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by Forrest Burnson,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: July 22, 2015


Contractors’ views on project scheduling—and the contractor scheduling software that supports the process—vary widely. Some view scheduling as a necessary evil to satisfy the building owner’s need for control. Others view it as an important discipline for delivering work on-time and on-budget. Typically, the larger and more complex the job, the more important scheduling becomes to both the contractor and the owner. Generally speaking, as jobs get more complex, job scheduling software for contractors becomes more important.

Regardless, scheduling tools available on the market range from a small desktop construction scheduling program to sophisticated multi-user systems integrated within broader project management systems. This guide attempts to parse through these offerings for the construction scheduling software buyer. 

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is Construction Scheduling Software?
What Type of Buyer Are You?
The Vendor Landscape
Benefits of Project Scheduling
Market Trends to Understand

What Is Construction Scheduling Software?

Construction job scheduling software supports management of labor, resource, material and equipment schedules. These programs allow a user to define phases and tasks, and then match them with the labor, materials and resources required to complete each task and phase. Of course, labor and resources introduce constraints and dependencies, which in turn affect the schedule and completion date. Construction schedule software runs complex calculations “under the hood” to account for these dependencies and constantly recalculate the project schedule. 

Most project scheduling applications make use of the critical path method (CPM)—an algorithm that calculates the minimum amount of time required to complete a project based on required tasks and dependencies. The user interface is typically visualized through a Gantt chart, which displays each task as a line item, and then illustrates its duration and order with horizontal bars. More sophisticated functionality includes network diagrams, percent completion graphs and what-if scenario planning. 

What Type of Buyer Are You?

When evaluating top scheduling software companies, it helps to identify yourself with one of the specific types of buyers we see in the market:

Major project scheduler. These buyers are focused almost exclusively on scheduling and are fully embracing the need to automate this function. Their schedules are extremely detailed, and they run multiple scenarios. They are often interested in sophisticated functionality like earned value analysis. These buyers will be best off with best-of-breed systems with enterprise-class capabilities. 

Project manager. This type of buyer may also be a sophisticated scheduler, but is also concerned with other construction management functions, like cost control and document management. As a result, they prefer to use the scheduling application offered within their construction management system. Typically, they also want to publish some or all of the schedule to other participants over the Web. 

Desktop scheduler. These buyers value planning and create fairly sophisticated schedules, but do not have the same multi-user requirements. Their needs can be met with straightforward residential construction scheduling software for desktops, such as Microsoft Project or VirtualBoss.

Calendar manager. Some buyers just don’t need to create complex schedules. They may manage smaller, less complex projects, or they may prefer to manage “by the seat of their pants.” In these cases, a simple calendar application may suffice. Most solutions will include a calendar, which will address these buyers’ needs. There are also options on the market that provide construction scheduling software free of charge. 

The Vendor Landscape

The next step in selecting construction project scheduling software is to map your buyer type to the top-rated vendors that serve the market.  

This type of buyer... Should evaluate these systems
Major project scheduler Oracle Primavera P6
Project manager e-Builder, HeadsUp, Oracle Primavera P6, PMWeb, Procore
Desktop scheduler Microsoft Project, VirtualBoss
Calendar manager Microsoft Outlook, Google Calendar

Benefits of Project Scheduling

As we mentioned above, there is often some debate over the value of developing schedules—field supervisors sometimes find them burdensome, while most managers and owners view them as critical. We concur that schedules are very important, and we see the following benefits:

  • Better planning. The scheduling process requires managers to consider their phases, tasks, resources and labor in greater detail. Managing this activity simply leads to more thoughtful planning. 
  • Faster time to completion. When properly scheduled, projects can be completed faster by removing bottlenecks, such as when the workforce waits on a prior phase to be completed.   
  • Lower costs. By more effectively scheduling resources, project managers can reduce costs. For example, a job requiring the rental of a crane can rent that crane for fewer days if its tasks are scheduled more closely together and all materials and labor are scheduled to make most efficient use of that resource. 
  • Improved accountability. When things go wrong, it helps to have a record of what was originally planned. This way all parties can identify what factors caused bottlenecks and assign responsibility accordingly. 

Market Trends to Understand

There are a few market trends that are playing out in construction project scheduling application market. Here are a couple that you should understand:

The move to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Project schedule software is a subset of project management systems, which vendors are offering in the SaaS model more frequently. In the SaaS model, the vendor hosts and maintains the servers, database and code for the application. This significantly reduces the upfront investment in a system.

Development of mobile functionality. In an industry where many employees spend a significant amount of time out at a jobsite, developing mobile construction scheduling programs is an area of increasing focus. With 58 percent of adults in the United States owning smartphones and tablet adoption growing, some vendors are focusing on building native functionality for the iPhone, iPad and Android-enabled devices. Of course, Web-based options are also accessible via the device’s web browser even if a vendor has not developed native functionality. There is also a growing number of third-party free construction scheduling software apps to help improve contractor scheduling.

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