Purpose In smaller projects with limited resources, schedule updates are often not performed. In these situations, traditional delay analysis methods cannot be used as they all require updated schedules. The objective of this study is to develop a model that performs delay analysis by using only an as-planned schedule and the expense records kept on site. Design/methodology/approach This study starts out by developing an approach that estimates activity duration ranges in a network schedule by using as-planned and as-built s-curves. Monte Carlo simulation is performed to generate candidate as-built schedules using these activity duration ranges. If necessary, the duration ranges are refined by a follow-up procedure that systematically relaxes the ranges and develops new as-built schedules. The candidate schedule that has the closest s-curve to the actual s-curve is considered to be the most realistic as-built schedule. Finally, the as-planned vs. as-built delay analysis method is performed to determine which activity(ies) caused project delay. This process is automated using Matlab. A test case is used to demonstrate that the proposed automated method can work well. Findings The automated process developed in this study has the capability to develop activity duration ranges, perform Monte Carlo simulation, generate a large number of candidate as-built schedules, build s-curves for each of the candidate schedules and identify the most realistic one that has an s-curve that is closest to the actual as-built s-curve. The test case confirmed that the proposed automated system works well as it resulted in an as-built schedule that has an s-curve that is identical to the actual as-built s-curve. To develop an as-built schedule using this method is a reasonable way to make a case in or out of a court of law. Research limitations/implications Practitioners specifying activity ranges to perform Monte Carlo simulation can be characterized as subjective and perhaps arbitrary. To minimize the effects of this limitation, this study proposes a method that determines duration ranges by comparing as-built and as-planned cash-flows, and then by systematically modifying the search space. Another limitation is the assumption that the precedence logic in the as-planned network remains the same throughout construction. Since updated schedules are not available in the scenario considered in this study, and since in small projects the logic relationships are fairly stable over the short project duration, the assumption of a stable logic throughout construction may be reasonable, but this issue needs to be explored further in future research. Practical implications Delays are common in construction projects regardless of the size of the project. The critical path method (CPM) schedules of many smaller projects, especially in developing countries, are not updated during construction. In case updated schedules are not available, the method presented in this paper represents an automated, practical and easy-to-use tool that allows parties to a contract to perform delay analysis with only an as-planned schedule and the expense logs kept on site. Originality/value Since an as-built schedule cannot be built without updated schedules, and since the absence of an as-built schedule precludes the use of any delay analysis method that is acceptable in courts of law, using the method presented in this paper may very well be the only solution to the problem.