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The importance of a robust programme

By Phil Durrant - Head of Planning, UK

It is recognised that construction projects have a tendency to overrun; the more complex the project, the more likely it will suffer from delays.

There have been numerous reports published over the years exploring the reasons but in my experience it can be summarised under two main headings:

  • Lack of understanding of contract requirements and the resulting project risks i.e. the contractor got it wrong at bid stage.
  • Poor time management – either in the design, procurement or construction stage and quite often in all three.

The lack of understanding of the contract requirements can range from not identifying key constraints such as site location, logistics requirements, construction sequences and key long lead in items through to not identifying the contractual risks such as current status of design information, specification requirements, phasing and sectional completion requirements and condition precedence clauses to protect contractual entitlement.

Poor time management includes the failure to have realistic design programmes including approval periods, the focus on cost during the procurement process without recognising that delays within procurement due to budget constraints often cost more in terms of time lost from the construction period and the difficulties of managing a fragmented supply chain.

What is a project programme and why do we need one?

The project programme is a description of a set of logically linked activities that if executed against that plan should achieve the time requirements. ‘Should’ is used because things change in a construction project. There may be variations issued, the design and procurement may be running late necessitating a change in the construction programme or the contractor may decide that his original strategy was flawed and needs to be changed to safeguard the committed contractual dates.

In order to be robust the project programme must:

  • Reflect the project strategy and selected construction sequence. The strategy and construction sequence needs to be developed before the programme can be finalised.
  • Take account of the specific project constraints and contract requirements including key mile-stones and interfaces
  • Contain design, procurement and construction activities that are logically linked. The contractor can have as many detailed activities in his construction programme as he thinks necessary, but unless the current position in terms of design and procurement can be progressed and impacted on the construction programme, the contractor effectively doesn’t know whether he can achieve his contracted dates.
  • Be structured to aid communication to the relevant parties to ensure that it is understood and used as an effective management tool
  • Have at least one critical path!

Depending on the complexity of the project the commissioning and close out process must be considered during the development of the programme because these may well influence the construction sequence.

Contractors need to recognise that that the project programme is a live document and it will change during the contract period depending on progress entry. The programme will forecast a likely completion date at any moment in time depending on the entered logic and progress data. The contractor needs to identify and understand any forecast delays because they will need to take action. If it is a contractor delay then it will need to be mitigated, if it is a client delay then the contractor needs to raise the necessary notifications in order to protect his entitlement under the contract.

“Problems arise due to lack of contractual understanding and poor time management”

Progress monitoring

Once the programme has been agreed, depending on the contract requirements, it is saved as a baseline against which progress can be monitored.

The key issue regarding progress reporting is that it has to be accurate and reflect the actual position at the time of the report. Actual start and actual finish dates must be entered against the programme activities. Time remaining to complete is a more accurate progress measure than percent complete. I have lost count of the times when a contractor has failed to enter progress accurately. What tends to happen is the first report period has 50% progress, the next moves to 75%, then to 90% and then creeps to 95% or perhaps 98% where it sits until it is finally closed out because it is no longer relevant.

This is not helpful to the contractor as it prevents an accurate forecast completion date and can lead to the critical path not being reliable. It also leads to problems if any delay analysis is required at a later date in order to establish an entitlement to time.

As well as identifying work that has been completed it is important to identify the reasons where work has not been completed in accordance with the programme. Effective short term programmes are an essential tool but in order to be effective they need to complete the activities contained within them. If there is an obstacle to the delivery the obstacle needs to be addressed and removed otherwise the programme will not be achieved.

“Progress reporting must be accurate, not a simple % assessment”


Unless you have been lucky enough to be involved with a project that was fully designed and detailed and all the programmed activities started and finished on the planned dates your programme will change!

Whether it is a variation under the contract or contractor change to accommodate unforeseen circumstances the programme has to be updated to reflect the current position to maintain its effectiveness as a management tool.

This is good practice whether it is a contract requirement or not.

“It is important to identify the reasons why work has not been completed on time”


The project programme is an essential management tool to aid decision making and ensure committed contract dates are achieved.

  • It must include all project phases – design, procurement, construction, commissioning and close out/handover processes.
  • It must take account of the specific project constraints
  • It will forecast the likely completion date at any given time based on the entered logic and progress data
  • It must be updated on a regular basis to incorporate change and record progress
  • Progress reporting must be accurate

“The project programme is an essential management tool to aid decision making”