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Case Study

How California Engineering Contractors Uses Planera to Optimize a very complex Folsom Dam Construction Plan

by Noor Lodhi, Head of Customer Success, Planera

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Executive Summary

California Engineering Contractors (CEC) is one of the West Coast’s most reputable heavy construction contractors. The firm can count some of California’s most iconic structures including the Bay Bridge and Bay Area Rapid Transit System among its recent projects.


In March 2023, The US Army Corps of Engineers awarded a $150 million contract to Folsom Dam Constructors, a joint Venture between CEC and Shimmick Construction. The contract is to raise Folsom Dam by three feet. This would increase the maximum allowable water elevation in the dam and improve its capacity for an emergency.

As part of this project, the Army Corps of Engineers tasked FDC  with retrofitting Folsom Dam’s Tainter gates, eight massive pie-slice shaped gates that control the outflow of water from the dam. This included retrofitting the structural steel components of the gates, replacing the main trunnion anchorage on which the gates pivot, increasing the height of the dam by installing precast girders and a complicated steel plate seal system, and replacing all the gate hoists as well as the machinery that operates the gates

  1. Taking on the “thinking man’s” challenge

    This was a highly technical and complex challenge at a vital flood control structure for the Sacramento metropolitan area. As CEC’s Senior Project Manager Roger Giles put it, this was a “thinking man’s job” for several reasons.

    Almost all of the work required for the various components of the project is highly technical and involves many complex steps.  In addition, scheduling is a challenge because only one gate can be taken out of service in the winter, while three gates can be disengaged in the summer.  Another complicating factor in the schedule is a contract requirement to perform all required work on a single gate as a proof-of-concept test to insure the work can be executed acceptably prior to proceeding on the remaining gates.

    Planning for the project also involved considering multiple systems and components, including electrical and mechanical aspects. That meant identifying a comprehensive list of separate tasks and resources that might seem disparate on paper, but are intricately linked and dependent on each other.

    “You’ve got to figure out the logic of how all the systems interrelate with each other, and it takes a lot of thought and input from more than just one person,” said Giles. “You have to create a very detailed plan that has to be 100 percent defensible.”

  2. Getting away from Gantt charts

    As a 35 year veteran of the construction industry with extensive experience in scheduling complex projects, Giles is well versed in the limitations of the standard software used for scheduling. Existing tools such as Primavera P6 were used to create schedules in a Gannt-chart format which provided timelines but could not accommodate a lot of detail. Furthermore, this format did not allow for easy collaboration or real-time updates in a meeting of stakeholders.

    "You can see the sequence of work on a Gannt chart with relationship lines but it’s often cluttered and hard to make sense of, especially with complicated networks” said Giles." ”Eventually you get it done, but it takes longer, and it’s challenging to produce high quality networks collaboratively with other users.”

Evolving from Traditional Scheduling to Digital Collaboration

Upon first testing Planera’s Canvas interface for scheduling, Giles said he was “like a kid in a candy store.” 


He further emphasized, “When they first showed me the Canvas, I said, ‘This is a game-changer, guys.’ You have no idea how much construction people are going to love this. Construction people are visual thinkers, and Planera is a very visual tool.”

Giles said one of the ways to create a schedule in the past, prior to sophisticated software, was to physically write out all the activities on cards or post-its, place them on a whiteboard and connect them with sequencing arrows before inputting the whole plan into the software. 


That is exactly what Planera enabled his team to do, in a modern, collaborative, digital whiteboard.

Planera’s Canvas allowed the team to create tasks, sequence their flow, and add important details for ownership, timing and utilization in a single visualization. Most importantly, it could be updated and presented in real-time to everyone whose input mattered, dramatically saving time and creating efficiency.

As an added bonus, Giles said it took about a day for him to start getting value out of Planera because it was so easy to use. There was no need for training videos, installations or extensive onboarding because of its simple interface and enhanced usability. A simple account login, and the team was ready to go.

From Post-its to Planera

For a job with so much complexity, Giles and his team needed to make sure they were minimizing the risks and costs of the project. That meant creating a high quality schedule with abundant detail to give the team confidence in the plan.

At bid time, the CEC team not only created a highly detailed schedule, they were able to add resource-loading. “It’s not something we typically do for a bid schedule because it’s so time consuming,” said Giles. “But Planera made it much less challenging.”

Giles’s team could easily communicate the utilization rates of the different crews involved at each stage of the project, providing accurate estimates of timing and costs to the owner. The accuracy was a direct result of the increased collaboration between the CEC team members.


By saving time on collaboration, the team had more bandwidth to identify, mitigate or account for risks in the schedule.

More collaboration, more accuracy and less risk
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“I can sit there in a room with a group of experienced, like-minded, smart people and put together a schedule that makes sense to all of them in about a quarter of the time it would have taken me with P6,” said Giles. “They understand it easily because they see it.”

“Planera’s Canvas is the key to getting a group of people with different backgrounds, experiences, and expertise to collaborate and visualize everything,” said Giles. “It’s what really allows all this stuff to happen much more efficiently.”


In tackling the challenge of raising Folsom Dam, CEC transformed their project management by shifting from conventional scheduling software to Planera. The real-time updates and user-friendly design of Planera streamlined collaboration, enhancing detailed schedules and bid efforts. This transition not only saved time but also brought accuracy and improved collaboration to CEC's complex projects.

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