1. COVER PAGE
A. Principle Investigator (PI)
Dr. Lingguang SONG
Department of Construction Management
University of Houston
Room 375, Technology Building
Houston TX, 77204
B. Project Title: Effective Look-ahead Scheduling for Electrical Contractors
Category of Research: Productivity Enhancement
C. Project Summary
Electrical construction exposes contractors to high risk of subpar productivity performance
and schedule delay due to many unique challenges in the field, such as delayed preceding
trades, out-of-sequence work, frequent schedule acceleration, symbiotic work, resource and
space constraints, and various other interruptions. More often than not, this subpar
performance is a planning issue, not a labor issue. Given the complex and uncertain nature of
electrical field operations, planning should be moved closer to the workface execution, and
focused on effective look-ahead scheduling (e.g. 3-week, weekly, and daily planning) that
dynamically re-plans around constraints at a more detailed crew-level during construction.
Outside of the electrical construction sector, the successful implementation of best practices
in look-ahead scheduling, such as WorkFace Planning used in the industrial construction
sector, have revealed that detailed crew-level planning effort ensures the release and
execution of reliable and constraint-free work packages, and further leads to improved
productivity and predictable project performance. The objective of this study is to define and
document a formal look-ahead scheduling best practice model for electrical contractors to
enhance their field productivity. More specifically, this model will reflect the best practices
identified in other construction sectors and refine and adapt them to meet the unique needs of
electrical contractors. The outcome of this study will be valuable to project managers,
superintendents, and foremen involved in electrical construction projects. While the final
research reports provide an in-depth look of the technical knowledge, the implementation
resources produced by this study will provide practitioners with user-friendly field
implementation guidance and supporting tools, such as templates, process charts, and check
2. THE PROPOSAL
Effective Look-ahead Scheduling for Electrical Contractors
A. Introduction and Justification
Challenges & Significance
Electrical system is technically sophisticate and allows very little tolerance for misalignment
and construction variations. In the field, electrical contractors face even more unique operating
challenges in areas such as coordination, schedule acceleration, symbiotic work, various uncertainties
and interruptions, as well as resource and space constraints which expose them to high risk (Horman et
al. 2006). Although electrical contractors are typically involved in pre-construction planning to
coordinate with other trades, the resulted master schedule only identifies high-level work packages and
the overall project execution strategy and milestones. During field execution, electrical work that is
driven by other trades working before them is frequently challenged by out-of-sequence work,
congestion problems, uncertainties, and other resource constraints that are difficult to predict in the
pre-construction stage through a fixed definite master schedule (SONG and Liang 2011). In fact,
various studies around the world show that, on average, field crews in general only achieve about 40-
60% efficiency and safety accidents can account for 3-6% of the total project cost (Banik 1999). More
often than not, this is a planning issue, not a labor issue. Given the complex and uncertain nature of
electrical field operations, planning should be moved closer to the workface execution, and focused on
effective look-ahead scheduling (e.g. 3-week, weekly, and daily planning) that dynamically re-plans
around constraints at a more detailed crew-level during construction. Studies conducted in other
construction sectors have proved that detailed crew-level planning effort will ensure the release and
execution of reliable and constraint-free work packages, and further leads to improved productivity and
predictable performance (e.g. Ballard 2000; Slootman 2007).
Industry Practice & Related Work
Despite of its importance, very little study has been conducted so far on understanding and
improving electrical contractors’ look-ahead scheduling practice. In this proposed study, we adopt the
widely used term of look-ahead scheduling, but extend its scope to include all planning and scheduling
efforts involved in work packaging, multi-week scheduling, weekly scheduling, and crew-level daily
planning and control activities. The current industry approach to look-ahead scheduling uses (1)
contract-level master schedule to set and communicate project phase milestones among owner,
engineer, and contractor; (2) project-level multi-week schedule for project manager and trade
superintendents to plan work in the present and coming month; and (3) crew-level weekly and daily
planning conducted by superintendents and foremen to resolve design and field work coordination
issues (e.g. Rojas 2006). Working with NECA New Mexico branch, Senior (1996) evaluated the
practice of foremen task scheduling and highlighted inefficiencies of the current practice, such as
delays and rework. To overcome these inefficiencies, Horman et al. (2006) proposed an updated
planning process with a focus on improving work sequencing through better foremen involvement and
careful management of requisite activities/requirements. This approach was validated through a case
study and a strong positive correlation was confirmed between crew-level sequence planning and crew
productivity performance. These past studies provided a good basis for this proposed study to develop
an enhanced and formalized look-ahead scheduling model incorporating the better or best practice
available both within and outside of the electrical construction community, as elaborated below.
