Project Management Strategies III: Parallel-path projects can yield massive savings

"There can be economy only where there is efficiency." – Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 1874-1880

We wrote previously about the pitfalls of parallel-path project management or the risks associated with projects where multiple steps happen simultaneously, but a parallel-path approach can yield significant schedule and budget savings when done right. How and when can you use this approach successfully?

Although it makes no sense to proceed with work when there’s still a high degree of uncertainty (“All we’re doing is giving ourselves an opportunity to do it all over again,” says DIS-TRAN President Joey Baker), the parallel-path approach can save months of time and five figures or more in other scenarios.

For example, if all project design requirements are clear and any dependencies have been satisfied or deferred, prefabricating equipment or factory-building the substation allows the project owner to work on Step A (like digging, pouring and curing the substation’s foundation) while the factory or shop works on Step B (building the substation or components of it). Even better, with prefabrication, when the equipment manufactured and assembled in Step B shows up onsite, it will already be at 80% completion.

Thus, fabrication in parallel with other job tasks is ideal for projects with long linear installation lead times.

That’s how it worked for one of our factory-built substations; we were able to reduce total construction time by two to three months and generate an estimated $60,000 to $80,000 in construction labor savings.

That customer typically works tip-to-tail, finishing the high side of a substation before starting the low side. However, with a factory-built substation, “The distribution side just showed up built and it basically just went into service,” customer, Texas-New Mexico Power, told us.

We can also sometimes use the parallel-path approach to resolve issues relating to unclear scope.

Our ability to complete our scope of work in a timely manner depends on certain inputs, including a correct and complete one-line diagram, and we can generate significant schedule gain if clients shift general arrangement drawings from the engineer to us. “From our perspective, it is not necessary to hire an engineer to create general arrangement drawings, as we do this work routinely from one-line diagrams,” says Baker.

Best practices to put parallel-path to best use:

  • Shift scope to the best-suited party. If a project requires early general arrangement drawings, we suggest getting DIS-TRAN engaged in parallel with the electrical engineer via an “engineering only” scope of work to produce the necessary general arrangement drawings.
  • Leverage production capacity. Baker also notes, “We have a large production capacity that can support a large volume of work.” In other words, success with parallel-path construction models requires sufficient capacity to work on prefabricated and factory-built equipment.