The Construction Contractor’s Guide to Look Ahead Schedules

A 3-week look-ahead schedule is the best way to zoom in on the upcoming portion of a construction schedule and begin to plan work activities. It allows the project management team to get focused on the upcoming period of time and plan the work activities at a level of detail that is appropriate and necessary to effectively execute it with minimal deviations from the plan.
  December 23, 2023
contractor looking at a look ahead schedule

Granularity. It’s a term that’s commonly used in the field of construction management because of the quick mental gear shifts required between conceptualizing information at a 10,000 ft bird’s eye view and then focusing in on minute details at a moment’s notice. When you’re building and evaluating a construction project’s schedule you need both of those viewpoints. The overall project schedule provides a framework for how the project should go, but when you are focusing on the work to be done in the immediate future, you really need to dive into the details of the work and coordinate labor resources, subcontractors, inspections, weather events, and material deliveries.

A 3-week look-ahead schedule is the best way to zoom in on the upcoming portion of a construction schedule and begin to plan work activities. It allows the project management team to get focused on the upcoming period of time and plan the work activities at a level of detail that is appropriate and necessary to effectively execute it with minimal deviations from the plan. Let’s take a deeper look at what goes into a 3-week look-ahead schedule.

What is a Look-Ahead Schedule?

A 3-week look-ahead schedule in construction is a detailed plan that outlines the upcoming tasks and activities for the next three weeks of a project. It’s essentially a zoomed-in view of the overall project schedule, providing a more granular level of planning and coordination for the immediate future.

Here’s a breakdown of what a 3-week look-ahead schedule typically includes:

  • Project information – This includes the project name, date, and any other relevant details like location or phase.
  • Week breakdown – The schedule is divided into three sections, each representing a week. These sections might be labeled with dates, days of the week, or simply “Week 1,” “Week 2,” and “Week 3.”
  • Tasks and activities – Each week lists the specific tasks and activities that need to be completed. These tasks should be clearly defined and broken down into manageable steps.
  • Duration and manpower – The estimated duration of each task is specified, along with the required manpower or resources.
  • Responsible party – The person or team, or crew responsible for each task is identified.
  • Progress tracking – Some schedules include a column for tracking the progress of each task, often indicated by percentage completion.
  • Notes and dependencies – Any additional information or dependencies between tasks can be noted in a separate column.

A 3-week look-ahead schedule is typically produced in a flexible and customizable spreadsheet software, such as Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel. While more enterprise-grade software solutions, such as Microsoft Project or Oracle P6 are typically used to produce the project’s overall CPM schedule, due to the advanced Critical Path Method calculations and complicated dependencies of the activities, 3-week look-aheads require a more flexible software solution, as it is in their nature to change frequently.

What Does a Look Ahead Accomplish/Why Should You Use Them?

There are a lot of benefits to using a 3-week look-ahead schedule on your project. Here are some of the main areas of added value that they bring:

Improved Communication and Collaboration – The 3-week look-ahead schedule is typically updated on a weekly basis by at least the project management team of the general contractor, but often important subcontractors on the project will also attend the meeting when it is updated to provide feedback and collaboration on different activities being concurrently performed on the site.

Enhanced Efficiency – Taking the larger activities from the project’s main schedule and breaking them apart into smaller, more digestible tasks allows for more focus to be placed on the details of an activity and plan to make sure that all of the materials, labor resources, documentation, and appropriate coordination procedures have been thought and and anticipated. As a result you’ll have fewer unexpected issues arise while performing the activity and create a more efficient work process that requires less administrative and labor burden to complete.

Proactive Problem Solving – The short-term, detailed view of work activities that a 3-week look-ahead provides helps you think through all of the potential issues that might arise as you are performing the work. While being short-term, it still provides enough time for changes to be made to the work plan based on changing conditions, whether that is a delay on another activity that affects upcoming work, changes issued by the owner, or changing site conditions due to weather events. By focusing on an activity in detail, you can begin to solve what would have been elusive problems looking at the main schedule, before they happen.

Flexibility and Adaptability – A 3-week look-ahead schedule is, by its very nature, flexible and lends itself to being changed easily. This is important because the ease with which changes can be made without affecting all of the downstream dependencies in the schedule, as would happen if you made changes to the overall project schedule, allows for the project management team to be nimble and adapt to changing conditions, while also maintaining the integrity of the project’s overall schedule.

Types of Look Ahead Schedules

While the 3-week look-ahead is the most popular type of look-ahead schedule, due to showing enough detail with just the right amount of time to make adjustments, there are other similar look-ahead schedules. Sometimes a 4-week look-ahead schedule is used, providing a little bit more detail about upcoming activities. There is little difference between a 3 week and 4 week look-ahead, other than the difference in time that they capture.

Additionally, many larger projects will have a 120-day look-ahead schedule. This is just what it sounds like, a little bit more of a zoomed-in schedule than the overall project schedule, but not as detailed as a 3-week look-ahead. This is usually used in conjunction with a 3-week look-ahead schedule, however coordination meetings for a 120-day look-ahead schedule will occur far less frequently, usually once a month.

Final Thoughts

Look-ahead schedules, whether a 3-week or 120-day, provide a deeper level of insight and planning into specifics of work activities than what the project’s overall schedule allows for and are extremely valuable tools in managing construction projects effectively. They force the project management to plan activities in detail, looking through the lens of the current conditions on the site and, ultimately, drive a better understanding of the work and what is needed to complete it on schedule.

Further Reading: Foundations of Construction Management for SMBs

The CrewCost Team

Written by The CrewCost Team

The CrewCost Team consists of men and women who have worked in the construction industry as project managers, general contractors, sub contractors and more. They share their decades of experience on our blog as a way to help other contractors grow healthier and more profitable businesses.

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