When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Middle East District (MED) was awarded the USACE Project Delivery Team of the Year award recently, many on the team attributed some of that success to the District's increased focus on using cost schedule management, a practice widely used in commercial construction projects but one that the District had not fully utilized until recently.
According to Jerry Dabkowski, the Chief of the Project Controls Branch for the district, cost and schedule management is a technique for measuring project performance and progress in an objective and proactive manner. Effective project controls (cost and schedule management) is a vital part of a comprehensive quality assurance oversight program from initial requirements planning through project closeout.
"Our branch effectively "arms" project team members with information that allows them to make decisive and timely decisions. The benefit of using cost schedule management is it acts as an advanced early warning system. We are able to analyze performance, identify invoicing versus schedule performance discrepancies, identify trends, monitor scope control, and provide upward customized reporting for customers and stakeholders. Without this, we would rely heavily on the contractors monthly schedule submissions for schedule performance. We work with some exceptional contractors therefore that's not necessarily a problem, but this gives us a self-regulating picture of how a project is proceeding and how to better allocate resources," said Dabkowski.
For large construction projects, the District normally awards fixed price contracts. That means that a set amount of money is allocated for the project. Previously, project managers would primarily look at a construction schedule and project milestones to determine if a project was on track. Cost schedule management gives them more data points to provide a better overview.
"With cost schedule management, we look at multiple data points to paint an accurate picture of how a project is performing. For example, when looking at a construction schedule alone, a project might appear to be on track but burning through more money earlier than expected. This gives us a resource loaded schedule where we know what should be allocated when."
Colonel Stephen Bales, the District's commander, said the Middle East District's relatively more extensive use of cost schedule management had to do with balancing costs and workload.
"Our Deputy for Programs and Project Management Tom Waters, has been a big proponent of this but we really had to do some careful analysis before investing in this extensively," said Bales. "It requires fairly expensive software and is quite a bit more labor intensive than just utilizing a construction schedule but ultimately, it's benefitted the District and our customers. I'm very happy with the results I've seen thus far."
MED relied on cost schedule management in the lead up to and award of the almost one billion dollar award of a mega-foreign military sales project in Qatar for which the District was awarded Project Delivery Team of the Year by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"Using this process allowed us to manage our timelines to award without sacrificing quality and ensure the project goes smoothly. We continue to use it today as the project goes forward and we've been really happy with the results so far," said Marissa Louden, a program manager on the project.
Waters echoed that sentiment saying that Cost Schedule Management has had huge benefits for the District and hoped to see it used more extensively.
"Cost schedule management has been a game changer for us," said Waters. "I'd like to think we've been pretty innovative in its use and it's made me a strong advocate for using it throughout the Corps."