UDA Scheduling 2004, top, is designed specifically for construction businesses and available as a separate component or as part of an estimating, bookkeeping and proposal software package. Microsoft Office Project 2003, bottom, integrates with all Microsoft software, has a wide range of features and comes with some construction templates.
If there's one thing we know about remodeling, it's that the schedule always changes. At the same time, if there's one thing that we know about customers, it's that they hate it when contractors go over schedule. Smart scheduling can prevent this irresistable force and immovable object from ever meeting. Paper and pencil suffice, but computers can improve the process by making it easier and faster to update the schedule, see how a change to one task will affect all the other tasks that follow, and notify subcontractors, suppliers and homeowners as soon as possible.
Finding a program that enhances efficiency, rather than taking as much time to create the schedule as it does to execute it, depends on asking some questions about how your company does and should be doing business.
What other programs do you use?
All of the available software programs require users to gather information on all of the resources - labor, tools, equipment, materials, products - to be assigned to a project. Depending on the number and complexity of the jobs your company does, it may be very important to find a program that easily imports this information from your existing software programs rather than forcing you to re-enter this data.
What reports do you need?
Another aspect to consider is what kind of reports each program can run. Many programs can create Gantt charts - bar graphs that show start and end dates as well as interdependencies - but maybe you'd prefer to show your customers a calendar version instead. Maybe the tile contractor doesn't need the complete overview and would rather have a straightforward task list with dates assigned. If your company has used the dry-erase board method in the past, the programs that can print out wall-chart versions might be most appealing.
If your current production process is inexplicably slow and you're pursuing continuing improvement, you might want to consider a program that will compare the actual schedule to the planned schedule so you can identify weaknesses.
Who needs to know about the schedule?
Who puts together the schedules in your company, and who should be? If more than one person creates schedules, you will need to purchase multiple seats. If different individuals need to collaborate on the same schedule, the enterprise version of a program such as Microsoft Project or Primavera might be a good bet. (They have a longer track record with commercial contractors, but are gaining favor on the residential side.)
Then there's the matter of getting the original schedule and updates out to the people who need to know. Again, a program that integrates with your company's existing database of staff, clients, suppliers and subcontractors would probably be best. Then, think about how you usually transmit important documents. Mail, fax, e-mail, handheld?
The good news is, many software companies offer free or discounted trial versions to help you test the possibilities before jumping in headfirst. Be sure to ask before buying.