Solving Complex Scheduling Problems Means Knowing Where to Find the Right People

November 4, 2021 | By Donna Fitzgerald

Software knows no boundaries. No matter what business you’re in, software has the potential to help you in one capacity or another. But at the same time, automation can’t replace every business interaction. We still need people if we want to get things done.

I recently spoke with a friend involved with a building project, and his comment was, “it still comes down to people being where they need to be when they need to be there.” And that’s true for more reasons than one.

It turns out—as anyone in the construction business already knows—that many workplace accidents are a result of concurrent events. With the help of AI, certain patterns are now emerging, making it possible to identify potential problems that no one was aware of before. According to a recent article, “project managers can (now) prioritize certain tasks at certain times to avoid unsafe conditions and avoid common issues that lead to accidents, which in turn will increase the safety on their site[i].”

As always, it comes down to software.

A holistic view of company projects

Imagine that while analyzing your own data, you find that whenever people working on task B are on-site at the same time as people working on task D, there is a higher probability of a snafu. With a typical linear schedule, you can rearrange the tasks in your plan to leave a little buffer between the tasks.

In theory, problem is solved. But reality is never quite that simple.

Let’s say the crew working on task B runs three days late, but task C (task’s D dependency) completes on time. This means that the people working on task E are now scheduled to arrive at work at a time when they will overlap with task B. What do you do?

Do you push out task D, thereby locking in your 3-day slip? And if you push out task D, can you even get people to work on it during the new time, or are they all scheduled someplace else?

Linear projects have a baked-in complexity factor that agile software has been working to avoid. While no one would ever admit that they’d knowingly increase the possibility of an industrial accident, knowing the consequences if the work doesn’t start on time can easily lead anyone to bet against a random attack of Murphy.

A better solution, made possible by the right software, would be to create a new model for task sequencing. In the case we’ve been describing, the project manager would now be able to look beyond their project and see what’s best for the company as a whole.

The power of models

In theory, every project manager has the skills to do this analysis. What they don’t have is enough information in a usable format.

Having access to a tool like Tempus Resource’s What-if feature changes all that. You can model sending the task D team to another project earlier, slowing down the work on task B to let the task D team complete their work, or any other scenario you can think of.

Resource allocation in the what-if modeling tool
Figure 1 What if modeling

The key here is that you are modeling not just one project, but potentially an entire sequence of projects with intertwining resources. That What-if tool (as shown above in Fig. 1) enables you to see the impact of various possibilities without actually making a change to anyone’s current schedule.

I’ve focused so far on using software to resolve real-time scheduling problems, but the possibilities are much broader than that. With AI technology, we’ll eventually create models that warn us of potential problems downstream.

Right now, every company with complex business problems is dependent on people with deep tacit knowledge to keep their proverbial ship afloat. Software alone will never change that. But what can change the future is allowing experienced people to build the models while less experienced people learn quickly and more easily from seeing the model in action.

Modeling resource allocation within projects

Returning to our problem of avoiding a conflict that might cause a safety problem, there is an alternative to simply changing the schedule. We can potentially change the people.

A three-day slip for task B, by itself, may not be mission-critical. Most PMs know how to leave some slack in the schedule at the most probable problem points. As we’ve said, the real problem is that task D is about to happen simultaneously.

The first thing we should know is if the safety hazard has any relationship to work experience. Since we are talking about a statistical probability, if we see the negative event happening to the least experienced team member, then we have our fix.

However, if there’s no correlation between experience and risk-related incidents we’ve been discussing, then we know our only option to manage the delay is to try to shorten the recovery time on task B. But finding someone to help with that task almost always involves robbing Peter to pay Paul. That is, unless we start thinking outside the Box.

What’s the Box? The Box is our mental model that assumes people only know about the things in their job description. Or, for very smart managers, that people only know about the things they put in their LinkedIn profiles.

The odds are good that someone somewhere in a company knows enough to help on task B without derailing something else more important. Odds are even better that multiple recent retirees might be very willing to come in and help for a few days as needed. With Tempus Resource’s skills and capabilities feature, you have access to this data in the same system you’d use for resource management.

The value of a skills database

It’s critical to have software that employees can access to put in all their skills and abilities. While schedule problems will never go away, fixing them gets instantly easier with this level of visibility.

Bottom line: we need easy-to-use, highly accessible (as in not behind the HR firewall) resource management and scheduling software to stay up with the current pace of business in our emerging post-covid economy.

[i] Smart Construction and the Future of the Construction Industry

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