Building accurate project timelines

Better project timelines can prepare you to resolve conflict before it arises, and the right approach can make your timelines resilient to the unexpected while ensuring you execute on your client’s plans.

Welcome to “The Better Way: A podcast by Buildertrend.” Here you’ll learn to simplify and organize the way you run your construction business and make meaningful changes to achieve your goals. Because there’s a better way. The Buildertrend way. Tune in this season as hosts Zach Wojtowicz, a corporate development strategist at Buildertrend, and Brett Jones, a Buildertrend onsite consultant, teach strategies to start projects the right way.

Brett and Zach highlight how to effectively craft project timelines and how to use them to improve collaboration and planning on future projects.

HOW MUCH DETAIL SHOULD BUILDERTREND USERS ADD TO THEIR PROJECT SCHEDULE AT THE OUTSET?

Brett: “Less is more in that sense. You don’t want to have a ton of granularity to where your project managers are constantly manipulating the schedule just because they’re really into the nitty gritty. Make sure that it’s macro enough, but also micro enough to where you get the reporting that you need out of it, but it’s not making the project manager or superintendent’s job, manipulating, that much harder.”

HOW CAN THE BASELINE FUNCTION WITHIN BUILDERTREND’S SCHEDULE IMPROVE PROJECT PLANNING AND ADMINISTRATION?

Brett: “The best part about the baseline is all you have to do is turn the schedule online, set the baseline, and then manage your schedule just as any other way you would, and that baseline’s automatically tracking in the background. Not only does it give you how much time ahead or behind it is, but it also gives you a reason as to why you’re ahead or behind.”

Zach: “You can anticipate what potential issues might be coming up based on how the last project went.”

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Brett Jones and Zach Wojtowicz | Buildertrend

Zach Wojtowicz:

Hitting deadlines, meeting client expectations, and adapting to change are all priorities for builders, but too often accomplishing one comes at the expense of another. Better project timelines can prepare you to resolve that conflict before it arises. Welcome to “The Better Way, a podcast by Buildertrend.” I’m your co-host Zach Wojtowicz and here you’ll learn to simplify and organize the way you run your construction business and make meaningful changes to achieve your goals.

Zach Wojtowicz:

There’s a better way to plan your projects, the Buildertrend way. This season, my co-host Brett Jones and I dive deep into strategies to start projects the right way. On today’s episode, learn tactics to develop accurate timelines that execute your client’s plans while remaining resilient to the unexpected. It’s “The Better Way,” episode three, building accurate project timelines, Zach Wojtowicz with Brett Jones. Thanks for coming back, Brett.

Brett Jones:

Zach, thanks for having me.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Absolutely, as always let’s get into the meat of Buildertrend, which of course is our scheduling tool. We go back to our days as customer success managers, onboarding specialists. How many times did we talk about the scheduling for people first signed up?

Brett Jones:

Oh man. It’s the backbone of Buildertrend, best part.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. It’s something that we start everybody on for good reason. But it’s funny because even in your consulting, usually we’re working with customers have been for a little while they still have a lot to learn from a scheduling standpoint.

Brett Jones:

It’s inevitable. Every single time I feel like you can show people how to link predecessors from the Gantt chart view, and the visit right there is worthwhile alone.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah, absolutely. So what I want to frame this around today is the theme of what we’ve been talking about on the season, which is proactively planning and setting things up to be more successful from the operational side of getting things more effectively accomplished by using the features of Buildertrend. So when we’re talking about the scheduling, how do we use that to be more effective Buildertrend users and really better businesses? What can we do with the schedule?

Brett Jones:

Yeah, I think it’s as simple as just being proactive and planning your scheduled timelines for any particular project. I think it’s not only important for an internal team perspective, but also your clients, if you want to get them in the loop and make sure that they understand the timeline and the expectations with that, but also your subs and vendors, if you want to associate them with schedule items. Make sure that they’re at that particular spot at that particular point in time doing their particular work.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. What, when you are using the schedule with those collaborators, what happens when I adjust the schedule and I do have my subs on board and I do have my clients involved and my team is using the schedule.

Brett Jones:

Yeah. And the best part with the schedule, as long as you’re templating things from the get go and you establish consistent predecessors. If you move one schedule item, that will then in turn move the other schedule item that is preceding that, but it’ll also send out notifications accordingly based on the subs and vendors that that might affect. So it can be self-managing in a way and eliminate a lot of additional clicks, save you a ton of time.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. I’ll never forget the look on this one project manager’s face. They were a group based out of Florida that I went and visited. I was actually alone on this trip and I was showing them templating, and scheduling, and showing them how to assign users on the template and having things predetermined. So that’s a good, best practice we can go down where I was like, OK, so you always have the same framer? He’s like, yeah. Okay. Do you have the same electricians? He’s like, yes. Same plumbers? Yes. I’m like, okay, let’s assign these people on the template. And I showed him how to do that. We imported the schedule and the look on his face was like, I had just slapped him. He was just blown away.

