At Hewitt Decipher, we are often asked to adopt contractor’s programmes, either to support live projects or to untangle a dispute.

The programmes that we receive vary in quality. The format and content of programmes isn’t necessarily set in stone. This affords contractors the freedom to create a programme which best suits their needs.

Yet with the good comes the bad. Often, a lack of standardisation means that fundamental errors are often in even the most basic programmes.

In February 2021, the CIOB released their Planning Protocol 2021 (CIOB PP21). The Protocol is essentially a guideline on producing a robust programme.

Will the industry adopt this standard? If so, will this be enough to improve project time management across the industry?

What’s new?

The CIOB state that the protocol differs from existing guides which are “predominantly software focussed assessments of the Programme and not designed for the mainstream construction industry”.

What the CIOB are likely referring to is the DCMA (US Defence Contracts Management Agency) 14-point check [2005]. Although this check list was not developed for the construction industry. Even so it is a built-in feature of some widely used planning software like Asta Powerproject and Acumen Risk.

Like the DCMA check list, the CIOB Protocol has 15 stress tests. These tests bear a stark resemblance to those found in the DCMA 14-point check, but this is not referenced anywhere in the protocol. The first 9 of the 15 are directly lifted from the DCMA check in the same order.

Where the Protocol differs are the last 6 items which are:

  • 10. Missed detail. Detail set out in the programme should be reflective of the full scope of work.
  • 11. Key Dates. Key dates and completion dates forecast in the programme should be reflective of the obligations set out in the contract documents.
  • 12. Calendars. Detail set out in the Programme should be reflective of any calendars and/or restrictions.
  • 13. Unique identifiers. There should be no duplication in an assigned activity name or activity ID.
  • 14. Rescheduling. You can reschedule the programme without any planned dates moving.
  • 15. Critical Path. There should be a critical path to each relevant completion milestone.

Each of the new tests proposed by the CIOB have a threshold of 0% and are mandatory requirements in major projects. All but item 13 should be mandatory in standard projects, but there is no explanation why stress test 13 can be omitted.

The CIOB’s justification for producing this protocol was the lack of construction specific guides. But are these new additions specific to the construction industry? Would the same tests not be beneficial or fundamental in other sectors such as manufacturing or finance?

In its aims to design a test for programmes specific to the construction industry, I can’t help but think the CIOB have missed the mark.

Could the CIOB Protocol have gone further?

The assessments in the CIOB Protocol will undoubtedly improve programmes at a fundamental level. However it does not introduce anything new, particularly for those who work in planning or project controls.

The tests proposed by the CIOB are mixture of pre-existing software checks and good practice. Therefore should be considered the first step in assessing schedule quality rather than a panacea.

Where the Protocol could go further is with industry specific detail, particularly on the structure, format, and content of the activities.

A real stride forward would be some programme templates which could be tailored to suit common types of projects or contracts.

In Conclusion

For planners, or others involved in managing programmes, the protocol is a welcome step. The importance of good planning might seem obvious, but especially so to those who have suffered at the hands of a poor programme.

Programme errors are not always obvious and can be difficult to spot. The consequences can be severe and could manifest when it is too late to resolve them. The protocol will almost certainly prevent some of these from occurring.

However, the protocol only goes some of the way. More focus could be given to the content and structure of the activities, which is where programmes are often found lacking in our experience.

Perhaps this is the first in an iterative process towards standardising programmes across the construction industry. Hopefully the CIOB Protocol becomes widely adopted before being more focussed in future versions.