Tips for managing in the information age

As recently as 20 years ago, a project manager managed projects by working with people—employees, vendors, consultants, designers, subcontractors and, most important, owners.

Today, project managers manage information. The rise of email and other electronic data has spawned an information tsunami that’s a full-time job to manage.

Fortunately, just as technology has created the problem, it can solve the problem. Technology can make project managers more efficient and effective as it gathers data essential to the long-term health of the business. Complete project records contribute to a stronger, more profitable business. They help resolve disputes, make returning to the project for remodeling and renovations easier and make it possible to apply lessons learned to other projects. The key is to make project records searchable for easy retrieval.

Instead of working with people, project managers spend their days reading and writing emails, filing attachments, updating spreadsheets, managing submittals and requests for information, and keeping track of which plans and specifications are most current. They spend time ensuring their submittal logs match those of the subcontractors and lead designer. But, these necessary tasks can expose the company to risk and wasted time.

Individual project managers keep their project information in a variety of places: in an email inbox on an individual computer, somewhere on the company server, in a cloud storage service (such as Dropbox) or on a spreadsheet.

Couple all these information hiding places with the inevitability of employee mobility (people leaving leave the company), and problems arise.

  • Information is hard to track.
  • Managing users and access across multiple systems becomes more difficult.
  • Not everyone may have access to critical information.
  • Determining which data repository is the ultimate source of truth is difficult.
  • Only the project manager knows where everything is, but others may need to access that information, especially after the project closes.

Each of the difficulties above threatens the profitability of the company, because information that is difficult to find puts the company at risk. Project managers may know where to find their information, but after the project closes, other people also must be able to find it. Fortunately, technology can help solve the problem it created.

The construction industry provides two complementary ways to resolve project managers’ conflicting information management needs.

1. Project management websites empower the project manager.

A project management website is a single place where everyone can easily collaborate, coordinate and find the latest files. They spare the project manager from having to be a project information administrator. These project information repositories are in the form of websites because websites are the easiest way for everyone on the project team, from designers to contractors to subcontractors, to collaborate. All they require is a computer, a Web browser and login credentials for secure access. Efficient project management websites liberate project managers to manage people instead of information. At the close of the project, the business must move the project
record off the website and onto the company’s network.

2. Office software exists that makes accessing data easy for everyone, no matter who filed it or where it's filed.

When people are confident that they can find email and other project information on the network, they’ll move it off their individual computers and onto company servers, where it belongs. The key to giving people the confidence that they’ll be able to find information on the network is to implement project information management software that indexes the contents of the company network the same way search engines index information on the Web.

Project information management systems function as insurance policies for the contractors. Users of project information management software report resolving disputes and avoiding claims by producing—in minutes—the one email that answers the question at hand. Just as companies purchase insurance, more and more businesses are budgeting funds to make information searchable, retrievable and reusable.

Whether the software is Web-based for project management or server-based for business management, it’s important that it include apps for use on smartphones and tablets. So much work is done remotely that workers require
in-the-field access to project information such as action items, punch lists, work-to-complete lists and emails.

Mobile apps also should integrate with the project management software used in the job trailer. Otherwise, information silos develop, which contribute to the problems the business is trying to solve. In the coming years, apps on tablets and smartphones will replace websites as the access points for project information stored in the cloud.

A successful project information management system makes it easy for everyone to do better work.

  • Project managers can find, share and track every piece of information.
  • Project managers can manage information so efficiently that they have time to work with people, which is the reason they come to work every day.
  • Other company employees can find information, including email, after the project closes.
  • Companies can share what they need to share and keep private what they need to keep private.
  • Software used in the office and job trailer integrates with mobile apps used on tablets and smartphones.

The key is to implement smart information management software that solves the problems technology creates.