Brett Jones:

Is that crazy?

Zach Wojtowicz:

He’s like, you just turned my job into babysitting.

Brett Jones:

Right. For sure. That’s what you’re trying to do.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. And that’s not to be disparaging of what a project manager does. It’s hard coordinating people and-

Brett Jones:

Absolutely.

Zach Wojtowicz:

… getting things proactively planned and going in the right direction. Just makes it so much easier though, because if you’ve got people doing the same tasks on every project, you can put these things into place ahead of time and save you a bunch of clicks.

Brett Jones:

Yeah, absolutely. I know there’s a ton of different moving parts within construction, but they’re really are a ton of repeatable processes and scheduling along with templates is really one of those things, really easy thing to get immediate value out of.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. And it’s a pain point for a lot of companies about where is my schedule at, what’s going on with the project? So you still have to update the schedule, you still have to run it, you still have to make sure it’s reflective of what’s actually happening, right?

Brett Jones:

Software’s not going to work unless you do, sure.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I always would say that’s people. If the software did your job for you, you’re replaceable.

Brett Jones:

Totally.

Zach Wojtowicz:

We don’t want to take away people’s job, we’re job creators, not takers. Right Brett?

Brett Jones:

Yeah.

Zach Wojtowicz:

So it’s about making the system that they’re working within easier and it’s a tool.

Brett Jones:

Absolutely.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Your tool’s only as good as the people who are using it. The best woodworker in the world needs the right equipment in order to do what he does. Same thing with the Buildertrend user, they need, I should say a project manager, or anybody who’s using Buildertrend. When they become a Buildertrend user, they should be more effective at what their job is for.

Brett Jones:

Absolutely. And also make it reactive as well. I mean, that’s the biggest thing is we’re trying to make your job as reactive as possible so definitely.

Zach Wojtowicz:

But one thing I want to dive a little bit deeper in, and this is a coaching point that we’ve both had these conversations is okay, how detailed on my schedule should I be in Buildertrend?

Brett Jones:

Yeah. Is that a question to me?

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah.

Brett Jones:

Yeah. Every company’s different and everybody’s scope of work is different, but I think less is more in that sense. You don’t want to have a ton of granularity to where your project managers are constantly manipulating the schedule just because they’re really into the nitty gritty, make sure that it’s macro enough, but also micro enough to where you get the reporting that you need out of it, but not making the project manager or superintendent’s job manipulating that much harder.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. So there’s a sweet spot I’d always shoot for or on a schedule, which is 60 to 70 items on a new home is the right spot that you still are able to get an idea of where these construction projects are at. But we both seen schedules 300, 400, 500 items and you just can’t help, but just ask like, what are you getting by putting that much detail on the schedule?

Brett Jones:

Totally. I think that’s a lot, is part of my job is just asking why all the time and when I see something that doesn’t make sense from an industry standpoint, just because I’ve seen this 130 times over, I ask a ton of questions as why do you do that? And you usually there isn’t a reason why, so we change that and make it more efficient.

Zach Wojtowicz:

And I think when we look at those granular schedules that have, and obviously size of project makes a difference. So if we’re working with like a commercial company, of course their projects are going to be a little longer, but standard remodel, new home, and people have every action that’s happening every day on the schedule. And if this sounds like you, it’s not meant to be a comment of you’re doing things wrong.

Brett Jones:

Don’t be condescending.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. I’m not trying to be condescending. But what I’m saying is think about it from what are you actually getting by putting that level of detail? Really ask yourself and assess. Would I have the same information if I was able to view this over a week period, as if I was viewing it from a day by day period?

Brett Jones:

Definitely. What’s the end result? What’s the data you’re trying to extrapolate from it? For sure.

Zach Wojtowicz:

And do people even… If you put that much detail, are you actually tracking it?

Brett Jones:

Definitely.

Zach Wojtowicz:

If the answer is yes, then do it.

Brett Jones:

Sure.

Zach Wojtowicz:

But it just, for most people who are just trying to get a framework that they can work within, there’s a level of content that is necessary to do your job.

Brett Jones:

Absolutely.

Zach Wojtowicz:

But we have other ways in Buildertrend that we can still track the administrative tasks. Because I think when I look at those 300, 400 schedule items, I mean, they’re simple as schedule item to order material to get the deliveries done, to make sure the guys are on site. And those are tasks that you’re doing within your job, but they’re not really the schedule, right?

Brett Jones:

Right.

Zach Wojtowicz:

So how do we handle those tasks though? What do we do?

