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15 min read

SBA 287: How to Schedule out Labor and Common Tasks

By Phil Zito on Oct 8, 2021 6:00:00 AM

Topics: Podcasts

Scheduling out labor for building automation projects can be a pain.

In this episode we discuss how to approach labor scheduling and labor management in your building automation projects.

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Phil Zito 0:00
This is the smart buildings Academy podcast with Phil Zito Episode 287. Hey folks, Phil Zito here and welcome to Episode 287 of the smart buildings Academy podcast. And in this episode we are going to be discussing how to schedule out labor and common tasks for your building automation projects. So up to this point in our VA s project management and operations series, we have talked through sales operations, handoffs, performing takeoffs, and re estimates, creating submittals and project documents and aligning out our subcontractors. Now we're coming to a part where a lot of folks kind of get confused as to how to handle this, because there's a strategic piece to this. And then there's like a process piece to this. And largely how you go about scheduling out your labor and your tasks is going to be dependent on both the project timeline, as well as how you're structured organizationally. So let's take a look at this. And as always, our resources can be found at podcasts, smart buildings academy.com forward slash 287. Once again, that is podcasts at smart buildings Academy comm forward slash 287. So how do we go about scheduling out labor? Well, the first thing we need to understand and we should have figured this out in our sales to operations handoff was? Or is what is the project timeline? And what are the conditions of project execution? So from a project timeline perspective, we need to understand when does the certificate of occupancy need to happen? When do we need to hit our specific milestones? So for example, when is equipment can be started up? When is power going to be flowing? When is water going to be flowing? When are the hydraulic plants going to be working, if there are any. And you know, based on those milestones that will typically come from project meetings, and they'll typically be passed down from the mechanical contractor to us. Once we understand those milestones, then we can start to back in where do our people need to be? Additionally, we

Phil Zito 2:12
also have to understand the specification does the specification have specific timelines. Usually it doesn't have timelines around execution. But it does typically have timelines around submittal creation. So up to this point, we've talked about project meetings, and the project meetings and the MEP are going to have like equipment, start up dates, power dates, water dates, etc. And your significant completion date, the specification potentially is going to have your date for your submittals. And if there are any commissioning agents, they are going to have a commissioning plan. And that itself is typically going to have dates as well. So you'll understand based on both the commissioning plan, as well as the specification requirements, what level of involvement and labor you have to have. So now we've got three points that we look at for our inputs. Because remember I said this is kind of a process and the processes we take our inputs, which are going to be kind of what's our scope of work, and what's our project timeline, what is in the specifications related to deliverables and timelines around that and then our commissioning plan. And then finally, we have our test and balance and whatever we need to support there. So those are our four main inputs. Now you could argue especially right now during the kinda Coronavirus era is product and material delivery dates, because it seems like that is the gate, the phase gate to a lot of execution issues right now and a lot of timeline issues is the delay in materials. I know here at smart buildings Academy we use a lab kit for some of our courses and flab kit delivery days have been pushed out about eight weeks because of suppliers. So we are with an eight week lead time from the moment we place an order for a lab kit to actually get that lab kit to show up is around eight weeks. So we're seeing significant material delays. Now in order to properly schedule our labor, we need to also understand the site conditions. So we need to understand is this a prison and we're going to have to go and add extra time because people have to go through checkout or have to go through basically in processing making sure that they're not bringing anything in and they have to be escorted and background checks and all that and that takes time Is this a working hospital where we need to put up screens and we need to do it in off hours is this accelerated timeline like maybe an Amazon warehouse or an Amazon data center where they want us to work 24 seven Because they're like, Hey, you need to man three crews, and just constant execution, because every moment that this is not up and running is costing the business revenue, more revenue than it costs to have y'all working double time or time and a half. So we have to factor in those things as well. Once we have all those inputs and conditions, then we need to balance that against how we are organizationally structured. And this is something that I didn't have a podcast episodes scheduled for it. But I will add one kind of towards, I don't know if it'll be towards the end, or if it'll be towards the middle of this series. But we'll add one on the structuring your team, I know that we have an upcoming webinar on structuring your team, and that is going to be on the 13th of October, that is structuring your ba s team for success. Like always, all of our webinars are free, you just need to go and register and then you can watch it or you can get the recording. If you are at all interested in how to structure your building automation team optimally for your business, then I encourage you to go and listen to this webinar and engage in this webinar. That being said, and that will be October 13, by the way at 12pm. central time.