Best Practices in Construction
Over the last ten years, there have been exciting research and development efforts in the area of
look-ahead scheduling, primarily originated from the industrial construction sector and conducted by
industry organizations. Of particular significance and recognition is the work done by Construction
Owners Association of Alberta (COAA), Construction Industry Institute (CII), and Lean Construction
Institute (LCI), which resulted in three correlated yet unique look-ahead scheduling methodologies:
WorkFace Planning (WFP), Enhanced Work Packaging, and Last Planner® respectively. Various
independent validation studies revealed the value of these methods in improving labor productivity and
predictability of project performance, as well as safe performance and reduced rework (e.g. CII 2011;
Slootman 2007). The success and lessons learned from these documented and validated practices
provide valuable inputs in identifying and defining better or best look-ahead scheduling practice that is
suitable for electrical contractors. The following discussion provides a quick glance at their definition
WorkFace Planning (WFP) is developed and considered as a best practice by COAA to
overcome cost-overrun issues facing large oil and gas projects (COAA 2011). COAA defines
WFP as “The process of organizing and delivering all elements necessary, before work is
started, to enable craft persons to perform quality work in a safe, effective and efficient
manner.” This goal is achieved through an integrated design-construction approach and a
formalized team-planning process down to the workface execution level (i.e. foremen or crew
level). Since its development in early 2000, WFP has been actively practiced by owners,
engineers, and contractors, particularly in Canada. An independent study showed that a large
majority of the industry experts acknowledge WFP principles as best practice and they
contribute to higher performance in mega-projects (Slootman 2007).
Enhanced Work Packaging (CII 2011) is the latest update of CII’s past work on work
packaging (CII 1988) through review and synthesis of related work on best practices, tools, and
processes for work packaging. Work packaging refer to the overall process flow of all the
detailed work packages from design through field execution. The enhanced model expands the
original work packing concept with an emphasis on workface planning and execution concepts
promoted by COAA. This model is supported by detailed work flow definition and assessment
tools. It was validated through external expert review and case studies.
Last planner® is a lean-production-based project-planning methodology that integrates a
multiple-level scheduling process to improve the reliability of work flow (LCI 2011). Last
planners refer to superintendents or foremen who decide the work that is to be done the next
day. Key principles of last planner include pull-driven approach to achieve just-in-time delivery
and a formal constraint analysis to reduce work-flow variability and shield downstream
processes from upstream uncertainties.
To improve electrical construction productivity, what are the best models, innovative and
practical approaches, tools, and best practices for look-ahead scheduling? Answers to this essential
research question must reflect the uniqueness of electrical work, the nature of electrical contracting
practice (e.g. subcontracting), and the need of contractors for effective real-world implementation.
Therefore, more specifically, the proposed research will address the following issues. Strategies in
responding to these questions are discussed later in the Work Plan section.
1. What are productivity issues faced by electrical contractors, underlying reasons, and corrective
actions taken so far in terms of planning and scheduling?
2. What are the better or best principles/practices of look-ahead scheduling recognized by
electrical construction practitioners?
3. What are the recognized best or innovative scheduling practices and principles outside of the
electrical construction sector, their effectiveness, and lessons learned? What is their
applicability in terms of work type, project size, contract types, and prerequisite requirements?
4. How to refine and adapt the best practices identified above for electrical contractor use? How
do factors, such as the current scheduling practice in electrical construction and contract types
(e.g. design-bid-build and lump sum contract), affect the decision?
5. If an enhanced look-ahead scheduling model is proposed and validated, how to package this
model in a user-friendly way for effective field implementation?
As the technical intensity of electrical systems grow, contractors face ever increasing level of
complexity both in the technical work and in the field operation management. There is no better time
to address the above-mentioned issues than the current volatile and highly competitive economic
climate with the goal to improve contractors’ productivity performance and competitiveness.
B. Goals and Objectives
The objective of the proposed study is to define and document a formal look-ahead scheduling
model for electrical contractors to enhance their field productivity. More specifically, this model will
reflect the best practices identified in other construction sectors (e.g. WFP, Enhanced Work Packaging,
and Last Planner), which will be refined and adapted to meet the unique needs of electrical contractors.
