2005 Winch Kelsey What Do Construction Planners Do

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International Journal of Project Management 23 (2005) 141–149 www.elsevier.com/locate/ijproman

What do construction project planners do?
Graham M. Winch
a b


, John Kelsey


Centre for Research in the Management of Projects, University of Manchester, P.O. Box 88, Manchester M60 1QD, UK Centre for Research in the Management of Projects, School of Construction and Project Management, The Bartlett University College London, UK Received 8 July 2003; received in revised form 30 January 2004; accepted 15 June 2004

Abstract Construction project planning is receiving growing attention as the limitations of formal deterministic planning are becoming more widely recognised. In particular, the last planner and critical chain approaches are diffusing rapidly. However, little of this debate has been informed by empirical examination of what construction project planners actually do. The research reported here draws on three different research projects. One on the overall context of construction project planning, and two focused on requirements capture for the virtual construction site system. For the later project, 18 construction planners were interviewed on their daily practice. The results show that construction planning for principal contractors is more about negotiation with other interested parties and rapid decision-making based on heuristics than detailed analysis. Ó 2004 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved. Keywords: Construction project planning: Critical path analysis: Tendering

1. Introduction There has been considerable debate over the last decade or so on the effectiveness of construction project planning. However, there is remarkably little research into what construction project planners actually do. The research reported here was undertaken as part of the requirements capture process for the development of the VIRCON system (VCS) as a strategic decision support tool for construction project planners. This larger research project is reported elsewhere [1]. This paper will explore the evidence on the role and practice of project planners that underpinned the development of the VCS. In so doing, it will address what Laufer and his colleagues [2] identify as the operation/systems analysis level of construction scheduling. The paper will first review some of the recent debates on construction project planning. It will then report the results from our inter*

views with 18 construction planners from five leading UK firms before some conclusions are drawn.

2. Recent debates in construction project planning In an early paper, Laufer and Tucker [3] provide a critique of (US) construction planning. They argue that:  The planning and evaluation of planning processes are non-existent.  There is over-emphasis on critical path methods.  Planners lack construction experience.  Planners have poor information gathering methods.  Planning is control-oriented instead of actionoriented.  Plans are poorly presented with overly-complex information. In a subsequent paper, Laufer and his colleagues [4] look at the definition and allocation of planning work.

Corresponding author. E-mail address: g.winch@umist.ac.uk (G.M. Winch).

0263-7863/$30.00 Ó 2004 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.ijproman.2004.06.002


G.M. Winch, J. Kelsey / International Journal of Project Management 23 (2005) 141–149

They found that there was no clear system used, and planning was done in a multiplicity of ways. Laufer and Tucker [5] discuss the problem of who should do construction planning and when they should do it. The specialist planner has the time to do the work but incomplete practical knowledge. The line manager has the practical knowledge but does not have the quality time to carry out the task. The specialist planner has better strategic decision-making skills than the short-term decision-making focus of the line manager. Line...
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