Phil Zito 6:20
So we're looking at how do we schedule out this labor and these common tasks? Well, we have to understand how our team is structured and a typical structure for a team will be a startup technician who will be responsible for Point to Point checkout will be responsible for uploading downloading controllers, downloading graphics, and just doing basic setup of the system, we have a designer who can be split into potentially two roles, we can have a submittal designer who only does submittal creation, or we and then we have a separate designer for graphics, floor plans, etc. Or they can be one in the same right so the person creates the submittals as well as creating the graphics at the same time, then we typically have a programmer or senior tech and this person is responsible for writing the programs, validating the program's validating functional test. And then we typically have a project manager. So now we need to go and actually start to schedule out this labor. And how we schedule out this labor is we look at our specific dates that we are going to be working with. So the first thing I do, whenever I schedule out labor, is let's say that this project is slated to take 12 months, I will create a 12 month depending on your software tools that your system may do this for you. But I will create a 12 month chart and across that 12 month chart,

Phil Zito 7:43
I will break out the labor labor evenly, right I'll take the technician, the designer, the project manager hours, the programmer hours that I've got allocated, and I'll just break them out evenly across the 12. Now what I will do once I've done that, and that's really simple. What I will do once I've done that is then I will look at the timeline, I'll overlay the timeline, I'll say okay, submittal creation needs to be done by month, two and a half. So I'm going to pull a lot of those designer hours. And I'm going to look at, you know, how many graphics Do I need to create. And I'll have a basic idea, you know, a floor plan takes this Oh, it's a 3d floor plan that's going to take that. And so I will understand kind of, Okay, 60% of the designer, and these are just round numbers here, 60% of designer hours are going to go to submittals 40% are going to go to graphics, I'm going to pull 60% of those hours and put them in month one. So I'd take 60% of those hours, we'll say it's 100 hours, I'm going to take 60 hours, I'm going to put them in month one and two, with the 40 of the 60. Going in month one and 20 of the 60 going in month two, most likely, that's what I'll do. And sometimes you can flip that if you feel like this is an engineer who is going to be like sending you back a lot of resubmits and saying hey, change this change that, then you can flip into, you know, 20 month 140 a month to so you're just blocking this out. And so that's how you start doing this as you start pulling the hours you need into the month based on the phases you're going to be actually executing. So you say once again, let's just for round numbers, say we have 100 hours of technician time. And we know that immediately following submittals. We're going to order materials and we know that materials are going to take let's just use a magic number of four weeks here. So that brings us to month three month three and a half. And that's when material delivery happens that's when subcontractor line out happens maybe we need a day to support subcontractor line out so that's eight hours. And then let's say month four and Half melt, five subcontractors are done. And let's say the mechanical startup is done and electricity is working, then we're going to start our point to point and so maybe we pull 32 hours into month five, month six. And so I start moving around my hours. While I had them evenly distributed across my months, I now start to pull them into the months that are appropriate. And all the while I have this master list of hours, and this is why if you've listened to any of my past episodes, I've always advocated for task based billing and task based labor doesn't have to be super complex, you don't have to get into Okay, well, this is submittals. This is submittal graphics. This is submittal floor plan, you don't have to have like that specific of task codes. But if you just have a designer test code and installer test code, a programmer test code and a project manager test code, that's for task codes that you can break your labor hours across. And obviously each labor hours can have a different rate. And what typically happens, what I like to happen is that my estimate I'm going to get from the sales team is going to be you know, I have 100 hours of technician rate labor, I have 100 hours of designer rate labor, I have 50 hours of programmer rate labor, and I have 20 hours of Project Manager rate labor, something like that, right? project management is usually so if you have, you know, 100 hours of tech time, you're usually going to have like 10 to 20 hours of project management time, depending on the complexity of the project. So the rule tends to be you know, 10 to 20% of your technical time, is going to allocate project management time, there's no rule of thumb for technical time, and for programmer time and designer time, because it's all based on the complexity of the project, you may