In a perfect world, the weather would be clear and sunny 24/7. Subcontractors would be as dependable as Swiss trains. And creating foolproof schedules would be a cinch.

In the real world, unexpected snags and the ensuing delays are the nature of the business. What happens to that disciplined road map — your schedule — when it rains for a week, or the custom door arrives three months late, or subcontractors fail to deliver?

Here's a look at the scheduling strategies that three remodelers use to keep their projects on track.

Michelle Myers
M Squared Builders & Designers
Bahama, N.C.
In a previous life, Michelle Myers created schedules for the Marine Corps. She worked on massive projects, such as the step-by-step construction of aircraft, and used the Gantt chart, a well-known project-planning tool that reveals at a glance whether tasks are on schedule. One schedule was so painfully detailed that it blanketed the walls of a building the length of a football field. In spiderweb fashion, best- and worst-case scenarios sprang from each point.

These days, as owner of M Squared Builders & Designers, Myers still uses the Gantt chart as a critical management tool. But even the best-laid plans can go awry, she admits. “Most of the time your day goes to hell in a hand-basket,” Myers says. “So you're constantly readjusting.”

In her view, the unexpected is the norm. Being willing to change a schedule is what keeps her afloat when things get rocky. Flexibility “can make or break the project for you, in the eyes of the client,” she says.

Coming up with a detailed plan in the first place is essential. “There are certain things that are critical path,” Myers says, that is, tasks that must happen at a certain time and in a certain order, such as installing the counter-top before the faucet or the gas line before the stove. All other tasks are “floating,” and Myers readjusts these as needed, should bad weather strike or a product be delayed. “You call in your backup, call in your trade, so you can still be hitting that end goal.”

The schedules Myers creates track all important aspects of a project, rather than scheduled work alone. “If I have a special-order door, for example, I put the order date on the schedule,” Myers says. “You shouldn't have to think in the middle of the project, ‘What's the lead time on that door? When do I need to order it?' You've got too much going on for that. You just want to execute.”

Myers learned one of her best scheduling tips the hard way. She had agreed to use a Canadian kitchen cabinet manufacturer she had never worked with before. The company read the drawings incorrectly, inverting everything from top to bottom. Among the results of this mishap was that the space for the built-in microwave was so low a three-year-old could reach it. And not only did Myers have to pay to ship the cabinets back to Canada, but it was a full year after the rest of the project was completed before Myers resolved the problem.

“That's a lesson learned,” Myers notes. “I have to ask far more questions. I hadn't worked out all the details with them in advance, and I didn't even know that I needed to.”

She's particularly attentive to special-order items. “Know the vendor, find out the procedures, know their lead times, know what they're going to do when they make a mistake,” she says. “Because if they do make a mistake, that can really wreak havoc on your schedule.”