When I first dived into the world of planning and scheduling, a big question loomed in my mind: “Why do I need to issue a look-ahead schedule when the overall schedule is already out there?”

I wondered, “Can’t everyone just refer to the initial schedule I provided?” It seemed like an extra task, especially when I had to create a look-ahead schedule in EXCEL, a necessity back then since not everyone was familiar with the P6 format.

But as I gained experience, I understood the true value of a lookahead schedule. It’s a tool to keep the team informed about what’s coming up soon.

Issuing a schedule doesn’t automatically mean people will pay attention to it, much less act on it. I noticed that when a schedule is crammed with activities, it’s hard for the team to know where to direct their focus.

And without clear focus, activities start slipping through the cracks, risking the schedule delay.

Why Should You Bother to Develop Look-ahead Schedule?

Why create a lookahead schedule? The answer is simple: to prevent late deliverables.

In Schedule Review Meetings, the project manager and team members like project engineers or planners review upcoming tasks. They check if these tasks are on track or need adjustments. This is where the lookahead schedule is crucial.

So, if you wonder whether to issue a lookahead schedule, my advice is yes, absolutely. Even if no one asks for it, put it in place. Why? Because it’s a practical tool that offers significant benefits in keeping your project on track.

The benefits of look-ahead schedule

The overall schedule gives your team a big-picture view of everything that needs to be done in the project, perfect for long-term planning.

However, the lookahead schedule is the game-changer for short-term focus, highlighting what’s coming up in the next few weeks or months.

This approach eliminates excuses like “I didn’t know this was coming” or “I can’t find my tasks.” The lookahead schedule filters out unnecessary details from the overall plan, making sure everyone knows what to do next.

Plus, it’s not just a to-do list. The lookahead schedule helps you:

    • Fix schedule logic (e.g., out-of-sequence logic and or logic error due to overlooked by team or planner)
    • Confirm resources (i.e., work only getting done when the resources are committed)
    • Reschedule the resources (i.e., the opportunity to save money when you know you can relocate the resources elsewhere as you reschedule your work) and
    • Resolve conflict issues (e.g., work front availability issues, getting approval from the client, etc.)

In essence, it’s a practical, focused tool for keeping your project smoothly on track.

Prerequisite to Lookahead Schedule Development

I remember getting frustrated when the project manager or team didn’t stick to the schedule. But then it hit me: just because I issued a lookahead schedule doesn’t mean it’ll be followed. Why, you ask?

Issuing a lookahead schedule is pointless if the original schedule isn’t clear and detailed. If it lacks specifics, people won’t understand what they need to do.

Similarly, creating a lookahead schedule with activities lasting three months isn’t helpful, except maybe for executive-level reviews. Or, consider a six-month lookahead for a five-year project.

Picture this: You’re trying to create a six-week lookahead for engineering and construction projects, but your activities span two to three months. What does this mean for you and your team? In short, not much. It results in seeing the same list of activities for months, without clear guidance on immediate actions.

If your schedule is well-detailed, creating a lookahead schedule becomes straightforward. Your team will know exactly what they need to do.

However, if the schedule lacks detail, it needs more information so that your team can act on it effectively. This is particularly important because the lookahead schedule is essential for:

  • Engineers and designers working on engineering projects.
  • Field supervisors, field engineers, superintendents, and the client team in construction projects.

With enough detail in the schedule, everyone has a clear understanding of their tasks, making their work more efficient and focused.

What Information should be included in the lookahead schedule?

Well, it all depends on where your project stands, but there’s a simple formula I like to call the ‘3W‘ to guide you.

    • What
      • What are the actions (e.g., document review by client, permit approval operation, etc.),
      • What critical activities are being done,
      • What are the upcoming critical activities,
      • What are the interfaces and
      • What deliverables are to be done in the next look-ahead period?
    • When
      • When will the interface happen (e.g., Civil handover to Mechanical, etc),
      • When they will be done (in the next week, in the next 3 months, etc).
    • Who (i.e., responsible person, team or department) will be working?

Remember, crafting a high-quality lookahead schedule matters more than just issuing it. When your schedule can successfully answer these ‘3W‘ questions, management will see the value in your work.

You’re not just creating a schedule; you’re providing a schedule that doesn’t just inform but also drives the project’s progress.

How can you develop a good quality Look-ahead Schedule?

There are multiple ways to do this.

  1. Decide the date range and agree on the format with the team. For example, if the project is shut down work and only lasts about a week, then it makes sense to come up with a daily lookahead schedule.
    The team want to see their past accomplishments (e.g. one month before the data date) and upcoming activities for the next 3 to 6 reporting period.

  1. Extract the look-ahead schedule activities from the master or Level 3 (or) Level 4 CPM schedule. You can quickly achieve this by
    • Filtering the date range,
    • Add the traffic light to highlight criticality and schedule status.
      [Tip: People don’t take action until they see the traffic light report.]
    • Add the column for schedule comments, and
    • Then, export it to EXCEL or print the pdf version.
    • If you want, you can go above and beyond by adding formatting to the EXCEL sheet because People still want to see reports in EXCEL rather than P6.  Download Lookahead Schedule Excel Template here.

  1. Expand the high-level activities into enough detail for the upcoming works if your schedule doesn’t have enough details for all works. Then, follow the steps from above (Item-2).
  2. Run the report in visualisation tools (e.g., Power BI/ Tableau). If you are working on major projects, it is worth investing in integrating visualisation tools with a scheduling system (e.g., P6/MS Projects) because it gives the flexibility to filter schedules, reduces the manual effort to prepare the report, and instance access for the team to review the schedule.

Is your team losing focus and falling behind on deadlines?

The fix might be simpler than you think: start by creating a lookahead schedule and regularly discussing it with your team.

Don’t wait for them to come to you; take the initiative and introduce the lookahead schedule now.

You’ll soon see the positive impact it has on your project.

It’s not just about handing out a schedule; it’s about offering a well-crafted plan that addresses crucial questions, guiding the team to act promptly and efficiently.

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