have a project that is smart equipment, and it's super simple, super straightforward. And from a checkout perspective, but it's very complex from a programming perspective, due to the back net integrations and a lot of global or supervisory level programming having to happen, she may be very heavy with a programmer and very light with a technician. So never just assume that the worst thing in my opinion you can do is go by points, like say, Okay, we've got 1000 points, and we're gonna have so many hours per point. Because points aren't equal, you could have 1000 v vbox points. And that's pretty simple compared to 1000. You know, ultra complex central utility points are 100 Ultra complex, central utility points at like, tier four data center that has zero tolerance for downtime, you know, that is going to be a totally different level of complexity. So be cognizant of that as you approach things. Okay, so up to this point, I started talking about kind of how we lay out our labor, and how we look at it from a task based perspective. Now, all the meanwhile, we are going to want to be looking at all the supporting tasks we're going to do. So what I would typically do with that 12 month timeframe is I'd say, okay, submittals are due here, mechanical startup is here, commissioning is here, tested balances here, owner training is here. And then once I know those buckets, I know kind of where I'm going to be placing my labor, and I start to schedule out my labor. And it's really important that you do this, even on the small projects, because what will happen is you'll start to get really busy. And this should be done for each project as soon as it's released. If you have a semi accurate timeframe. And once you've done this enough, even if the mechanical and the general don't have a exact timeline, if you know what vertical market it is, and you know, kind of okay, this is planet spec, oh, this is design build. And you know, this is healthcare versus this is education versus this is commercial real estate. Once you know that, and you know, the certificate of occupancy date that they're targeting, you can pretty much back into what's going to happen. You can also look at your climate and say okay, if this projects kicking off in January, in Wisconsin, the likelihood of them going and laying the foundation in January's probably not very high. So we can already look at a potential delay taking us into early spring when the foundation gets and the stub ups and everything like that happens. So we need to be cognizant of that. That doesn't mean we can't do submittal approval. That doesn't mean we can't get material on order. And once again, if it's a design build project, this may be something where the submittal process is multiple iterations before we ever even get to construction documents. So we may have significant delays. So we want to be cognizant of this. Now the common tasks that we're going to perform, and I'm going to go through these, and then we're going to be like talking about this a lot through the next several episodes, we're going to be lining out our subcontractors, we've already kind of went through that, we're gonna be performing Point to Point Checkout, we're going to be uploading programs or downloading depending on your software programs to our controllers, we're going to be going and mapping our controllers into supervisory devices, we're going to be setting up our users and graphics and point mapping, we're going to be setting up any auxiliary objects like trends, etc, alarms, etc. And those are going to be driven typically by the specification, we are going to set up our punk or functional tests, not our functional tests, but our functional tests. And we're going to set those up. And we're gonna work with our commissioning agents for those if we have commissioning agents, and then we're gonna do tab support close out and training and warranty. So you want to be able to schedule all these tasks out, and you want to really kind of understand where it is your labor's going. Because what that's going to allow you to do is not only make sure that you know where your revenue sources are coming, where your expenses are going. also kind of what your labor demands look like. But it can also help you from a staffing and a talent management perspective. If you notice that you've got 100 projects on the books, and these are taking 10,000 programming hours, but you've got one programmer, you've got a significant problem there, right, because you've got one programmer, and let's say ideally, you can get 2000 hours a year out of this programmer. And that's ideal, because while someone may work 2080 hours if you go 52 weeks times 40. And then you take away 80 for vacation. So you give them you know, 2000 hours. The reality is people like to say that they get 100% utilization out of their labor, which that means that every hour they're working as billable to a project, but that's not realistic, you typically are getting about 80% utilization, because people have to drive to job sites, people have to do all sorts of things. So have actual labor, not commute not transport, not any of that. But actual labor, you're typically getting 80% efficiency at the best from your staff. And that's if you can keep them really focused and super engaged.

