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Lessons learned in my transition as an Industrial Scheduler to the Construction Industry

The final stage: Taking matters into my own hands.

Steve Moore
June 8, 2019

I started my construction career building power plants and other heavy industrial projects. For the past decade, I have been responsible for planning and scheduling billions of dollars worth of self-performed projects. In this environment, highly detailed project controls are crucial to success. I had every tool you could imagine at my disposal and I was well versed in many sophisticated scheduling processes and techniques.

A combined-cycle power plant, my old bread and butter.

A few years ago, I took a leap of faith and left a great regional scheduling manager position with a top-ten ENR firm in Houston and moved my family to Alabama. There, I took on a division scheduling manager role for the industrial branch of a large commercial contractor, who specialized in healthcare construction. Within a year of joining this new company, they had to let go of their industrial division and I was given the opportunity to move over to the commercial side of the company.

A large hospital project, my new bread and butter.

To my utter astonishment, this large general contractor did not even believe in the basic tenets of CPM scheduling. Most of their projects, many ranging over $100M, were run off of schedules that didn’t contain an ounce of logic. In fact, most of these schedules fit on a single plotted page and consisted of nothing more than labeled boxes drawn in Visio. They didn’t see the point of using scheduling software and I was determined to show these savages the error of their ways. However, there was only one problem: somehow, they were already highly successful, even without all of the bells and whistles of an advanced CPM schedule. It would be hard to convince them to move from a simple and easy-to-read schedule, to a highly complex schedule with thousands of activities spanning hundreds pages. This challenge of displaying a large, complex schedule on one page led my good friend, and co-creator of SlatPlanner, to create a tool called TimeTable. Which I’ll encourage him to write a blog post about soon.


An excerpt from a typical “Visio” schedule.

As I pondered which tools and techniques to bring in first, I decided that I should start out with a technique that makes it easy to visualize complex schedules: 4D planning. This is where one links the activities of a CPM schedule with the elements of a 3D model in order to produce a visual simulation of the construction process. I kept the detailed CPM schedule on my screen, while I only showed our teams the 3D simulation on their screen. This hybrid solution was a big hit. It allowed our teams to maintain a very simple and intuitive view of the plan, while I was able to maintain a full-blown CPM schedule behind the scenes. I even ended up inventing a USB controller that our teams could use to navigate live 4D models as easy as using a TV remote. I named this creation the ‘Time Machine’. I’ll post more about it and its creation process in the next blog post.


A live 4D scheduling session with a couple of superintendents.
A 4D schedule review with a group of subcontractors.

Other planning practices that really perplexed me were Pull Planning and the Last Planner System. Our people seemed to pride themselves in how primitive and basic these planning approaches were. I was also shocked to learn how these planning approaches were still gaining popularity in the industry. There was so much work being done by hand, and that is precisely the part that they loved about it. It was more active and engaging. Something about holding a marker or a sticky note in one’s hand gave them a sense of ownership and control of their own destiny. No one had to click a mouse or trick any scheduling software with a keyboard to make the near-term plan realistic.


Though, one issue that I have always seen in construction planning is a big disconnect between the near-term plan and the overall project plan. These two schedules never seem to line up with each other. Having one of these schedules digital while the other was analog caused an even deeper disconnect between the two. Even the most thought-out CPM schedules do not do a bit of good unless the overall project strategy transitions correctly from the master schedule into the near-term plan. I needed to find a way to link these two types of schedules together, without sacrificing the benefits of either.


Though, one issue that I have always seen in construction planning is a big disconnect between the near-term plan and the overall project plan. These two schedules never seem to line up with each other. Having one of these schedules digital while the other was analog caused an even deeper disconnect between the two. Even the most thought-out CPM schedules do not do a bit of good unless the overall project strategy transitions correctly from the master schedule into the near-term plan. I needed to find a way to link these two types of schedules together, without sacrificing the benefits of either.

Showcasing the first SlatPlanner system at a conference in New Orleans in Jan '17


Presenting the SlatPlanner system to a group of dedicated Planning experts.

Upon receiving such positive feedback, I decided to continue pursuing this industry-changing technology. I worked late into the evenings and on weekends and was also placing a heavy financial burden on my supportive wife and children. My employer graciously offered to partner with me on this project, enabling me to lighten the financial burden and pursue this passion in better harmony with my day job. My co-worker, Daniel, took the initiative to completely re-design the user interface and has turned out to be a very talented UX/UI designer. SlatPlanner would not be anything like it is today, without his heavy involvement and dedication, along with the strong support we receive by many others from our family at Robins & Morton.

SlatPlanner is a last planner tool that has benefits of digital planning, without sacrificing the physical, collaborative experience.

TimeTable is a tool for schedulers and project managers alike that converts your gantt charts into a format that anyone can read and understand.

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