Imagine you’re building a small development of houses. While there might be slight differences between each house, fundamentally they all consist of the same elements and will be built in sequence. After the foundation has been finished, the framers will begin work, and so on and so forth. But what happens if the carpenters catch up to the concrete masons? No one wants to waste money on a crew who can’t even start their job.
This is why it’s important to not only understand the production rates of each trade, but be able to organize that information into a schedule that will prevent bottlenecks like these. For projects that deal with repetitive sequences of similar tasks, the Line of Balance (LOB) technique can be a powerful tool. While this scheduling method is traditionally used by larger contractors on complex projects, it’s just as useful for smaller contractors, no matter the project size.
By using the Line of Balance technique, contractors can visualize and plan every activity of a project with just a glance.
With this technique, it’s easier to understand the amount of work being done at a specific time/place, allowing you to allocate resources more efficiently and avoid delays.
LOB is especially useful in projects that deal with repetitive sequences of similar activities.
In this Article
What is the Line of Balance Technique?
The Line of Balance (LOB) technique (sometimes referred to as the Linear Scheduling Method), is a project management tool focused on production rate, sequence, and repetitive work. It’s especially useful in projects where similar tasks are repeated, like tract housing developments, pipe work, vertical buildings with a series of similar floorplans on each floor, or road constructions. By visualizing the progression of various tasks against time, LOB helps identify delays and optimize resource allocation.
Put simply, LOB is a method used to visually represent a project’s workflow and timelines on a graph. You plot tasks along a vertical axis against time on the horizontal axis, allowing your team to balance workload and resources across a project’s timeline. By visualizing when one activity finishes and how that interacts with other activities, you can begin to identify gaps or conflicts in production and address them accordingly, either by re-allocating resources, delaying the start time of activities, or changing the sequence of activities.
Below is an example of two different activities visualized with a Line of Balance schedule:
How Can You Use Line of Balance as a SMB Contractor?
There is a common misconception that LOB is just for the “big players” in the industry and that there’s a barrier of entry based on the size, sophistication, or level of internal resources you have at your disposal. The truth though, is that LOB as a method can be used on a project of any size. Small-to-medium size contractors can adapt LOB to:
- Improve scheduling efficiency – Using accurate production rates to determine the duration of each step for each activity allows you to know when tasks need to start in order for them to be completed by a certain date. It also allows you to see when the optimal time to start the next activity is.
- Enhance resource allocation – By knowing exactly when you need a crew on-site, you can keep that crew productive on another project and avoid unnecessary mobilizations.
- Reduce bottlenecks in repetitive tasks – Different activities have different rates of production, and using LOB allows you to see if an activity with a faster production rate will catch up to the preceding activity.
- Better forecast project completion times – Using LOB with accurate production rates produces very precise durations, which allows you to have a comprehensive understanding of how long activities will take to complete in sequence, allowing you to forecast completion times with a higher degree of confidence.
4 Benefits of Using LOB
Implementing LOB or Linear Scheduling on your projects can help you gain several benefits, including:
- Reduced project delays – By understanding when specific crews need to start, you can reduce lags or bottlenecks.
- Improved client satisfaction through timely delivery – LOB helps visually guide you through the most efficient course of construction, ensuring you can deliver the project in the fastest timeline possible.
- Enhanced crew utilization – LOB makes it easy to keep crews out of each other’s way, saving time and reducing potential conflict.
- Cost savings by optimizing resource use – With better scheduling, you can eliminate unproductive time and crews sitting around with nothing to do.
A Quick LOB Example
Here’s a quick example of how Line of Balance could work:
You’re awarded a project to remodel 10 units in an apartment complex. The scope consists of removing existing carpet, painting the walls and ceilings, and then installing LVP flooring in each unit. While there are a couple of different ways you can sequence the work, you decide to paint first, remove the carpet, and then install the new flooring.
Let’s say that the painting, including taping and cleaning up, takes 3 days for each unit. The removal of the carpet will take only 1 day, and the floor takes 2 days to install per unit. If we use a LOB schedule, we can see that painting all 10 units will take 30 days. Since the demo goes faster and we don’t want the demo crew on top of the painting crew, we can delay the start of the demo crew by 20 days and have them finish in sync with the painters.
Finally, since the demo crew will go faster than the flooring crew, we can delay the flooring crew by a day or so, just to give some space, and then get our flooring crew started. Take a look at the LOB example below to see how this operation would look like:
Even a relatively simple project like this can not only utilize, but can drastically benefit from a LOB schedule. Especially if you’re using subcontractors, there’s always the potential that different crews will step on each other’s toes during the course of the project. Instead of being charged for lost production time or having to deal with delays, LOB makes it easier to build a schedule that works for everyone.
How to Implement Line of Balance into Your Workflow
Here’s a step-by-step guide to integrating LOB into your own processes:
1. Identify repetitive tasks – Break down a project into repetitive tasks (like framing, plumbing, or electrical work).
2. Create a timeline – Establish a timeline, identifying start and end dates for each task. Knowing true production rates and durations is crucial for this step; inaccurate information can quickly invalidate the value of an LOB schedule.
3. Build a graphical representation – Plot these tasks against the project timeline on a graph. Each task will have its own line, showcasing its progress over time. This can be done with a pencil and paper, or with scheduling software.
4. Allocate resources – Use the graph to allocate labor and materials efficiently, with the goal of creating a balanced workload. Understanding the logical sequence of work and resources is important to ensure that the right resources and activities are happening at the right time.
5. Monitor and adjust – Regularly review your LOB chart to identify delays or overlaps and adjust schedules or resources as needed.
While it may seem too complex or out-of-reach, Line of Balance can be a game-changer for SMB contractors. By offering a visual and straightforward way to manage large projects with repetitive tasks, you can achieve significant improvements in project delivery, resource management, and ultimately, profitability.
Further Reading: Foundations of Construction Management for SMBs
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.