Scheduling in the Digital Age: Q&A with Paul Gabriel of Aegis
Technology has long played a key role for project controls and scheduling consultants like Aegis. But when the company joined the team building Penn Medicine’s new pavilion project, the need to innovate and collaborate through technology became that much more important. Here Paul Gabriel, regional vice president at Aegis, shares how new technologies are improving the scheduling process and the relationships among the project team.
How did you get involved in the Penn Medicine project?
Aegis is a project controls company supporting projects all over the country. When the PennFIRST team was awarded the project, they knew because it was so large and unique they might need a full-time scheduling resource. We have worked with Balfour Beatty on several major projects before, who introduced us to LF Driscoll.
How—and why—is your approach to scheduling different for this project?
The scope and complexity of this project challenged us to bring something different than the traditional scheduler role. This project required more flexibility and analysis. Traditionally, we’d sit with the superintendent and project managers, create a schedule and then distribute that schedule to the subcontractors as the way things will go. In the integrated project delivery (IPD) model being used to build the Penn Medicine pavilion, we’ve engaged the key subcontractors, owner and architects/engineers to develop the schedule together. We work through any challenges together, and the subcontractors feel like they’re invested in the process. It definitely takes putting in more effort early on and including more people than usual, but now everyone is involved and committed to the final product.
How are virtual construction technologies changing the scheduling process?
Gantt charts are hard to read. When we realized we could use virtual models as another tool, we thought, “We have to do this.” Construction is very complex. It’s very helpful for everyone on the team to see how the building is being built, what the relationships are and how all of that relates to the interior work schedule. So we created a 4D model based on the 3D Revit architectural model. We assign activities from the schedule and map them to the 3D elements. Users can run that model based on a time sequence so it shows how it’s all being built. So now we have a 2-minute-long video file that shows everyone what should be happening when. We show this in weekly coordination meetings and can pan around the model, stopping at various points to discuss certain key elements. You can also add in cost data to make it a 5D model, or even owner information like O&M manuals to make a 6D model to create a full lifecycle model from design through operation.
In what other ways is technology driving innovation in scheduling?
While technology platforms are the backbone of scheduling, new technologies are helping us display and use analytics in real time to inform what we do. We’re not necessarily using tools that are innovative, but we’re using them in innovative ways, like creating real-time dashboards that link to Excel files and QR codes that link to resources.
For example, we have a daily tracker of steel progress and production. We created a Google spreadsheet where the field team can input the number of steel pieces per day. That data is applied to a graph and analysis, which allows us to see how we’re trending on a daily basis. Sometimes those production-heavy activities can be overlooked. We’re trying to use this kind of information on a daily basis to see how we can gain time even in small ways.
What do you think is next for these technologies when it comes to project scheduling?
As more projects develop 3D models early on, it will become more standard to see scheduling models on projects. It’s a really helpful tool for the team to see the logistics. As jobs become larger, more complicated and on tighter urban sites, these tools will help us all visualize the potential challenges and risks very early on. Those issues have cost implications—and anything we can do to save time and save money makes for happier relationships between the construction manager, their subs and the owner