Monday, May 30, 2011

Excuse #1 For Being Such a Blogging Slug

I hate to even look at the date of my last posting. I have neglected my blog for so long, but for two good causes.

The first good cause was my regular work. Newly published writers are given the advice, "Don't quit your day job." I've been published for several years, but I still haven't quit my day job.

I work as a forensic scheduler. It's not a regular-hours, all-the-time job. When I have a project, I will often work six days a week, ten to twelve hours a day. Then I'll have a stretch when I don't have anything day-jobbish to do.

I work for a consultant who does CPM scheduling for large construction projects. He also does schedule delay analyses. A construction project of any size will be required to have a schedule, and that schedule is usually required to be updated througout the duration of the project, often monthly. If a contractor is using the schedule to the greatest advantage, he will be able to identify delays as they happen and will also be able to document where the delay occured, whether it was caused by a subcontractor, by a procured element not arriving on time, by weather, by the owner, or by the contractor's own inability to perform.

Often, schedules are provided only to meet the owner's specification--they aren't used by the contractor except as a basic guide or a wall decoration. If a project like that is seriously delayed and a claim results, a schedule delay analysis is a mighty tool to have. But it is much harder to come by than it would be if a schedule was properly used.

That's where I come in.

My first job is to take the baseline schedule, the one that was submitted to and accepted by the owner at the beginning of the project, and put in actual dates for each of the activities on that schedule. If the schedule has been properly kept, the dates will be there. If not, I've got my work cut out for me.

Next, I go through the project's documents--correspondence, submittals, requests for information, meeting minutes, change order proposals, superintendent's daily reports, and, if necessary, workers' time cards and truck tickets. From these documents and any others provided me, I determine a list of possible delaying factors and construct a timeline for each one.

Then I create a mini schedule for each of these timelines in the Primavera software we use. This mini schedule is called a fragnet, and each point on this timeline is tied to both a predecessor and a successor in a continuous chain.

As I create each fragnet, I also write a narrative for each one. I joke that this is where my fiction writing ability is valuable, but there's an element of truth to that, for each issue has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In my narrative, I have to make it so someone who knows nothing at all about the project can understand what happened in this instance. I also have to write from an objective point of view, revealing what I have discovered without trying to skew the information.

When I have finished with the fragnets and narratives, the consultant I work with begins his analysis, inserting the earliest fragnet into the baseline schedule, testing to see what that does to the schedule, comparing it to actual dates and the contractor's original strategy for building in the order that he built. Schedules are intricate networks of connectedness, and there's no way of knowing all the things that will be affected when a fragnet is inserted and connected to a logical successor in the original schedule.

As the consultant tests a group of fragnets falling around the same time frame, he uses my narratives and adds his findings to it. Each fragnet's effect is documented. If there is a delay, the responsibility for the delay is assigned. The schedule is updated, and the next cluster of fragnets will be inserted into this updated schedule.

When that is finished, the final report is written and is accompanied by backup documentation--the documents that I used in composing my fragnets. The report from one of my last reports filled five 3" binders.

So, that's the process. I'ts probably more than you wanted to know about schedule delay analysis, but I'm still explaining why I didn't blog for ao long. I had two projects, back to back, that took me from November to March to complete. Each overran the planned schedule by about two years, so there was quite a bit of research to do.

I love my day job. As I sit there, clicking away, inserting data to tell the story, I consider that lots of gray-haired ladies my age are crocheting or quilting. I, on the other hand, am creating fragnets.

Or, considered another way, it's like writing a mystery, laying out all the clues so the reader can find out whodunit.

Tomorrow--or next week, probably--I'll write about the second reason I haven't posted in so long.