Wahid Tadros knows how much goes into scheduling a construction job.
Tadros is the president of Pleasanton, California-based heavy construction firm California Engineering Contractors. The firm was founded in 1972 and handles a breadth of public works projects, including railroad construction, tunnel retrofit and rehabilitation and flood control structures. It has 45 salaried employees, and its craft labor force can fluctuate up to 200.
He’s intimately familiar with the hurdles of construction schedule creation — over the years, traditional tools that use Gantt charts for scheduling have often required hiring full-time experts or extensive consultation. But that creates another level of complexity between what that person creates offsite — often without understanding the project’s specifics — versus what’s happening at the job.
“A dedicated scheduler is usually not as well versed in construction as a project manager or superintendent or estimator would be, yet we are forced to work with them because other software is hard to use,” Tadros said.
Instead, CEC chose to leverage collaborative scheduling and digital whiteboard software, which is more intuitive to use and can take inputs from stakeholders on site.
“We are now able to build detailed, resource-loaded schedules in about a quarter of the time it takes to build on competitive products,” Tadros said.
The software CEC chose comes from Pleasanton, California-based Planera, a provider of digital whiteboard and collaborative scheduling software for the construction industry.
While Tadros was under a non-disclosure agreement regarding the software’s cost and Planera declined to provide Construction Dive with details of its pricing model, Tadros characterized his firm’s return on using the solution as “obvious and immediate.”
Using these types of tools, which are typically cloud-based and thus accessible to different stakeholders simultaneously, collaborators can see each others’ notes and comments in real time. They also allow users to upload files and PDFs directly to the whiteboard for access by others.
For CEC, adopting Planera’s technology was a night-and-day difference compared to legacy Gannt-based schedulers.
“Due to the ease of use of the platform and its native collaboration features, Planera allows everyone to participate in the planning and pursuit phase of a project, including the estimators and project managers,” Tadros said. “We don’t need to rely on our dedicated scheduling team to operate the legacy scheduling software.”
Planera’s whiteboard includes risk simulations on project schedules and quality control on built plans. CEC also said the tool has a change-tracking system — if someone makes a switch on the schedule, the team can know who made the change, and figure out why.
Indeed, Tadros said Planera was the only tool he’s used that brings these elements together, and that the team got up and running swiftly.
“This is the first platform that I have seen that combines visual layout of construction logic on a 3D whiteboard, essentially a blank canvas at the start, and a very sophisticated critical path management engine,” Tadros said. “To make a schedule, you just start dropping activities on the canvas and connecting them.”
After just a couple of 60-minute onboarding sessions, Tadros said his entire team was able to start using it and building complex schedules, including people who hadn’t used scheduling software before.
Legacy vs. modern
While learning how to use the software went relatively smoothly, Tadros said there were still some bumps in the road.
“There is always a learning curve associated with integrating a new platform, as well as driving adoption and cultural change in a scenario where everyone who affects, and is affected by, the schedule is able to participate,” Tadros said.
Additionally, Tadros pointed out that some owners still required the use of legacy software. While that can create issues, Tadros said Planera was capable of exporting files into older formats, such as Oracle Primavera P6, to fit in those requests.
Tadros urges other contractors to give these kinds of tools a shot. Given construction’s reputation for being slow to adopt new technology, Tadros said contractors that put these types of tools in place can gain a competitive advantage.
“My advice is: embrace modern workflows and technology so you don’t get left behind. It will pay dividends very quickly,” Tadros said.