Brett Jones:

What we used to do.

Zach Wojtowicz:

So simple.

Brett Jones:

So simple man. I mean, at the end of the day, the way that I look at our schedule and to dos, the two differences between them is your schedule should be major milestones within construction, right? Permits, demolition, excavation, footers, foundation, right? Those are major milestones.

Brett Jones:

But then the things that are supplementary to that are To-do’s, things like ordering material, windows, you got to order eight to 12 weeks prior to actually installing them. That’s a great to do or an inspection reminder, those little miscellaneous admin work that you call them, perfect for to-dos. It just mitigates a lot of clutter in your schedule and you can turn those on and off from your schedule as well. So you can co-manage them at the same time.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. And we talked about in the selections episode, we spent a lot of time building selections templates, it’s very similar. To-dos are templatable as well. And you’re able to link your to-dos to the schedule. Is that what you typically recommend?

Brett Jones:

Yeah, absolutely. As long as their process allows for it, I always give my clients an option a couple different ways we could do the things, but then they have to make the best decision. But that is definitely the most preferred because if that schedule item moves and that to-do’s linked to that schedule item, it’ll move in accordance with it.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. And so when you go through the to-do process, it is a type of scheduling in a sense that they’re the tasks that need to be completed in order for the schedule items to be condoned as finished, done. And like Brett said, you can juxtapose those tasks onto the schedule using filters and there’s some advanced techniques worth exploring, but essentially they’re using the project timeline features correctly. You’re using them in harmony and using the schedule month view or the agenda view to then display other items that you can lay over your schedule.

Zach Wojtowicz:

And if you’re linking things together, as you adjust your schedule, it will update those task dates as well. So it really gives you full control. You can’t do that every time you start a new project without setting up a template-

Brett Jones:

For sure.

Zach Wojtowicz:

… and getting everything all laid in there. I think of that guy I met in Florida, that was the light bulb moment for him was, we had layered on all these things and finally I showed him, here’s why you’re going to import this template and set up the job. And he was just like, “Wow, that’s incredible.”

Brett Jones:

Aren’t those light bulb moments the best?

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. Not to like toot my own horn, though it feels good.

Brett Jones:

Well, you’re not the most tenured onsite consultant.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Here we go. That’s right. I’m not anywhere close anymore. It’s been a while.

Brett Jones:

You just couldn’t hang.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah. I’m an old man. You shouldn’t make fun of your elders on the podcast. What are some other things that maybe people aren’t doing on the schedule that can help be better planners and be more proactive and hitting their project timelines?

Brett Jones:

Yeah, definitely. I mean, to-dos are fantastic first and foremost, that’s a given. You can also do selection deadlines, proactive document uploading prior to the job start, right? Adding phases to your schedule. So if you have, say 60-70 schedule items and that’s more internal, you can make phases, which are typically more of a client facing tool, more of a 10,000-foot-view for the client.

Brett Jones:

So instead of them seeing permits, demolition, excavation, footers, foundation, they might just see the phase that you associate with those schedule items as maybe just project roughing or project start, right? So that where way you give them enough to fall along with the project, but not too much where they’re co-managing with you.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Yeah, absolutely. I think phasing is one of those things that it takes a while for people to see the benefit of it, but it can help ease that anxiety of turning on the schedule for your customers to view. And it lets you get into some cool high level administration. I think a lot of our owners of companies who want to get a ballpark of, you’re looking at 20 houses in Buildertrend, there’s a lot of detail in looking at the individual schedule items.

Zach Wojtowicz:

We just said, ballpark, 100 schedule items would be ideal. I know is a little less, but let’s say you’ve got 20 jobs with a 100 schedule items or you got 2,000 schedule items and you’re looking at it across all jobs. You can break that into phases and now your 20 projects are broken into, okay, I’ve got six homes in framing, I’ve got five homes in finishes, I’ve got two coming up on closing, makes it a lot easier for you to be able to dive deeper if you need it from a management standpoint.

Brett Jones:

Absolutely .So much autonomy with that. Buildertrend is really predicated off its project management tools. So chances are, if it’s very tedious and monotonous for you to manipulate your production pieces in any capacity, chances are you’re doing it wrong.

Zach Wojtowicz:

A couple other things that I think we’ve danced around assigning items. I mentioned with my template examples, really think about your own network of people that you use to build. If you do have three or four different companies that you frame with, that’s okay, you can still choose what is the most frequent person that I frame with on this template?

Zach Wojtowicz:

So you really want to audit your practices and try to get ahead of on the template, who are you most frequently using? And if the answer is like, I use someone different every time, still worth having a schedule itself to be able to lay those things out. It just means you’re going to have to do a little more work when you import those templates. Odds are, if you’re using a different sub every time, you’re probably doing a smaller volume of homes anyway.

