In Praise of the Bar Chart

Einstein's fame rests, in part, on his discovery that time is a variable dimension. Contractors have always known this fact. There have been instances when a one-week impact event causes a one-month delay; when four weeks of work are accomplished in two; when “float” on a critical path schedule (CPM) mutates to being critical. Then, there are mistakes, inadvertently occurring in a CPM, which really warp time.

The difficulty with accounting for time does not end in the planning process. With experience and care, contractors can develop a credible, as-planned schedule for their work. With some expertise, this plan can be formatted for a computer. Now the greater difficulty arises: tracking time as the project gets built.

If you have been confronted with preparing an as-built schedule after the job is over, you know the enormous effort required. You have to go back to your daily reports, which hopefully have enough detail to enable you to follow crew movements and calculate the labor hours spent for each task or area. Then you review correspondence, meeting minutes, shop drawing logs, requests for information and other communications to correlate activities with impacts. Gaps, and there will be gaps, are filled in by imaginative analyses of percent complete per month, per line item; equipment usage; manpower plots; or other techniques or graphical depictions.

There must be simpler ways, and there are.

You can’t argue with fact

One of the prime criticisms of a bar chart schedule is that it does not account for dependencies, i.e., the relationships between the start and end dates of connected activities. In addition, the bar chart does not distinguish critical from noncritical durations. On the other hand, a bar chart is simple to update, and your general foremen can use it easily because the information is apparent.

If you have a CPM, make a bar chart of only the critical path. If there is no CPM, create a bar chart based on reasonable logic and durations. The plot should be large enough so that it can be posted in your field trailer with enough space between the activity bars to allow you to draw in actual progress per activity, at least weekly. Each incremental weekly as-built bar will be dated.

Using this simple tracking chart, you will get almost instantaneous information on delays and out-of-sequence work. By adding notes to account for changes, interferences, late approvals, etc., you are actually generating the foundation for notice letters.

Even with complex projects, such as industrial facilities, hotel complexes and hospitals, it can be beneficial to summarize critical path activities into fewer categories and then reduce them into bar-chart format. That will give you a contemporaneous record of facts affecting work progress.

The general arrangement drawing

A very effective technique for projects such as warehouses and department stores involves tracking job progress on the general arrangement drawings. As with the bar chart, the drawings can be marked up weekly to highlight the degree of installation accomplished with the date noted. Footnotes can be added for events that impact the work.

On one airport project, layout drawings, updated weekly, allowed the electrical contractor to prove with great detail the progress of his underground duct bank, the dates where there were stop-and-start interferences, and even crew movements. These annotated drawings also alerted the contractor to problems as they arose.

Variations on a theme

Once you have become comfortable with these suggestions for using bar charts or updated general arrangement drawings, additional layering of information is possible. For example, I have had cases where I advised the contractor to add information about his daily manpower to the bar chart activities, either by head count or man-hours expended. Other additions include equipment used, quantity of materials installed and overtime hours. If certain areas of the project require closer monitoring, you can create a more detailed bar chart, or you can blow up a layout drawing and track those areas with even greater detail in your notations.

Improve your writing

In previous columns, I have often discussed the variety of contract clauses that may come into play when a job impact negatively affects your work. Among these clauses are those provisions for changes, time extensions, force majeure, suspension of the work, delay and differing conditions. For most impact events, more than one clause can apply, each with its own restrictions on remedy, and each with requirements for some form of “notice” to the general contractor or owner.

In most instances, you are better served by notifying the other contracting party of the details of the impact event without citing a specific clause in the contract. For example, instead of writing about a delay to a portion of your work—a description that is imprecise anyway—you should write that work in a particular area could not proceed because of (give the reason) and that your crews had to be reassigned, causing a loss of labor hours.

Keeping up with these notice letters on a problem job can be taxing for your supervisors. With the annotated bar chart or notated general arrangement drawing, the letter is essentially already written. The notice letter needs only to summarize what the charts graphically depict. The charts also can rebut the very typical reply from the general contractor or owner that “there were other areas you could have worked.” In legal jargon, that reply is translated into the criticism that you did not mitigate your damages. In addition, tracking crew movements gives you the foundation for calculating lost productivity (e.g., two hours lost per move to different work areas).


The effective presentation of claims or other requests for relief or for an equitable adjustment to the contract requires facts and logic. It also requires a format that convinces because it can be understood. Effective job monitoring to avoid claims has the same foundation: facts, logic and understandable format. Consider using bar charts and general arrangement drawings to help you confront schedule-related events.

ITTIG, of Ittig & Ittig, P.C., in Washington, D.C., specializes in construction law. He can be contacted at 202.387.5508, or

About the Author

Gerard W. Ittig

Legal Columnist
Gerard Ittig, of Ittig & Ittig, P.C., in Washington, D.C., specializes in construction law. He can be contacted at 202.387.5508, or .

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