How to Build a Schedule in Commercial Construction

by Jackie Lohrey; Updated September 26, 2017
Close up shot of a detailed Gantt Chart

The schedule for a commercial construction project must provide an overview that includes a task list and a start-to-finish timeline. The goal is to organize the myriad people and tasks involved in the construction. An effective schedule will reflect the scope of the project, identify critical paths and deliverables, and estimate the completion date. The project manager typically builds one two-part master schedule that includes a work breakdown and the timeline. The project manager also builds one timeline for each subcontractor.

Getting Started

Determine the work breakdown structure and build schedules after the project plan and estimated budget is complete. Refer to the project plan when building the work breakdown structure and schedule to ensure each deliverable is reasonable and clear. Use diagramming software to create the work breakdown structure and build the schedule with a spreadsheet, or project-planning software.

Create a Work Breakdown Structure

A work breakdown structure functions as a master overview that defines the scope of a project. It categorizes outcomes and deliverables, usually in a hierarchical tree-style format. Identify main categories, such as design, procurement, construction and commissioning in the top level, and subcategories in the second level. For example, design subcategories might include architectural, civil, structural, mechanical and electrical and landscape designs. Define progressively smaller work products in each remaining level until outputs within each subcategory are fully defined. Finally, assign outline-style identification numbers to each category, subcategory and all deliverables.

Build a Master Schedule

The master schedule lists and links construction activities to the deliverables identified in the work breakdown schedule. Create a Gantt bar chart that lists tasks by category in the order of the work breakdown schedule numbering system. Include categories, subcategories and tasks in an “Activities” column. Identify the person responsible for each deliverable in the second column. Enter the estimated start and end date for the entire construction project, the tasks in each subcategory and, finally, for each deliverable to create the bar chart. Then, create links to identify dependencies -- tasks that can’t begin until another task is complete. For example, link digging the foundation and pouring the concrete into it.

Subcontractor Timelines

Subcontractor examples identify tasks and verify completion dates for architects, engineers and subcontractors. This is vital to coordinating efforts and avoiding delays that could result in liquidated damage penalty fees that occur when you don't meet the predetermined timeline. Subcontractor timelines follow the same Gantt chart format as the master schedule. Use filtering options to create breakout schedules, or create a new Gantt chart for each subcontractor if your software doesn’t have this option.

About the Author

Based in Green Bay, Wisc., Jackie Lohrey has been writing professionally since 2009. In addition to writing web content and training manuals for small business clients and nonprofit organizations, including ERA Realtors and the Bay Area Humane Society, Lohrey also works as a finance data analyst for a global business outsourcing company.

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