Brett Jones:

Right. To help supplement that point is if your framer is changing every single time, you can still use a placeholder within the program.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Oh, we’re getting to, I was avoiding it, but let’s do it.

Brett Jones:

We don’t need to get super analytical but I mean, yeah. The idea behind it is that if your framer changes every single time, use a placeholder framer. What I mean by that is just build out in your subs and vendors, faceted Buildertrend ZZ-framer, ZZ-plumber, ZZ-electrician.

Brett Jones:

And you can assign them in the schedule and that way, when you actually get a bid back and you solidify and actually be working on that job, you can mass reassign everything from ZZ-framer to the actual framer that’s going to be performing the work. And it’ll not only assign it in the schedule, but also assign it in a to-do or if you’re giving them access to certain documents, they’ll do it all at once.

Zach Wojtowicz:

That’s a 301 technique, ladies and gentlemen.

Brett Jones:

Yeah. Be careful with that one. It’s playing with fire.

Zach Wojtowicz:

It can change your life. I’m not exaggerating. That is if we could get every Buildertrend user to understand that place holding trick, there’d be even more houses being built on Buildertrend because it really can speed up the administration. But it’s something that you’ll want to really wrap your head around.

Zach Wojtowicz:

I’d recommend reaching out to our support department and we can actually assist, we do this all the time with customers to help them use placeholders and templating to the highest degree that it can be used. And then there is a mass reassign button that facilitates that. But that’s good to know for any use, like what happens if my project manager changes in the middle of the project?

Brett Jones:

Yeah, absolutely.

Zach Wojtowicz:

There’s a button in the job, swap everything out, one click. It lives under the internal user tab or the subs tab, up at the top right, you’ll see mass reassigned. Really, really cool piece to be able to stay on top of when those things do ultimately occur. The other thing that I want to talk about from a proactive standpoint, even though it’s meant to be a reporting piece Brett is the baseline.

Brett Jones:

Oh man.

Zach Wojtowicz:

So is the baseline?

Brett Jones:

The baseline’s fantastic. And it’s probably very underutilized when it comes to the schedule function. So basically what the baseline is, is ideally, hypothetically speaking, you come to the very beginning of your job. Let’s just say that it’s permits. Permits is going to start tomorrow. We’re going to go pick them up, we’re going to break ground the next day. You set that baseline before you even pick up those permits. That way if anything throughout your schedule, as it progresses, changes, whether you’re ahead or you’re behind, will automatically adjust that baseline.

Brett Jones:

So at the end of that job, you can basically see how much time ahead or behind you are and anticipate better based on that deadline. So not only is it a great tool to track internally, but if you’re having subs and vendors that are constantly giving you bad deadlines saying, “Hey, it’s going to take five days.” It takes them 10 days. You can run a report for your baseline across all jobs for that particular vendor or sub and say, “Hey, you are constantly late on these jobs.” It’s not just so much. “Hey, I think you’re a little late here and a little late there.” It’s more of a data driven conversation at that point.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Lay it out for them.

Brett Jones:

For sure.

Zach Wojtowicz:

And that’s where the proactive piece comes in. On your next project, you can make a business decision of, do I need to go find someone else that I can compare and see if they’re more accurate with their timing and doing the things that we need to do to get the projects done?

Brett Jones:

Absolutely. And the best part about the baseline is all you have to do is turn the schedule online, set the baseline, and then manage your schedule just as any other way you would, and that baseline’s automatically tracking the background. Not only does it give you how much time ahead or behind it is, but it also gives you a reason as to why you’re ahead or behind

Zach Wojtowicz:

Great point. I love the fact that you have the ability to record the reason and that’s how you can get into those really, really strong administration of making sure that your project is on time every time, because you can anticipate what potential issues might be coming up based on how the last project went, but it’s predicated on you actually setting the baseline.

Brett Jones:

For sure.

Zach Wojtowicz:

So work for that feature when you’re getting set up. Well, we’re running up against the clock here on this episode. This is a really, really deep discussion on the schedule. Join us for our next episode where we kind of get into the planning of cost of materials. So we’re taking it to that financial level, but still an important piece of making sure your project is getting completed in the way that you want and be the most effective builder that you possibly can. Brett, we’ll see you on the next episode.

Brett Jones:

Thanks for having me, Zach.

Zach Wojtowicz:

Thanks for listening to “The Better Way.” If you’re a Buildertrend customer, schedule a training to learn more. All listeners, be sure to rate, review and subscribe to “The Better Way” wherever you get your podcast. Also, visit buildertrend.com/podcast to sign up for the email notifications when the next season drops and explore other podcast, “The Building Code.” Don’t miss our next episode where we’ll examine effective costs and materials planning.


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