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About the Author

Cliff Holste is Supply Chain Digest's Material Handling Editor. With more than 30 years experience in designing and implementing material handling and order picking systems in distribution, Holste has worked with dozens of large and smaller companies to improve distribution performance.

Logistics News

By Cliff Holste

September 24, 2014

Solving the Project Time Management Challenge

Business Managers face the Difficult Challenge of On-Time System Implementation Performance

Holste Says:

Minimizing the potential risks that disputes around delay and disruption can create is a must for any contractor or business manager.
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Previous Columns by Cliff Holste

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking To Increase System Capacity Are Surprised To Find It May Already Exist!

Sorting It Out: For Shippers - Benefits Of Real-Time Control In The DC Are Huge!

Sorting It Out: Shippers Looking to Improve Operations Choose Customer Centric Approach

Sorting It Out: Productivity is a Crucial Factor in Measuring Production Performance

Sorting It Out: Packaging Construction Impacts on Logistics Operations



While there are many well documented benefits derived from logistics system automation, the delayed startup of a DC order fulfillment system project can have serious consequences for the company impacting on operations, profits, and potentially irreparable damage to customer relations. In addition, career paths may be altered by serious delays that result in not being able to satisfy the expected project ROI justification.

Business managers should - Proceed with Caution!! As much as system providers would like to not believe it, the sad truth is that on-time implementation of complex automated material handling systems is problematical. As with anything complex, the chances for something important to go wrong are high. Many cases are serious enough to wind up in court.

Solving the project time management challenge will take more than good resolutions about record-keeping. Although, it is acknowledged that some fault lies in the lack of professional standards, training and accreditation of project managers. Unless each contractor and business takes a hard look at their own practices, little can change. Those who take up the challenge and invest time and energy in the practices and skills associated with improvement in project time management will slowly gain competitive advantage over those who do not. Those organizations will achieve an enhanced ability to plan and avoid the instability and reputational damage that inadequate planning, delays, complaints, and consequential claims almost inevitably cause.

Staying in Business While Implementing an Automation Project

Deploying an automated system project will no doubt change the way the company does business. Succeeding through this transformation means more than developing an understanding of the legal principles underpinning project delay and disruption, it is also about appreciating and implementing the full range of techniques and tools that can be employed.

For example, an important consideration business managers must give some considerable thought to in the initial planning stage, has to do with managing the business while implementing an automation project. Obviously, the company must continue to pick and ship orders no matter what while the new system is being installed. This requires careful and meticulous phase planning methods. If the business experiences seasonal peak periods, the project implementation schedule may need to be adjusted to minimize disruptions during those periods. This may affect how long it will take to complete the project, which could have further cost, customer support, and ROI implications.

The risk of inconveniencing customers during the critical installation and changeover period is real, especially if something unplanned for happens (Murphy’s Law). Therefore, business managers need to evaluate the risks and develop a strategy for managing the unexpected. This may include building backup inventory and temporary order fulfillment capabilities at an off-site location.

In any event, explaining to your customers what you are planning, the projects expected benefits for them and the company, and keeping them informed on how the project is progressing, will give them a heads-up and, when coupled with a risk abatement strategy, may help to alleviate their concerns.

The following are some thoughts extracted from a whitepaper titled “Time For Change” on the subject of construction project time management prepared by: David Tyerman, Managing Director of Athena Project Services and Paul Bamforth, Managing Director of Asta Development

Time For Change

Is it only complex [automated system] projects which require good time and project management? Of course not, however, the more complex [and/or automated] a project is the greater the need for a rigorous approach. Simple projects [conveyor transportation system] may generally be completed intuitively, that is, without any sophisticated project time management controls.

Another way to look at it is that - simple projects are carried out to a single completion date and without phased possession or completion dates, whereas complex projects, will include multiple key phased-in dates or sectional completion dates and with multiple possession [beneficial use] dates.

Cost, quality and time are the factors that typically determine project success, yet of all of these time is least understood and least often approached with rigor and with the support of formal models, benchmarks or tools.

