Coming to terms with technology can foster a new era of success

It’s in our nature to resist change. The smallest changes can often meet with vehement opposition. Even if the change is ultimately accepted, humans will sometimes take their time adapting. Effective project management, however, does not always have the luxury of time.

In my work, I run across many project-based companies that are still stuck in the past. They resist change because they’ve been in business for decades and believe they’ve found the formula for success. Unfortunately, sticking to the same old tried and true processes is costing them money and limiting their ability to grow.

If you’re a business leader in the construction industry, it only requires a second’s thought to identify the many ways a project manager who isn’t on top of his game can wreak havoc and cost money. What happens if he misses the deadline for submitting a pay request or a shop drawing? What if he fails to order equipment that needs to be on-site on a certain day or time, or neglects to apply for the appropriate permits?

Whether large or small, these sorts of issues can seriously impact the bottom line. For example, let’s say you’re building a hospital, and the project manager is responsible for submitting an order for a chiller. To complete the project on time, the chiller must arrive before progression of the project makes access difficult or impossible. Depending on the time to manufacture and ship a sizable piece of equipment, a chiller can take anywhere from eight weeks to six months to deliver. The project manager must work backward from the date the chiller is needed on-site to ensure the project stays on schedule. This includes placing the order, obtaining shop drawings and getting them approved, while still allowing time for manufacture and delivery.

Assume our hypothetical project manager is just a bit off the mark. He only missed placing the order by a couple of weeks before he noticed his mistake. However, those two weeks were enough to cause the project to miss the close-up date, which in turn causes a project delay and may require the contractor to keep the building open. This sort of holdup also affects the company’s ability to do progress billings and collect cash. Even if the contract doesn’t stipulate penalties for the delay, the organization’s cash flow suffers. While waiting to bill the customer, workers and vendors still need to be paid.

The loss to the organization’s reputation must also be considered. Customers expect contractors to be organized, efficient, and technologically proficient in every aspect of business. When they see a project manager consulting a spreadsheet or carrying around a clipboard, they get uneasy. When that same project manager misses a critical deadline, the customer starts to doubt the organization’s competence.

All of this could have been avoided with a simple project management system that tracks required tasks, reminds the project manager to do them, and automates some of the basic processes to ensure the project manager meets critical dates and milestones.

How e-volved is your project management system?

Spreadsheets and a project mapped out on a whiteboard are no longer the hallmarks of a progressive organization. Neither is the use of a project management application that hasn’t changed much in the last few decades.

The e-volved organization is one that thoroughly embraces technology. They don’t chase technology for the sake of the latest and greatest—these organizations are still focused on the bottom line—but they realize that technology offers significant advantages by helping improve efficiency, reduce common paperwork, and ensure that milestones are met and bills get paid.

To assess the evolutionary status of your systems, consider the following statements. How many of them are true for your organization?

  • I don’t use spreadsheets to enter and analyze the data to run my projects.
  • We use a system with set processes and defined steps to manage a project.
  • My project managers can access the system from their chosen mobile device: laptop, tablet or smartphone.
  • My project managers can do everything they need to do while on-site or at remote locations.
  • My project management system alerts project managers to critical tasks through their email or on their mobile device.
  • My project documents and drawings are all in one central location with access available to all project stake holders.
  • My systems provide the tools my project managers need to collaborate online with teammates and customers.

If any of these are false, your organization is still living in the past. In technology terms, that would be the early 1980s to mid-1990s. That may not seem so long ago, but it equates to several generations in the information age.

Building a foundation for the future

Another part of the organization’s evolutionary process is the introduction of the “new and different.” While older project managers have knowledge, younger project managers can bring fresh ideas. A business needs both to remain strong and healthy. The challenge is implementing systems that can both help the inexperienced run successful projects and allow the more practiced managers to improve process consistency and performance.

For younger workers, technology isn’t just nice to have; it is expected. For project managers born in the late 1980s, the dot-com bubble was in full swing by the time they were 10. By age 15, laptops were truly small enough to be used on their laps, and many colleges and universities required incoming freshmen to have them. By 20, many of them had Facebook accounts. Now, they have smartphones and tablets. Tomorrow, or at least in the near future, they will be using wearable technology that allows them to access and share data.

The point is, this generation of workers is so accustomed to technology that using it is second nature. Some wouldn’t know how to work in an office chained to a desktop PC, unable to access the system remotely or download email using their smartphone, and forced to export data to a spreadsheet for analysis.

Every day spent avoiding technology allows more of your competitors to pass you by. Technology keeps an organization vibrant, allowing it to compete effectively for customers and deliver projects on time and within budget. It allows the company to create an environment that attracts the best workers. Instead of becoming history, these e-volved organizations will be the ones making history for many years to come.