Estimating the time it takes to complete a project goes beyond setting dates on a calendar. It is a critical step that ensures the general contractor, subcontractors and customer clearly understand the scope of work and when specific tasks within the job will be done.

At a time when materials are in short supply and associated costs are high, you must build a schedule based on an accurate material takeoff. Done right, the takeoff leaves out the guesswork and uses building plans and precise measurements to ensure a construction project is properly managed.

Inaccurate takeoffs can lead to incorrect construction estimations, material shortages, unplanned downtime, and the possibility that subcontractors walk off your job, according to John McBride, a general contractor and real estate investor. He runs BlackTree LLC, a real-estate investment firm based in Suffolk, Virginia.

“The first rule of scheduling is making sure you have your materials and cost estimates correct,” McBride said. “If your budget is incorrect and your material is off, then the schedule cannot be kept.”

An accurate schedule is the key to subcontractor management

McBride runs multiple projects at a time. He uses the scheduling tools and features in Buildxact software to first build an accurate takeoff. He then manages his number of subcontractors working on his projects. Schedules don’t run like clockwork because unforeseen delays, like bad weather or illness, interrupt the flow of work and must be managed, he said.

“The software makes it easier to communicate between all my subcontractors,” he said. “It gives me the bird’s-eye view that is required to pick alternate time slots if someone is delayed and to notify every other subcontractor down the line.”

Construction management software also builds a record of past jobs that inform you on future work and how long that work should take. Online records from the software can be used to evaluate subcontractor performance to ensure all parties follow previously agreed timetables.

The right software tool keeps the client informed

The schedule along with associated notes and purchase orders become the organized documentation, not only for communicating critical delays, but also for looping in the client. Documentation is critical particularly when the customer requests changes to the project design or materials, or if material costs escalate before you can complete a job.

“If the customer gives us a change order that requires reframing or rewiring, or they want tile as opposed to vinyl around all the tubs–whatever it is–it will affect the schedule,” he said. “Also, with Buildxact, on a per trade or item level you can add a cost escalation clause that your client can see.”

Using online software like Buildxact, the contractor, subcontractor and client can all stay on the same page as a job moves to completion.

“We are all working for the same thing, but our motivations are different,” McBride said. “The subcontractor wants to be paid for his work, I want to stay on schedule, and the client wants the finished product. Tying everyone into the same schedule saves your business and saves the client money.”