AEC from the Ground Up-Digital Project Management

31 Aug, 2006 By: AIA ,H. Edward Goldberg

Using cutting-edge software to manage building projects.

When I was a project manager for Lehrer/McGovern/Bovis in the late 1980s, I created my construction schedules with pencil and graph paper and kept a log of all submittals in a notebook. Back then, the only computerized functions for my projects were done by the project accountant, who used Lotus 1-2-3 on a Pentium 2. Today, all that has changed. With the emphasis on productivity and competition, computerized project scheduling and process management isn't just a necessity, it's also a symbol of a company's cutting-edge competence.

To understand how computerized project management is being used, I contacted two of the country's major construction companies, Gilbane and Turner. As a counterpoint, I asked a major architectural firm—HOK (Hellmuth, Obata, + Kassa-baum)—how it uses software to support project execution.

Card Trick

Gilbane Building and Turner Construction both have long histories in the construction industry. Gilbane is rated fifth by ENR (Engineering News-Record) and has been in business since 1876. Turner, founded in 1902, is rated second by ENR. Fifty-year-old HOK, a global architectural firm with 24 offices worldwide, employs more than 2,000 professionals and serves diverse clients within the corporate, commercial, public and institutional markets.

At Gilbane's mid-Atlantic regional office, I spoke with Michael B. DuLaney, a CAD administrator and scheduler who uses software for project management daily. DuLaney uses Primavera P3, Primavera Sure Trak, Prolog and Microsoft Project for scheduling and managing projects, often in the multimillion-dollar range. P3 is a CPM (critical path method) scheduling package that contains powerful text and graphical reporting features for resource use and project status. It also has in-depth global change features. SureTrak can be thought of as the light version of P3. Although you can resource load SureTrak, its reporting features are not as extensive as P3's, nor does it have the global change capabilities. Prolog is a comprehensive project management tool used to track RFIs (requests for information), submittals and transmittals. Prolog's tracking features will generate dunning letters for submittals that are late, and users can send them to the responsible party.

DuLaney noted that the software solutions are just tools, and that the garbage in–garbage out adage holds true in this area of the AEC industry. Although the Primavera software is excellent, its successful use really depends on the construction knowledge of the operator. DuLaney started out as a CAD operator with Gilbane 11 years ago, and he now creates schedules for the firm's construction projects.

Before any construction schedule is created at Gilbane, says DuLaney, the project is discussed and analyzed. For smaller projects, this process includes the scheduler, project manager and superintendent. For larger projects, Gilbane uses what it calls the Card Trick. The Card Trick uses color-coded cards for each trade or discipline. All the subs meet together for a day's session, placing cards on a large printed timeline to represent the different stages of the project. The scheduler and project manager moderate the session, and at the end of the day take the information back to their offices for analysis.

Gilbane likes this method because it not only aids the scheduler, but also helps the subs buy into the schedule because they helped develop it. After reviewing the Card Trick, DuLaney begins to place the information into Primavera P3 or Sure Trak for further analysis and to determine the project's critical path (figure 1). Gilbane uses the same methods for scheduling design phase efforts.

 Figure 1. Both Turner and Gilbane use industry-standard Primavera software to generate CPM for management of their projects.
Figure 1. Both Turner and Gilbane use industry-standard Primavera software to generate CPM for management of their projects.

On the Right Path

Turner Construction recently formed QPS (Quality Planning Solutions), a new subsidiary that aims to become one of the nation's largest CPM scheduling groups. QPS's president, David Ambrose, explained how his division handles scheduling for Turner and how it plans to use its experience to help other companies. According to Ambrose, QPS also uses Primavera P3.1, P3 e/c, Sure Trak and Prolog software for scheduling and submittal controls on its projects (figure 2). Ambrose's schedulers create all their critical path schedules in P3.1 but use Sure Track in the field to allow superintendents and project engineers to do what-if scheduling scenarios. Regardless, QPS controls the schedules and visits the sites monthly to make any adjustments to the critical path. According to Ambrose, this Turner subsidiary will provide professional scheduling services to meet contract requirements and deliver dynamic, powerful management solutions.

