One of the core concepts of any planning methodology is to break a large project down into small, manageable work packages. Every construction company does that in one way or the other. The questions are: how integrated and cohesive is that work packaging process and how does it evolve across project phases? Initial work packaging research focused on examining the relationships between work packages and time, cost, and the workforce - as represented by work breakdown structures, organizational breakdown structures, and cost breakdown structures. The concept of “breaking a project into smaller packages” has been posited as a best practice supporting the working protocols and policies of all stakeholders directly and indirectly involved in creating these work packages. The more holistic work packaging process has the potential of being used as a project delivery mechanism supporting not only planning but also contracting and collaboration mechanisms.
We posit that the Advanced Work Packaging (AWP) system can, in fact, be a suitable project delivery system. The implementation of AWP has shown measurable project-wide benefits including improved project party alignment and collaboration, reduced rework, improved project cost and schedule predictability, improved safety awareness and performance, more time for supervising, improved labor productivity, increased reporting accuracy, enhanced turnover and improved client satisfaction. These benefits span across project stages from project design to the construction phase.
Planning with the End in Mind
The benefits of AWP are not incidental, but rather inherent to the process. AWP adopts the philosophy of “beginning with the end in mind.” The work packaging and constraint management process removes the guesswork from executing at the workface by tightly defining the scope of all work involved, and by ensuring that all things necessary for execution are in place. By planning for the entirety of the project, AWP ensures that the right materials, workforce, scope, and plans are present and accounted for in preparation for each phase of the project. This results in a smooth transition between project phases, reducing rework, increasing productivity, and ensuring the maximum use of resources with minimal waste.
The front-end alignment ensures that all stakeholders are in agreement about project scope, work, and costs. This avoids project growth during the planning phase due to scope confusions, rework due to stakeholder miscommunications, and a host of other issues rooted in misalignment of project expectation and details.
At any time during and between phases, work packages provide supervisors with the information necessary to make the most effective decisions to keep a project on the best track. For example, before the beginning of construction, supervisors are able to evaluate what materials should be ordered, in what format, and when these should be ordered depending on the ordering of work packages. This ensures that no package starts before materials are ready and no materials are sitting unused.
As the phases progress, supervisors are able to monitor the advancement of work packages and use them to make informed decisions. These decisions could be as simple as delaying another work package to avoid workforce overlap, or as detailed as changing future deadlines and procedures to account for chronically late material orders. These decisions could even be as important as decision go/no-go points between phases to ensure that no phase is begun or ended before it is best to do so.
However detailed, these decisions are made using real-time project data provided by work packages. Taken as a whole, this enhanced decision-making results in the ability to keep projects on schedule and advancing in the best manner possible.
“Whole Project” Mindset
The consideration of all phases before and during project start creates a “whole project” mindset that drives performance and planning to be focused on the good of the entire project, rather than the good of the task at hand. This cohesiveness makes for more streamlined communication between departments and workers. For example, the engineering department would include information that is relevant to construction in the engineering model to enable the construction department to make informed decisions. This breaking of silos results in minimal lost resources due to missing information, higher inter-department communication, and a more streamlined, smooth project delivery system.
AWP is a holistic system that considers all aspects of a project to account for all possible variables in order to establish the best possible result. While AWP has its roots in construction, it provides promising benefits in the arena of Project Planning. Using AWP concepts and processes to inform planning throughout project phases increases communication, reduces waste, and results in projects being completed on time and on budget. It is time that the narrative shifts away from AWP as a field-specific process and focuses on the benefits that AWP brings to entire project lifecycle. Only once we start project-wide implementation can be reap the true benefits of AWP.