Last edited 21 Mar 2016

Programme consultant

Programmes describe the sequence in which tasks must be carried out so that a project (or part of a project) can be completed on time.

Programmes may identify:

  • Dates and durations allocated to tasks.
  • A critical path.
  • Tasks which can only be carried out after other tasks have been completed.
  • Tasks which can be carried out simultaneously.
  • 'Float' within tasks that are not on the critical path.
  • The need for specific resources such as plant, services or materials and their lead time.

On small, straight-forward projects, or projects where there are no complex relationships with other activities, a programme might be prepared by the lead consultant (perhaps the architect) or by a project manager. On large projects, the client may appoint a programme consultant to prepare a detailed programme for the project including an outline programme for construction if a contractor has not been appointed. Once the contractor is appointed, they will take responsibility for programming the construction works, but the programme consultant may continue to develop an overall programme for the client.

This is because there may be works outside of the main construction contract, there may be multiple projects, or there may be client activities that need to be programmed, such as:

There may be complex relationships between these activities that mean they all need to appear on a single, overall programme, and this may include activities that are beyond the remit of the contractor, consultants, or project manager. It is important therefore that the project team is clear which aspects of the programme they are responsible for.

On projects where there is early contractor involvement, such as design and build, construction management or management contracts, the contractor, construction manager or management contractor may take responsibility for programming the project, including the design programme. However, the client may still have additional activities that they may need either arrange to include in the scope of that programme, or to programme separately, perhaps with help from a programme consultant.

It is particularly important that the client’s decision making process is properly reflected in the overall programme. Decisions often appear as milestones on programmes, with no consideration given to whether the individuals required to make the decision will be available, or how long it might take to make that decision. Wherever possible key client decisions should be programmed to take place at existing meetings, with briefing material issued in advance, enabling the client to make informed decisions.

It is important that the programme is realistic from the outset. The client and project team can lose confidence in a programme if deadlines continuously slip. The programme consultant must actively determine the duration of and relationship between activities, and must monitor whether deadlines are being, or are likely to be met. This might mean for example, meeting with consultants to get them to agree to a design programme and then monitoring progress, determining the lead times for unusual or critical items and so on.

There is no point in simply reporting back to people what they already know, they should be providing advice about aspects of the project that are likely to impact on the programme, and to give early warning about activities that may fall behind.

What should or can be done about programme problems will depend both on what is permitted within the project contracts, and the good will of members of the project team. Whilst the construction contract is likely to include penalties for failing to complete on time or for failing to meet key deadlines, the design programme may not, and even if it does, it may be difficult to enforce. During the early stages, programme problems can be due in part to the activities of third parties outside the consultant’s control such as planning authorities, client or stakeholder actions, consultation processes and so on, and generally, the only recourse the client has is to threaten termination for non-performance in the event of consistent programme failure.

The role of the programme consultant can therefore be one of advocate and arbitrator, evaluating and balancing conflicting requirements to deliver within the client’s timeframe.

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