Phil Zito 17:39
But I believe personally that are effective utilization is actually more in the 60 70% range. Because people like if you're sitting there staring at a screen doing graphics all day long, I'll be honest, your effectiveness, your efficiency starts to degrade, you tend to get four to six good hours out of people, at which point their effectiveness starts to degrade. That's why whenever I see people working 10 1214 hours as a BS technician, I start to cringe because I've been in their shoes, and maybe it's just me. But everyone I've seen a lot of the people I've seen who work those kinds of hours, their effectiveness starts to degrade after about six hours. And the you would be better off getting a second person and having that person working another eight, then having someone worked 10 to 12. Now I know it's easy for me to say that sitting here recording a podcast, with the market being as it is, but if you at least are tracking your labor and understanding your labor requirements and your backlog, you can start making talent management decisions, you say, Oh, this person's retiring. These are task based skill gaps that we have, we need to hire for these roles. We need to backfill these positions we need to have a business continuity plan for when this person leaves. And these are all things that at smart buildings Academy we can help you with we provide consulting services, and training programs that close these talent management gaps and help people with their talent management strategy. But you really should even if you don't work with us, you really should consider how do I use my project scheduling?

Phil Zito 19:32
How do I use my backlog management and all that information that I'm getting? How do I use that to make decisions on how I staff my team, how I train my team and how I position my team to execute work. I it is of my opinion, that project timelines are going to both become more compressed as well as longer. So what does that mean how can something be compressed but also So extended at the same time, what I think you will see. And we've seen this already, and I think you will continue to see it is you will see project timelines extended. But you will see it extended with dead periods, you'll have compressed work periods where people get approval to work. And then they've got a GM all this work in that time period, and then maybe a shutdown due to COVID regulations or a new strain of COVID, or something that slows things down. And then it opens back up and slows things down and opens back up, I believe that at least for the next year or two, that will be how a lot of us are executing projects. And we need to be tooled up to do that. Because those compressed timelines, they tend to be driven by policy by local policy within a metro or a county, and that local policy is going to hit all projects at the same time. So if you're depending on 12 months, stretched out across 12 honest months to execute a project, and all the sudden you have three months compressed or six months compressed, execute a project, and that's across multiple projects, you're going to find yourself short staffed and unable to execute. That's why I highly recommend if you're doing labor scheduling now that you consider a compressed timeline, a extended timeline and a normal timeline. And you say to yourself, how could we handle if our city closed down projects for X amount of time, and then opened all projects back up? How would we address that, what would be our strategy, and at least have some ideas so that when that hits, you're not surprised, because at the end of the day, you know, everyone else is going to be suffering the same thing. And everyone else is going to be struggling to get man up projects and execute, because we simply have limited labor and limited staff. So being able to prepare for those is going to be important. But also being able to be reasonable with those it's a delicate balance, right, you're not going to go and work all your people on at least I hope you're not working your people 80 to 100 hours a week. Not only is that inefficient, as I just mentioned from a utilization and you know, diminishing returns perspective, you're gonna burn out your people, they're gonna quit, they're gonna go somewhere else where people aren't expecting them to work those kinds of hours. So that being said, that's a look at scheduling out labor and common tasks and some strategies and some theory and thought behind it. I hope this has been helpful. And if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to reach out once again. You can find out all the information at podcasts at smart buildings academy.com Ford slash 287 or 287. Alright, thank you so much, and I look forward to talking to you in our next episode where we will start to discuss how to manage project costs. Thanks a ton and take care

Phil Zito

Written by Phil Zito

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