Dave Wagner is a 20-year veteran of the construction technology industry. He is the director of product marketing for Newforma, a project information management software company. Visit newforma.com.
The construction industry rewards managers who can tolerate mundane administrative tasks. People who can find an old email, keep track of submittals and manage punch lists are more likely to succeed than those who have trouble with them.
While necessary, these administrative tasks are secondary to the real work of the day: managing the people and technical objectives that are the heart of a successful project. And sadly, time and energy spent on administration can actually work to the detriment of a project.
A tolerance for manually slogging thru the day-to-day minutiae works against the industry in four ways:
- Inefficient project information management practices steal time better spent on actual construction and team management.
- Frequently creates a single point of failure because there may be only one person on the team familiar with manualized processes required to complete the required tasks.
- Because they steal time and attention from the tasks that attract people to construction management careers, administrative tasks make those careers less rewarding.
- Requiring that managers have a tolerance for tedium restricts the pool of prospective employees at a time when the industry is scrambling to find capable, qualified workers.
Tools to the Rescue—Again
Fortunately, construction professionals like tools. Decades ago, contractors and subcontractors reduced the amount of painful and repetitive tasks and raised productivity by replacing manual tools with power tools. Today, more and more are employing drones and laser scanners to more quickly and accurately evaluate jobsites and capture data for 3-D digital models.
Software is a similar high-tech tool. For example, construction companies have embraced building information modeling (BIM) software to detect clashes and improve the construction process. Similarly, they are embracing project information management software to save time and reduce the risk of tasks slipping through the cracks.
Less Tedious Field Reports
In the past, project managers and superintendents would walk their jobsites with cameras, pens, blue tape, rolled-up drawings and notepads, which they would use to photograph and note issues for reports and follow-up.
Such manual methods required people to transfer, organize and otherwise manage field information back at their desks, whether they were downloading photos, emailing action items, or entering observations in logs. In other words, they had to engage in tedious, manual chores. It was just part of the job and it was painful.
Now, efficient managers are using apps on their smartphones and tablets to capture those pictures and notes. The top-notch apps automatically upload the field data directly to software used at the desk, eliminating other painful steps (and opportunities for errors) of numerous keystrokes.
It’s a similar process for punch-list management. Imagine using an app to walk down the jobsite, either to capture punch list items or check off those that have been completed. It’s simple, fast and less prone to errors.
Faster Submittals & RFIs
If you’re a glutton for pain, nothing beats managing submittals and requests for information. It’s an essential task that can’t be neglected, but nobody who enters the business does so thinking, “I’d like to update an RFI spreadsheet all day.”
Fortunately, software has arisen that streamlines submittal and RFI management, removing paper from the process and making records available to everyone involved.
The cloud has been the technology to make submittal and RFI processing less tedious. Owners and construction companies are licensing cloud-based project management software that enables teams to submit, distribute, review and approve documents online.
For companies who wish to manage the process behind their firewalls, software exists to meet that need, as well.
Imagine being able to find the disposition of an item in seconds. No more shuffling through piles of paper. No more time spend updating logs. No more time spent generating reports. Creating reports are as simple as clicking a button, considering that the software logs each and every transaction.
Contractors are reporting savings of 50 percent to 90 percent in the time needed to process these items. That’s a gigantic reduction in time and pain—and a huge addition to the time managers have to anticipate problems, serve clients and guide teams.
With email, the challenge is its massive volume. Engineers swim in a sea of email. Email management comes in two forms: piling or filing.
Pilers let everything accumulate in their inbox. That way they have one place to look for it. The challenge is, nobody else can see it, and if that person leaves the company, the company may have a hard time retrieving those emails later in case a dispute arises.
Filers are more organized, but even then it’s hard to find emails later, especially if it’s someone else doing the looking.
Email management software makes it drag-and-drop easy to file email with other project documents, and equally easy to find it again, whether using search terms or sorting the messages by To, From, Cc, date, subject, type of attachment or other criteria.
Once again, software removes the pain at the same time it reduces the risk of information being lost or misplaced.
A Tolerance for Pain Working Against the Company
Anyone who is successful in life is able to tolerate some of the more painful aspects of their work. Doctors maintain patient records. Teachers grade papers. Tradespeople perform repetitious tasks.
But just because all jobs have their painful aspects, it doesn’t mean they don’t steal time and attention from what people enter their careers to do.
Construction professionals generally have a high tolerance for the pains of the industry. But construction pros also are quick to adopt tools that reduce pain and improve productivity. Just as the industry is embracing new tools in the field, it’s using new tools on mobile devices and at desks. And they are tools that liberate workers to spend more time in the field.