The Art of Scheduling


Blount considers Schroeder “a scheduling genius,” who’s also passionate about it, as witnessed by the quantity of YouTube videos and podcast episodes Schroeder has hosted.

Schroeder’s favorite planning system is known as Takt time planning. It’s a flow system that focuses on planning or preventing, as opposed to reacting. Takt time refers to the rate at which you need to complete a product to meet customer demand.

Establishing the rhythm.

Takt comes from the German word taktzeit, which refers to the cycle time or interval required to keep pace with demand. In the Dirt World, Takt time is a flow system designed to establish expectations and prevent roadblocks in the construction process. 

Schroeder prefers Takt to other scheduling systems such as Gantt charts or critical path method scheduling. With critical path, if any of the critical path activities is delayed, that delays the entire project. As Schroeder said, “Takt time attempts to put the work into a rhythm, into a predictable and level rhythm.” 

As Schroeder explained, when you’re in a rhythm, then the notes — as on a sheet of music — are predictable. In construction, the notes are the trades, or the crews. 

Construction firms make money when they have rhythm, continuity, and consistency. Continuity means having continuous flow. When it comes to consistency, are the crew sizes consistent? Is the work consistent? Are materials ready in a consistent manner?

Without intending to bad-mouth other scheduling systems, Schroeder believes Takt is best for addressing “the one thing that matters to you the most,” which is trade flow, or crew flow. 

The beauty of Takt, to Schroeder, is having a crew’s same people move from area to area in a consistent flow every day, rather than having members come onto and off of crews.

The flow of trades from area to area.

Blount noted that critical path scheduling doesn’t allow for the relationships between activities to be fully represented. The relationship isn’t shown at the necessary level of detail to capture what’s really needed to create a critical path. And Schroeder noted that the critical path is all a projection. “Depending on how things change, you might have 25 to 50 different critical paths manifested in a project schedule,” said Schroeder. 

When you’re looking at things from a trade flow standpoint, you’re more likely to have two or three bottlenecks. “And you’re constantly optimizing those and making them go better,” Schroeder said. “You will always have those one or two or three that you're constantly improving and optimizing. It's consistent.” 

Schroeder also distinguishes between looking at workflow and looking at trade flow. Seeing the work that happens in an area is not seeing how trades go from area to area. If you were to engage him as a Takt time consultant, according to Schroeder, “I would not focus on workflow and I would not focus on logistical flow. I would focus on the flow of your trades from area to area.”

“It’s the starts and stops that cost you money. It's the rework that costs you money.” He also wants to see the same leader and same workers move consistently from area to area, rather than seeing changes to the crews — adding people one day and taking people away the next. Such changes reduce your productivity because you have to onboard new people. And having more people increases the complexity of communicating within the crew. 

Takeaways.

In the construction industry, it is widely held that, in order to speed up a process on a job site, you add more people. Schroeder agrees that putting the right amount of people can make a job go faster. However, if you add too many people, he believes, the job will definitely go slower. 

Schroeder would use Takt planning to govern all systems, because of its focus on trade flows. For Schroeder, the needs and the process are clear: 

  • Let's get trade flow back. 
  • Let's get consistency back. 
  • Let's get these workers respected. 
  • Let's get them home on time. 
  • Let's not overburden them. 
  • Let's not work them into the ground.
  • Let's not have crash landings. 

For Schroeder, it’s the misutilization of the skilled workers where the problem lies. Rarely is it a matter of not having enough workers; rather, it’s an issue of managing the available resources properly. With Takt planning, it’s possible to have smaller crews working at the right rhythm and in a predictable way throughout a project. As Schroeder concluded, “I've never seen a Takt project do anything but finish well.”

In his conversation with Blount, Schroeder enumerated several production laws, including Little’s law, the law of bottlenecks, the law of variation, Kingman’s formula, and Brooks’ law. As Schroeder said, companies need to adjust the areas to the right batch sizes to fit within the production laws, as manufacturing companies do: “The bottom line is until we start to obey the production laws, we're never going to win.”