In the tough current economic climate, project completion issues create an unnecessary risk to the bottom line, yet a lack of professionalism and rigor in managing the time aspect of major projects has long since been evident. One of the main issues is that on many construction projects, personnel with responsibility for time are often learning as they go along, although this is no fault of their own. Owing to a lack of formal professional training or accreditation, many have been self-taught, whilst others have transitioned into project management roles from other professional disciplines in construction, architecture, or engineering.

Small wonder, then, that time-related issues such as delays have such a disproportionate impact when they go wrong. Intuition and experimentation is not enough. It is imperative to continue to push for best practice in terms of tools for better project management and proper training for project managers and other key people in understanding the time dynamic and standards for time management.

Understanding Delay and Disruption

Delay: is anything which impacts timely completion of a project or project stage.

Disruption: is the mess which has occurred by trying to deliver to time, which may or may not have a direct relationship with project delay.

It has been the subject of litigation for many years and, until 20 years ago, was often a case of complex composite ‘global claims’ which were hard to disentangle for lawyers and had little substantiation of cause and effect. Since that time, however, the rise of computer-based planning, recording and communication has changed the landscape completely to the point where full, forensic analysis of the causes of and responses to delays can be conducted. While this provides a context for the avoidance of some lawsuits, it provides the fodder for others.

Without effective time management there can be no effective resource management, cost management, nor allocation of liability for slippage, its recovery, or accountability.

Dispute Process

Disputes around delay and disruption can come from two directions – either from an employer seeking damages from delayed project completion and the consequences of that, or from a contractor needing to secure what it sees as a legitimate extension of time (EOT) versus an original contract agreement or compensation for a disruption to its normal working methods which has lowered its speed and efficiency, resulting in delays.

From whichever direction the dispute originates, the process of dispute resolution follows roughly the same path.

The first stage of delay and disruption analysis is for the contractor to prepare (possibly in conjunction with its advisors) its contractual entitlement for more time, and usually more money, linked to delays arising within the contract.

Having prepared detailed evidence and given the other party time to consider that evidence and respond accordingly, the parties may reach agreement. If they have not, the matter may be referred to adjudication.

The strategic intent of the adjudication process is to resolve construction disputes in a quick and economical manner. However, it is fair to say that a raft of consultants make a very good living from supporting clients through this stage, and many solicitors and lawyers now get involved to help them through the legally sticky areas, such as ‘jurisdiction.’ What was designed to be a simple and cheap process has become anything but that.

If the adjudication process fails or the contract demands a different route to dispute resolution, litigation or arbitration are the next options. Arbitration is a slightly more discreet option than litigation, which is conducted in the public domain with significant potential media scrutiny and associated reputational risk. This is full legal territory with representation from law firms, use of expert witnesses, and with judges and lawyers in the driving seats.

Planning and project management come under serious scrutiny during any process of litigation or arbitration – and the information that each party can provide, in combination with the associated analysis of information, is central to the outcome. Analysis of delay-related information and facts is often the starting point for a consulting advisor, as well as the focus of legal proceedings. Understanding the role and importance of that information is fundamental to putting better practices and training in place to ensure you can manage delay and disruption risks more effectively.

An effective time management strategy will recognize that time expires at a regular and consistent rate, from inception to completion, whether it is used effectively, or not used at all. Accordingly, an effective planning strategy will demonstrate the most effective use of available time, in all circumstances.

Report Authors


David Tyerman is Managing Director of Athena Project Services,  a specialist provider of training and consultancy services relative to planning, scheduling and project controls. He is a member of the CIOB team who prepared the Guide and Chairman of the working group which is currently preparing the Project Time Management qualification and accreditation structure.


Paul Bamforth is Managing Director of Asta Development,  a leading international developer of project, and resource management software. He has been an evangelist for how Asta’s flagship project management solution, Asta Powerproject, plays a key role in implementing good project management practice.

Final Thoughts


Minimizing the potential risks that disputes around delay and disruption can create is a must for any contractor or business manager. Taking the time to evaluate these in relation to a business and putting a proactive contingency strategy in place for training and tools that improve project time management will pay immediate and long-term dividends.


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