Many good project schedulers in construction end up managing schedules that are delayed and have fallen off the critical path. In project management, there are no bad project schedules—rather, there are projects which have a project scheduler working on them instead of a scheduling expert.

In the project management field, these experts are often referred to as “unicorns” and are defined as:

“A project team member who is highly skilled and passionate about their work but, most importantly, a team member who is exceptionally rare.” 

Scheduling experts are those rare and unique unicorns who are not only top performers on a project but also have an extraordinarily high level of expertise and experience managing project schedules.


Construction scheduling experts are the “cleaners” brought in to make sense of and shape up the schedule, as well as safeguard it like the precious cargo it is. They understand more than any other team member that the schedule is king.

A compelling case can be made that the project schedule is the most important tool related to a construction project. While it’s often viewed as just one critical document of a larger plan, the schedule is the component that assigns work tasks and activities as well as plans their timing and sequence. 


Problems occur when there is poor schedule “quality.” Telltale signs of poor quality include schedules containing a high frequency of the negative performance indicators as outlined by the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) guidelines. These guidelines were eventually adopted by the construction industry and identify “bad practices” for scheduling as:

  • • Missing logic
  • • High frequency of constraints
  • • High-duration activities
  • • High negative and positive lag
  • • Hidden critical delays

To find the true hallmark of a bad schedule, look no further than its results. Does the project have delays, cost overruns, and/or claims filed?

A good project schedule does the opposite. It is built with sound logic, incorporates best practices, and is responsive and resilient. A great project schedule has a solid and clear critical path and clearly illuminates future project risks (such as adverse impacts and any delays) before they hit.


Most construction projects have a project scheduler, who is hired at the start of the project and plans the construction on behalf of the management team. A project scheduler should have at least 3-5 years of experience, and foundational project management knowledge is a prerequisite, as are primary scheduling skills, essential training, certification (such as Oracle or PMI), as well as the following:

  1. Knowledge of how to create a project schedule.
  2. Having expert knowledge of and proficiency in scheduling software and programs such as Primavera P6 or MS Project.
  3. Understanding the critical mechanics of a schedule, such as critical path method (CPM) and earned value management (EVM).
  4. Managing the schedule and providing oversight throughout the extent of the project, including performing routine project updates, running reports, monitoring the project for any changes, and updating stakeholders.

These skills represent only the most basic level of scheduling expertise. Most construction projects need a scheduling expert who has a background in project controls management.

A scheduling expert has extensive expertise in data analytics, as well as the ability to:

  1. Identify true critical path delay to assess why a project is late and who or what actually caused the delay.
  2. Analyze schedule compression and schedule changes or updates to gauge the feasibility of those changes.
  3. Utilize historical data to perform predictive analytics and forecasting to deliver projects on time.

A scheduling expert’s qualifications and skill sets extend well beyond those of a regular scheduler. Scheduling experts should have a minimum of 8 years of experience and have at least one of the following certifications:

  • PMI (SP): Project Management Institute Scheduling Professional
  • AACE International PSP: Association for the Advancement of Cost Engineering International, Planning and Scheduling Professional

Scheduling experts not only enter data but study the data. Rather than just focusing on keeping an end date at all costs, truly great scheduling experts will be singularly focused on the truth. They will follow best practices even if that means studying the data at length and reporting uncomfortable truths or the reality that the project may have failed to meet deliverable goals and deadlines.


Scheduling expert “unicorns” are in high demand, difficult to find, and can be expensive. They are usually hired after things go wrong (i.e., when claims have been filed or disputes are underway), so their services often come at a significant cost.  

That’s why I recommend hiring a scheduling expert for every project and hiring them early. Although they will eat into your project budget, the savings they generate in terms of time, resources, and finances make them worth it. If brought on early, their fees are a fraction of what delays, overruns, and disputes will eventually cost the project without one.

One method for finding your own scheduling unicorn is by searching on LinkedIn using the keywords “scheduling expert” or using certification terms such as “Planning and Scheduling Professionals” or “PMI SP,” etc. Networking, word-of-mouth, and finding scheduling experts on networking organizations such as AACE International are also good options.

If budget constraints are an issue, another solution is to utilize new technology and software already out there to crush the data for you. By leveraging construction analytic software on your next construction project instead of a scheduling expert, you can realize significant savings in both time and money to ensure the best project outcomes.

About the Author:

Michael A. Pink is CEO of SmartPM Technologies, a leading provider of software for schedule data analysis. You can follow him on LinkedIn at

Modern Contractor Solutions, March 2024
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