Particular deliverables include the following:
1. Research reports – Providing theoretical background and technical knowledge
a. Current look-ahead scheduling practices and issues in electrical construction
b. Best practices identified in other sectors and their effectiveness and applicability
c. An enhanced look-ahead scheduling model for electrical contractors and its validation
2. Implementation resources – Making solutions practical and accessible to contractors
a. Field implementation procedure and guidelines
b. Template, checklist, and evaluation/scorecard tools associated with the proposed model
c. An introductory video of the proposed model and field case study for marketing
The outcome of this study will be valuable to project managers, superintendents, and foremen
involved in electrical construction projects. While the research reports provide an in-depth look of the
technical knowledge, the implementation resources will provide practitioners with user-friendly field
implementation guidance and supporting tools.
C. Work Plan
For an easier review, the work plan for the proposed study is explained here using a research
methodology and a project schedule.
The research methodology, as illustrated in Figure 1, carries two main goals in mind: (1)
defining the look-ahead scheduling best practice model for electrical contractors, and (2) implementing
and validating the model for practical field applications.
Goal 1: Define best practice model Goal 2: Implement & validate
for look-ahead scheduling recommended model
What we DO. What we SHOULD do. What is PROVEN.
Current practice & Perceived good Proven best practices
issues principles in other sectors
Gap Analysis I. Gap Analysis II.
DO vs. SHOULD SHOULD vs. PROVEN
Lessons learned Define best practice Procedure & Case study &
model supporting tools
Uniqueness of validation
What we CAN do.
electrical work Feedback
Figure 1. Research methodology
A web-based survey study will be conducted to gain a better understanding of (1) What
contractors DO – the current scheduling practice, effectiveness, issues and causes, and (2) What
contractors believe they SHOULD do – perceived better practices and principles. The survey questions
will be designed in a way to separate what practitioners believe to be good principles/practices
(SHOULD do) and what they actually behave in their projects (DO). Gap Analysis-I will then measure
the difference between current practice (DO) and perceived good principles (SHOULD do), and a
follow-up survey will be used to understand the reasons of the behavior-belief gap.
On the other hand, a comprehensive literature review will identify proven best practices of
look-ahead scheduling in other construction sectors (PROVEN), which will include the three best
practices developed by COAA, CII, and LCI mentioned earlier, as well as other new developments.
Their principles, procedures, effectiveness, and applicability in terms of project size, contract types,
and prerequisite requirements will be evaluated. Similarly, Gap Analysis-II will then measure the
difference between the beliefs of the electrical sector (SHOULD) and the best practices of other sectors
(PROVEN). The two gap analysis provide a basis for defining the best practice model (CAN do) with
particular considerations of past lessons learned and the uniqueness of electrical construction projects
(e.g. symbiotic work, frequent schedule acceleration, and contracting environment etc.). This best
practice model will identify and define scheduling principles, constraint tracking and removal
strategies, and team organization and communication protocols. To implement the best practice model,
user-friendly implementation guide and supporting tools (e.g. process charts and check lists) will be
developed. To validate this model, a case study in an electrical-intensive building project will be
identified and used to test-run the proposed model and measure its impact on productivity performance
(e.g. measured by labor productivity, schedule performance index, and percent of plan complete).
Feedbacks from this case study will be used to further refine the best practice model, if necessary.
The project schedule is shown in Table 1 below. The proposed project is self-contained and
will be conducted and completed in one calendar year from July 2011 to June 2012.
Table 1. Project Schedule
Task Deliverables 7 8 9 10 11 12 1 2 3 4 5 6
Task force team initial Review & confirm work scope and
Literature review Review report of best practices
x x x
from other construction sectors
Survey design Questionnaire draft x x
Task team/experts review of Web-based survey
survey design & revision
Survey data collection Response data set x x
Survey data analysis & Gap analysis and interpretation
Define best practice model Draft model specification x x x
Task team model review & Final model specification
Develop implementation Implementation guide &
guide & supporting tools supporting tools
Task team identify case study x
Field case study & validation x x x x
Final documentation Final report, implementation
resources, and introductory video
D. Product Information Dissemination
It is the goal of this study to not only conduct quality research but also transform the research
results into meaningful and useful tools accessible to electrical contractors. In addition to the final
report and implementation resources, to better reach interested audience, a summary of the study,
including the proposed best practice model and its field test cases, will be recorded and edited as an
introductory video and posted online. Furthermore, face-to-face seminars or webinars can also be
arranged, such as through NECA’s Management Education Institute.
E. Benefit to the Industry
The expected results from this study will allow contractors to examine their practice and
compare with the proposed best practice model for possible enhancement to their look-ahead
scheduling practice. Once such decision is made, implementation resources produced by this study,
such as templates, checklists, and flow charts, are available to help their field implementation.
