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3 steps to tackle project challenges before they become a problem

Tracking all the moving pieces and details of every construction project can be extremely challenging. According to the Construction Management Association of America, project managers average around 120 responsibilities on and off the jobsite, requiring them to be strategic as they manage various moving parts and prepare for continuous changes.

To ensure each responsibility is met and every architect, contractor and supplier remains on schedule and on budget, effective construction project managers need to use tools and strategies that help streamline their work.

The global pandemic has forced the construction industry to reimagine how to oversee and track projects. Despite the world’s reliance on digital solutions, construction is still one of the least digitized sectors.

 

Project teams are facing new processes and cultural changes at an ever-increasing pace, all while jobs become more complex and schedules more limited. Keep in mind the following best practices from McCarthy Building Companies’ Southern California (SoCal) region team when planning a new project management strategy.

 

Utilize a Project Management Solution With Real-Time Updates

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for project teams to finish within budget, on schedule and adhere to strict specifications without a digital construction project management solution. To stay competitive, general contractors must gain better visibility into their projects from ideation
to execution.

Manual paper-based processes are still predominant in the industry, making it difficult for teams in the office and on-site to exchange information at maximum speed and efficiency, especially now with social distancing regulations and reduced workforce in the field. In order to be more dialed into every stage of a project’s life cycle, all project information should live in one system online so project managers can track progress, and any changes that are made elsewhere with each iteration, in real time.

Today, a digital platform is needed to ensure constant alignment between all project stakeholders. To avoid unnecessary delays or wasted efforts, all parties should have access to the most current information, drawings and schedules — at any time and from anywhere. McCarthy’s SoCal Region uses Procore to manage all project-related documents. The application allows for drawings and specifications to be uploaded and automatically linked for ease of searching through documents, helping to keep files organized and priced. The platform also has submittals and requests for information with the ability to link to the drawings with the click of a button.

 

Procore software has a vast majority of other tools, including financial management, meeting minutes, inspection tracking, punch list, a daily log, etc. This software not only is able to help McCarthy internally track documents, but also allows design team partners and trade partners to collaborate in real time by working within the same system with the same deliverables and transparent delivery dates.

Project management tools like this one help increase efficiency, reduce human error, avoid missing deadlines, streamline processes and keep all stakeholders in the loop every step of the way. When unifying communications online via a workflow platform, you eliminate the need to sift through long email threads and floods of messages to stay on top of daily updates or repeat the same information to different team members.

 

Coordination with Key Stakeholders Is Essential

Construction projects require detailed and responsive planning practices. On any jobsite, there can be tens of thousands of tasks, coupled with the involvement of multiple contractors and subcontractors, architects and engineers, owners and construction managers and field workers means there are a lot of details the project team needs to manage. As a result, any misalignment can cause major project disruptions and potentially costly delays.

Clear and immediate communication is essential every step of the way. It’s critical during the planning stage when all stakeholders should be first aligning on the objectives, conditions and constraints of a project. It’s also crucial through the subsequent development phases when each team needs to report on their progress, share updates, answer questions and resolve any setbacks.

 

Yet in traditional project management, the standard practice is for trade partners to not share data and only focus on their own plan details. This often leads to interruptions to the project flow because trades don’t know what’s going on with the project.

In addition to communicating across teams, it’s also essential to be able to keep clients updated. Suppose the owner doesn’t receive real-time information on the ground or have the opportunity to provide immediate input and feedback. This can cause situations to develop that could potentially lead to a hostile dispute or even litigation over miscommunication and error.

At McCarthy, conversations about priorities and process opinions are required early and often with all stakeholders. Getting the proper staffing and decision-makers involved is crucial to prioritize the right messaging. This is a common request, but clearly articulating the critical path for decision making so all involved are clearly aware. Additionally, McCarthy requests buy-in from its clients if revisions are to be contemplated. Any significant changes require substantial efforts so all stakeholders must be made aware and be ready to commit.

McCarthy’s SoCal team has found the collaborative process eliminates jargon among the team members and gets everyone to focus on how the team needs to work together to achieve success. This also eliminates redundant and repetitive processes, identifies and eliminates waste within and among team members’ processes and provides clarity to how the entire team will work together.

Even non-complex construction projects require near-perfect coordination and communication and planning synergies because of the many different tasks dependent on others to complete a successful project.

 

 

Develop a Contingency Plan to Manage & Prevent Issues

By using data and analyzing what is important in real time, you can track and predict potential project issues before they even occur. Accurate forecasting helps to avoid and remedy delays.

The construction project is constantly being assessed and, based on that data, sometimes the work plan must be adjusted. There are a myriad of things that could happen during the construction phase to cause the work plan to need to shift — from a delayed material delivery to an equipment breakdown. Being prepared for these delays and changes is key to success.

An example of this process in action is McCarthy’s recently completed Water’s Edge III office building project in Los Angeles, California. In coordination with the owner and design teams, all facets of the project were reviewed and evaluated, including the shape of the building and mechanical systems, to confirm that it suited the leasing component of the core and shell projects.

Despite the team’s best laid plans, there were many challenges throughout the project, but once all parties determined that it was a worthwhile revision, the project team moved quickly. For example, an early component of the project was evaluating the number of elevators to suit the current market.

Once it was determined that the project was short one elevator, collaborative sessions were held to identify design components and cost savings to make it happen, which included changing the elevator manufacturer to meet the budget, as well as redesigning the layout of the lobby core and restrooms.

Another example of this was the redesign of the mechanical system which changed it to a variable refrigerant flow (VRF) system, which benefited the owner by providing a cost savings as well as benefiting any future tenants with more freedom to condition the space how they want to. Lastly, due to the increased time needed to get to the bottom of the excavation, more time was available to review some of these requests even though buy in was already established by the team.

The project management process had to be quick and nimble throughout the duration of the project, but the project team found it helpful to have a clearly-defined goal that stayed consistent throughout. From that effort, construction project planning commences with an intense focus on the desired final design and operational functionality of the new planned space.

 

Construction growing pains may be detrimental to progress if not properly orchestrated with all stakeholders. Without synchronization, unwanted setbacks can result, slowing down scheduled progress, impacting productivity and quality control and increasing cost overruns.

Looking beyond the pandemic, with an ever-rising number of increasingly complex projects on the go, construction companies will continue to be at risk of not staying within schedules and budgets due in part to outdated workflow practices and processes. Solving these construction challenges is now a critical necessity. The industry must embrace new workflow best practices and online technology to survive and thrive in a COVID-19 world and beyond.