Why is planning so complex in construction projects?

Project managers and production managers struggle a lot with scheduling. For some reason, most construction projects (regardless of their complexity) lack a solid planning, or an updated schedule, or a schedule that at least one person looks at.


But at the same time, scheduling is the cornerstone of project management, the one discipline that establishes control of time (and of course, indirectly, or sometimes directly, money).


Without planning, the project risks:

  • Missing milestones; by simply forgetting them.
  • Skipping milestones by the incapacity to meet deadlines. Happens when we get too close to a milestone and not even an acceleration enables reaching the target.
  • Poor coordination of own resources or inefficiencies when allocating machinery or people.
  • Poor subcontractor coordination, additional expenses and compensations.
  • Materials not arriving on time, or too early. Risking both the delay of an activity or exposing the project to overstocking, theft, etc.
  • Ignorance. The big enemy. Not knowing how the project is doing, the progress to time-spent ratio.
  • General inefficiencies. Inability to optimise schedules, shorten critical paths and optimise in the space-resources spectrum.

But being planning such a relevant discipline, why are we so bad at it?

Let’s deep dive into the reasons why scheduling sucks in worldwide construction projects.


  • Lack of time to plan. The BIG excuse. Buried on last-minute issues and fires to fight, managers tend to focus on urgent rather than on important. Planning (properly done) is left behind.
  • Uncertainty on scope. Project managers unbothered by estimating the total works to be carried out.
  • Key information missing. Often managers rely on information from subcontractors and other specialised contractors. This makes scheduling very subcontractor dependant.
  • Focus. Planning is boring, it is more fun to go onsite and look at the tiny technical details of an irrelevant task. Project managers often are technical people that have been promoted. Since planning is boring and it is more satisfying to geek out on technical discussions, planning is left aside, out of focus.
  • Missing the long term. Managers would say that everything is planned, while the long term is a big black box of uncertainty.
  • Dynamism. In construction, there are so many dependencies on others that changes are unavoidable. Managers tend to shield themselves from proper planning using dynamism as an excuse. The truth is, uncertainty has to be dealt with, will never disappear.
  • Lack of knowledge or specific education to plan. Planning is a craft, and must be mastered. Meanwhile, it is hardly learnt in schools. There are methods, processes and tools to make the planning systematic and professional; but these are hardly applied by managers.
  • It is difficult. Let’s not forget. Projects are complex, with many activities and dependencies. Planning properly demands skill and experience.
  • Takes time. It really does. If you believe you can plan a 10M€ project in one afternoon you are wrong. It takes lots of analysis, long term view and talks to setup a proper baseline.


That pessimistic scene being laid off, we can look into some ways of improving the planning without firing your managers.

Ways of improving the planning in your projects

  • Use a planning tool. Excel is fine, but also, no. It lacks basic functions like dependencies, being collaborative (in a safe way), being structured, being prepared for that. It is true that it is extremely flexible; but don’t be mistaken, this does you no good.
  • Plan in levels. There are tools that allow you to plan in levels. This is key, for instance, keeping a very general planning and integrating detail levels under that. Each level includes more detail but also is more difficult to generate. Perhaps you only need the full detail of upcoming activities, right?
  • Invite your team and key people to plan. There are collaborative tools to plan simultaneously on the cloud.
  • Get assistance. Why not using data from other projects to estimate durations or dependences? Use a tool like for this.
  • Get a tool that is strict on the planning, a tool that follows the best practices and helps you implement them.
  • Planning needs followup. If your tool of choice allows for progress followup (even better if it does it automatically, like does), much better. You will get exponential value out of it and it will become easier to implement good planning methodologies.


If you are in need of some further reading on tools that can help you plan better, you can read up more here: 

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