Ultimately, enhanced look-ahead scheduling is expected to improve productivity and increase
predictability of project performance. Although the exact benefit cannot be accurately forecasted at this
time, the following evident has been observed from implementing similar best practices in other
COAA estimated that a 25% reduction in labor cost can be realized by implementing a more
detailed execution planning strategy (COAA 2007)
Various real-world studies revealed significant improvement of labor productivity, schedule
and cost performance, rework rate, and safety performance (e.g. Slootman 2007; CII 2011)
Companies implementing detailed work packaging have found that these cost savings more
than offset the increased cost associated with workface planning efforts (CII 2011)
Principle Investigator (PI) – Dr. Lingguang Song
For the last 15 years, the PI’s research is primarily focused on project planning and control, and
productivity measurement and improvement, which resulted in over 35 publications as well as many
invited talks and seminars based on 12 funded projects. One of his studies is the winner of the best
paper award of ASCE Journal of Management in Engineering in 2009.
In the area of look-ahead scheduling, the PI has worked closely with the industry to develop
both practical and innovative solutions to improve productivity performance. His work in this area
includes (1) an integrated look-ahead scheduling system based on Last Planner and Linear Scheduling
concepts in collaboration with CII and Baker Concrete; (2) stochastic look-ahead scheduling in
pipeline construction with Bechtel; (3) constraint management and WorkFace Planning best practice
with Bentley; and (4) real-time operation tracking and look-ahead scheduling in heavy construction
projects in collaboration with HCSS and Gilchrist Construction. In addition, survey study is one of the
main research methods used in the proposed study. In this regards, through a PMI-funded project, the
PI successfully conducted a survey study on project control practices that attracted the participation of
more than 600 industry practitioners from 61 countries and 17 different industry sectors. This study has
been published by PMI as a book in 2010.
Supporting resources are also available at the institutional level to support the proposed effort.
The PI oversees with other faculty members a graduate program in Construction Management with
more 50 students who are actively involved in applied research. One top graduate student will be
involved and supported by this project. One undergraduate student will support the survey and field
data collection effort with funding provided by a university undergraduate research scholarship.
Furthermore, the Industry Advisory Board of the Construction Management department at the
University of Houston involves more than 50 top general and specialty contractors (such as Fisk Corp)
whose expertise can be tapped into for knowledge generation and field case studies. In summary, the
PI’s experience related to the proposed research and the available institutional support will help to
ensure the successful delivery of effective and practical solutions to the electrical contracting industry.
The total requested budget for the proposed study is $44,810. Table 2 below shows the detail
estimates. It includes a 10% indirect cost charged by the University of Houston. Supporting documents
are available upon request.
Table 2. Proposed Budget
Salary & Wage
Research Assistant $13,800
Research Assistant $138
Web -based survey hosting $300
Data analysis tool – SPSS $300
Book/information purchase $300
Field case study $6,000
Conference & registration $5,000
Total Direct Cost $40,736
Indirect Cost (10%) $4,074
Total Project Cost $44,810
Ballard, G. (2000) Last planner system of production control. Ph.D. Dissertation. Univ. of
Birmingham, Birmingham, UK., 2000.
Banik, G. C., “Construction productivity improvement”, ASC Proceedings of the 35th Annual
Conference, San Luis Obispo, CA., 1999.
CII. (1988) Work packaging for project control. Publication 6-6, CII, Autin, TX.
CII. (2011) Enhanced work packaging: Design through workface execution. Implementation resource
272-2, CII, Autin, TX.
COAA. (2011) WorkFace Planning. <http://www.coaa.ab.ca/Productivity/WorkFacePlanning.aspx>
(Dec. 31, 2011).
LCI. (2011) Last planner. <http://www.leanconstruction.org/lastplanner.htm> (Dec. 31, 2011).
Horman, M. J., Orosz, M. P., and Riley, D. R. (2006) Sequence Planning for Electrical Construction. J.
Const. Eng. & Manag. 132(4)
Rojas, E. M. (2009) Construction Project Management: A Practical Guide for Building and Electrical
Contractors. J. Ross Publishing, Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Song, L., and Liang, D. (2011) Lean construction implementation and its implication on sustainability:
a contractor’s case study, Canadian J. Civil Eng. 38(3).
Slootman, T. (2007) Planning of Mega-Projects: Influence of execution planning on project
performance, Master Thesis, University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands.