Minnesota State University, Mankato
The Construction Management Department at Minnesota State University (MNSU) – Mankato is an integral part of the school’s College of Science, Engineering & Technology. This department has a superb reputation, with a long history of “providing students with the knowledge and experiences needed to be successful as a manager in construction and construction-related businesses.” Dr. Mohamed Diab, MBA, PhD, PMP, a professor in the Construction Management Department, is diligent about teaching his students that the schedule is the lifeblood of any major construction project. Consequently, he incorporates various technology platforms intended to help students grasp the scheduling process from the bottom up and learn how to get a wayward schedule back on track.
If young people considering a career in construction can master the scheduling process early, there’s a greater chance they will become adept at creating schedules that are truly useful in successfully guiding a project from start to finish. It’s not just that the programs designed for project scheduling and related construction activities are the ones these students will eventually use in their professional careers. According to Dr. Diab, technology generally helps students maintain their overall enthusiasm and interest.
When they become juniors, Diab’s students are introduced to Microsoft Project and Primavera, two of the construction industry’s most widely used scheduling platforms. And the students at MNSU waste no time putting these programs to the test. Diab brings in all the documentation for projects that have already been built – generally small residential or commercial projects.
“I ask them to review all the documents I’ve provided and, using Microsoft Project or P6, create a schedule as if the finished product does not yet exist.”
This approach addresses a significant challenge in the industry: The struggle to find quality schedulers proficient in key tools like P6 and Microsoft Project who can effectively navigate and resolve the complex scheduling issues that are common in construction projects.
THE SMART SOLUTION
After they finish scheduling their projects, their work is analyzed, but not by Diab. The students upload their projects to SmartPM’s cloud-based platform for actionable analysis of their construction project schedules.
Diab originally became intrigued with SmartPM through a professional colleague who was already using the platform.
“My friend was telling me about how his company was using a new tool called SmartPM to visualize the project schedule and analyze multiple projects simultaneously, especially in the field,” said Diab. “So I asked him if we could have access to the program. He talked to [SmartPM CEO] Michael Pink, who immediately said yes.”
The main feature the students use is the Quality Checker, a tool that analyzes the overall “health” of the students’ schedules. Analyzing their projects right in the classroom, the Quality Checker quickly reviews the schedule and highlights any potential problem areas: missing logic, excessive use of float, delays, and trade stacking, all based on the set of critical and common industry practices laid out by the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA). It then assigns a letter grade to the schedule and compiles all the information into a comprehensive report.
The Quality Checker is not only used to check the initial schedule but is also deployed on a regular basis to keep updating the schedule as needed, all the way to the completion of the project. Diab also emphasized the visual nature of the Quality Checker, making it much easier for students to comprehend exactly where their schedules are coming up short.
Diab says that SmartPM allows MNSU’s students to visualize their mistakes, capture the critical risks that could impact the project, and immediately revise the problem areas. The platform also ties back to Diab’s approach of using as much technology as possible to keep students focused.
“Like all our technology, SmartPM’s platform holds their interest more than any other method we could use. Plus, it conveys the message that the construction industry isn’t just this dry industry. It gives them the interest and excitement to plan the schedule to avoid these mistakes in the first place, which is the ultimate goal.”
The intuitive nature of the program is a major plus. “I didn’t need to spend much time explaining how the program works,” he said. “The students take a day or so to read the documentation. Then they work with it a few times to get comfortable, and in a short time, they pick up most of the functions.”
According to Diab, it’s all part of the evolution of the curriculum to include a wider scope and focus on project controls. “There is a skills gap in the construction sector,” Diab warned. “The best way to address and correct it is to start with the young people seeking to enter our industry. If you wait until they’ve already joined the workforce, it’s too late.”
By bringing tools like SmartPM into the classroom, Diab believes we’re setting up future construction professionals to be much better at scheduling, something that will stand out to managers looking to hire. They’ll see these new professionals coming in with practical, hands-on knowledge about the importance of schedule quality and its relation to effective project management. To MNSU, SmartPM isn’t just another piece of software. It’s a practical way to get our future workforce ready to hit the ground running where it’s needed most.