· If an accreditation or professional scheduling training program existed contractors would have the opportunity to hire only competent, accredited personnel or subcontractors;
· Accreditation improves the quality of the overall workforce, which increases profits, reduces slack time, and bolsters the economy with a competent and high quality workforce;

Method of Research

Initial research includes a literature review of the problem within the given population in the selected geographical area to determine the applicability and/or existence of the hypothesis. This phase establishes the scope of the project, avenues to be pursued or not, areas of the thesis that need narrowing, the population to be surveyed, the definition and extent of the problem.
The objectives of the thesis are defined as worth pursuing, expectations are clarified, resources are analyzed and determined to be adequate or not, and the variables defined in the initial research are reviewed to determine how easily they can be researched further. Time to complete the project is then reviewed and the thesis is shaped according to what is possible and applicable.
The review of existing software, literature, and company methods that have been used previously to solve this problem is vital at this stage. This review will also facilitate the creation of the survey and be the deciding factor on what questions will be asked, how they will be worded, etc.
The plan of research is then developed. The plan consists of the development of a survey of contractors to determine the physical extent of the problem and the correctness of the hypothesis. The survey will be in the form of a questionnaire and after mailing and a certain period of time given to respond, a telephone follow-up will be done to ensure a high response rate.
The method of creating and analyzing the survey's validity, reliability, and variables are as follows. Schedule compliance and level of schedule training will be the dependant variables/predictors for the unit of analysis, the rates of contractors who want or need training programs. (Stark, 46) The reliability of these variables will be tested in either of two ways. The first possible method is the internal consistency method, which uses Cronbach's alpha formula to compare the average inter-item correlation between the survey items. The second method being considered is the split halves method. This method uses two differently phrased questions for each topic to be studied. If the pattern of response is inconsistent then that respondent is omitted. (Santos, 1 and Stark 281) This decision is pending discussion. After the data has been collected, it will be compiled according to the methodology stated in the objectives and analyzed. The expected results of the data should be similar to the initial hypothesis and objectives of the thesis. From this point the report on the data can be concluded for BCT 692 and the final thesis paper summarization of the results can begin.
An analysis of the survey will measure the variables and create a scale by combining the variables, using a measurement model, which will include:
· Assumptions about the nature of the component questions, or variables;
· Rules for combining the set of questions, or variables, to produce the measure;
· Techniques for assessing the quality of the resulting measure, or scale.
(Stark, 46) This scaling will determine if the questions will disclose the pattern of the responses, and if the questions are asking the 'right' question. This type of scaling, similar to Guttman scaling, will be used to give validity to the survey and ensure that the questions are going to reveal the answers that are related to the thesis concept. For example, on the survey five questions maybe asked to verify how the respondent thinks or feels about training certification for schedulers. This type of scaling uses the answers cumulatively to establish patterns of response. For example, if five answers are presented in a multiple-choice format they are listed in order. If the respondent answers in a certain way it can be presumed that they also agreed with the previous answers. At this point in time, I believe that the survey will consist of questions with a scaled answer of five choices (Strongly Agree to Strongly Disagree).
The final thesis report will consist of the previous five steps of the methodology. Historical background for the selected geographical area, causality, introduction and conclusion to the results will also be included in the final thesis. This final report will be a synopsis of the entire research process, the results of the survey, and how research in the future should be directed on this problem.

Timeline
Summary

Compliance with the schedule of the prime contractor by every member of the construction team is the best way to coordinate a successful project. Good scheduling experience combined with professional training will identify potential problems before they happen and create a work environment that is streamlined and highly efficient. The most economical and successful projects meet the required dates on the schedule, resulting in maximum savings in direct and indirect cost for prime and subcontractors. (Harris, 12) Every project manager realizes the importance of saving time and money, but may not realize that the importance of professional and competent scheduling of a project is vital to every stage of the project. It is underestimated how much time and money are lost due to going into a project with only a vague idea of how you will organize it. This is a valuable addition to the research done in the construction industry because this is a problem possibly every contractor has dealt with in the field. Also there is little or no accreditation for scheduling in the state of Mississippi other than at the institution level for students, not people who are currently working.
The objectives of this study are to survey and clearly define the extent and depth of this problem in the state of Mississippi. My goal with the survey is to clearly define the need for substantive schedule-training and/or accreditation programs. It is my hypothesis that noncompliance is based on lack of training in professional scheduling and that if programs of training or accreditation for schedulers existed then contractors would use them. The resulting data of the survey according to the hypothesis will prove that this problem is due to training inadequacy and is therefore solvable. This research will facilitate a clear evaluation of professional scheduling practices and related training issues. It will in turn direct ongoing research towards a further resolution of this problem.

References

Associated Builders and Contractors Membership List. Available online: www.abc.org/fac/printMembers crs.cfm
Callahan, Michael, D.Quackenbush, J. Rowings. Construction Project Scheduling. Irwin McGraw-Hill. 1992.
Deatherage, George. Construction Scheduling and Control. McGraw-Hill Book Co. 1965.
Feld, Jacob. Construction Failure. John Wiley and Sons, NY. 1968.
Fellows, R., A.Liu. Research Methods for Construction. Blackwell Science. 1997.
Harris, Robert. Precedence and Arrow Networking Techniques for Construction. John Wiley and Sons, NY. 1978.
Santos, J.Reynaldo A. Journal of Extension: Cronbach's Alpha - a tool for assessing the reliability of scales. Apr. 1999, v.37, no.2. Available online: www.joe.org/goe/1999april/tt3.html
Stark, Rodney, L.Roberts. Contemporary Social Research Methods. University of Washington, Wadsworth. 2002.
Willis, Edward. Scheduling Construction Projects. John Wiley and Sons, NY. 1986.


       
  Last modified: July 9, 2003 5:09 PM Questions or comments?
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