Figure 2. Turner uses Prolog to create its own document management system, and offers courses in its use through Turner University.
Figure 2. Turner uses Prolog to create its own document management system, and offers courses in its use through Turner University.

QPS offers a full range of scheduling services to supplement job-site information, resulting in a more efficient process and a higher quality schedule for owners, developers and general contractors. QPS will troubleshoot high-risk projects, prepare recovery schedule, provide claims evaluations and conduct training programs across the country.

Three-Legged Stool

Ken Herold is CKO (chief knowledge officer) and senior vice-president of HOK. HOK is in the business of designing buildings, so it uses project/process management software in a different manner than construction companies. HOK has what it calls its three-legged stool of management.

The first leg is the management of resources—fees, costs, clients and project accounting. For this process, it uses Deltek Vision. Deltek Vision delivers comprehensive, integrated capabilities that help firms track and manage their businesses from resource and project management to financial and project accounting and from time and expense management to client billing.

In this Article
In this Article

The second leg is the production of the construction documents using Revit. Revit is Autodesk's BIM (building information modeling) software. Revit Building, Revit Structure and Revit Systems form a digital database that not only creates conventional construction documents, but that database can be queried for information.

The third leg is the process of communicating, which includes management of e-mail messages, collaboration and project recordkeeping. For this process, it uses Newforma Project Center (figure 3). Newforma supports the flow of complex information between all participants in major AEC industry building and infrastructure projects. It increases team efficiency and improves project performance by organizing project information, facilitating information exchange and enabling efficient project process. Productivity is achieved through better coordination and communication, streamlined work process and reduced exposure from errors and omissions.

Figure 3. HOK relies on Newforma software to organize and share project information such as e-mail, transmittals and drawings.
Figure 3. HOK relies on Newforma software to organize and share project information such as e-mail, transmittals and drawings.

What Does CPM Mean?

The key phrase in project management is critical path. In 1957, Du Pont developed a project management method designed to address the challenge of shutting down chemical plants for maintenance and then restarting the plants once the maintenance was completed. Because of the complexity of the process, Du Pont developed the critical path method for managing such projects. CPM provides the following benefits:

  • 1. It provides a graphical view of the project.
  • 2. It predicts the time required to complete the project.
  • 3. It shows which activities are critical to maintaining the schedule and which aren't.

The activities and events of a project are viewed as a network. Activities are depicted as nodes, and events that signify the beginning or ending of activities are depicted as arcs or lines between the nodes.

Paper Phaseout?

While discussing project management, I was also interested in finding out about trends in online collaboration and the paperless office. According to printer manufacturer Océ, there is still a demand for large-run paper prints from reprographers, but the newest trend is toward the installation of small-run D- and E-size printers in the offices of engineers, contractors and owners. Océ theorizes that professionals still prefer to view drawings on paper rather than on the computer. To fulfill this demand, Océ has developed a new line of printers and software to help AEC firms achieve greater efficiency in the management, printing and distribution of drawings. The new Océ TDS print/copy/scan systems offer entry-level printing solutions for workgroups with the flexibility of optional color scanning to digitally capture construction markups.

H. Edward Goldberg, AIA, NCARB, is a practicing licensed architect and AEC industry analyst. Ed's full-length book, Autodesk Architectural Desktop 2006: A Comprehensive Tutorial (Prentice Hall, is now available, and a 2007 version will come out this fall. Visit or e-mail

Check out Cadalyst's new Tech Forum: AEC (, moderated by Ed Goldberg. The forum discusses software and subjects related to BIM for architects, engineers and contractors.

More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

For Mold Designers! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the mold design professional. Sponsored by Siemens NX.  Visit the Equipped Mold Designer here!

For Architects! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the building design professional. Sponsored by HP.  Visit the Equipped Architect here!