DesCor Builders Elevates Scheduling Quality

DesCor Builders is a licensed general contractor providing full-service preconstruction, general contracting, and construction management services throughout Northern California. Several years ago, the company began to experience dramatic expansion of its business – so much growth in fact, that it landed them in the ENR Top 400.

As DesCor grew, so did the number and size of its projects. What’s more, DesCor began to take on more multifamily projects, which carry a complexity all their own, given the multi-phased deliveries and multiple buildings that are worked on concurrently. The dramatic increase in business – DesCor has 20 to 30 active projects going on at any given time – began to put increased pressure on the scheduling operation.

“The more projects we took on, the more evidence we saw that our scheduling needed tweaking,” noted Brandon Schroer, DesCor’s Vice President and CFO. “Make no mistake, our people are extremely proficient at creating and managing project schedules. Consequently, we’ve got a great track record for meeting our clients’ delivery dates. But you can’t expect to experience the huge uptick in the number of projects that we had – along with the increased complexity – and not expect to find that some of your processes need some upgrading to keep up.”

Initially, Schroer and his colleague Denton Perreault, DesCor’s Director of Innovation and Technology and a project manager who oversees projects from $4 million up to the $75-million range, thought that the company might have simply outgrown Microsoft Project, their scheduling platform. But they quickly realized that improving the quality of the information the superintendents were putting into the program – as well as how they were pulling it out – would have the greatest impact.

During Covid, while searching for a solution, Schroer and Perreault came across an email from SmartPM, a leading platform for analysis of construction-schedule data. They quickly saw it as a tool that could deliver highly accurate analytics to reveal how a project was progressing, while identifying any trouble spots as early as possible – specifically problems caused by lower data quality. They could then recommend the appropriate corrective action, whether it was reworking the schedule, utilizing schedule compression, or if necessary, discussing productivity concerns with subcontractors. In doing so, DesCor would be able to maintain its reputation for meeting delivery dates, while also gaining project insights previously unavailable to them.

No Retraining Needed

A major plus was that their superintendents could continue using Microsoft Project, so there would be no need to retrain the entire workforce on a new software package. Schroer observed, “SmartPM takes the guesswork out of the scheduling process. It shows you graphically, with objective data, what you’re likely feeling subjectively about how a project is moving along. We want our schedules to be as accurate as possible, and they now have a tool to meet that challenge.”

A particularly attractive feature of the SmartPM platform is the Quality Checker. “Before SmartPM, we used to go line item by line item to make sure everything had a predecessor and successor,” Perreault explained. “You can imagine on a 3000-line-item schedule, that would take quite a while. The Quality Checker allows us to just drop in the initial schedule, after which it punches out a comprehensive report on the schedule’s feasibility.”

The performance of the Quality Checker speaks for itself. “On one project, my super completed his initial schedule, and it looked perfect – great critical path, everything was good. Then, we put it through the Quality Checker, which revealed some areas that needed adjustment.

“After we went back and revised those items, our schedule increased by almost three months. Still, having that knowledge up front, instead of waiting until the end, allowed us to revise the schedule and re-sequence certain items.”

SmartPM reporting has been fully incorporated into the company’s overall reporting procedures. Project teams are required to compile a monthly status report. For any project that occupies one of the 10 SmartPM analytics slots, a “SmartPM report” must be submitted along with their project update reports; schedules for projects that do not occupy one of the slots still require a quality report, as they still have access to the Quality Checker.

A three-person executive group – including Perreault and Schroer – oversees all the projects that reside in one of the 10 slots; with access to the executive dashboard, any of the three members can jump in if something doesn’t look right and start asking relevant questions.

The executive team has fully bought into the value of SmartPM, encouraging project managers and project engineers to pull up the program during weekly team meetings. According to Perreault, even if the superintendent is the one who’s updating the schedule, day in and day out, it’s important for the other project team members to be aware of how things are trending on the job, so that collectively, everybody can be on the same page. “The schedule can sometimes be viewed as this kind of black box that only certain people have access to,” said Perreault. “As a result, not everyone understands how it’s being put together, how it’s being managed, and what the data means. It’s a major plus knowing that all project stakeholders have true insight into exactly what’s happening.”

A Real “Deal Closer”

SmartPM has not only proven to be a valuable asset for analyzing construction schedules once DesCor wins a project, but it has actually helped them close some deals. “We had won a large multifamily project, and when we were in contract negotiations, one of the owner’s stipulations was that we had to use their preferred scheduling tool,” recalled Perreault. “However, once we demonstrated SmartPM to the owners – we showed them some of the sample reports and how it’s able to calculate critical paths – we convinced the owner to remove that item from the negotiations and allow us to continue using our standard scheduling program. Obviously, that saved us the money and time it would have taken to retrain our people on the new program. We were thrilled that we could stay with what we already knew.”

While the analytics are the centerpiece of the SmartPM platform, DesCor has future plans to capitalize on some of the data sharing and presentation features. “We use Excel spreadsheets to produce our SmartPM reports,” observed Schroer. “We were already using it before we had the program, so it was simple to incorporate the new data into our existing format. But we’re already examining some of the presentation formats that SmartPM provides, which are easy to produce and simple to understand for people with diverse levels of technical expertise.”

More importantly, DesCor will be constantly evaluating ways to extract more comprehensive data from the platform. “Developing more deep-seated data analytics across all our different platforms – to be able to aggregate that data and get the complete data picture across the project – is certainly on our roadmap,” said Perreault.

Getting a firm handle on the exact ROI that SmartPM has generated is difficult, says Perreault. Obviously, data quality has improved, schedules are more accurate, and overall productivity has risen. Still, deeper analysis can help evaluate the platform’s true value. “We’re working with the SmartPM management to analyze projects that were completed prior to getting the program. We will then match those results against those achieved following our SmartPM implementation, which should be instrumental in defining our true ROI.”

Schroer neatly summed up the platform’s capabilities. “SmartPM is a great tool for companies that want to leverage data-driven, decision-making processes, and have true insights into what’s really happening. There’s an added level of accountability and insight that helps kick the proficiency of our scheduling operation up a notch.”

Feature Image Courtesy of DesCor

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