This is the first in a five-part series on how innovative technologies and software are helping project managers streamline processes to build faster, smarter projects
The lifeblood of any construction company is the construction project itself. How those projects are managed can make or break the company.
That makes project managers (or in some companies, project sponsors who oversee teams of project managers) arguably the most important role in an organization. Whereas others may be responsible for particular tasks or defined roles on the project, project managers have to be somewhat of a “jack of all trades.” They must know the project plans inside and out as well as all of the players, tasks, goals, budgeting and more—not to mention representing the company’s mission statements and reputation by producing a finished product that meets or exceeds expectations.
Project Management versus Construction Project Management
To understand the challenges that a construction project manager faces, it’s important to understand what makes construction project management so different from other forms of project management. “Project management” is a loose business term. Projects in other industries can range from simple tasks taking a few hours to complex procedures with multiple steps and processes requiring input from many people or departments.
For instance, project management could mean facilitating a new way of collecting data for a financial firm to prepare annual reporting methods. It could also mean generating a marketing plan for a company. Anything deemed as a project within a company can be project managed. In many cases, these can be easily administered by a single person or a small team—with the bulk of work being done by that person or team. Projects can be tracked and managed efficiently using checklists, spreadsheets or simple off-the-shelf software.
In larger project management scenarios, say the development and manufacturing of a new product like a smartphone or a better-gripping car tire, the project management might include many people and processes. Still, these tend to be unique, one-of-a-kind projects.
Project management in construction, however, can be entirely different. Construction project managers often have to govern multiple, ongoing projects—perhaps similar in scope, but each with its unique challenges and countless moving pieces. There are the dozens, if not hundreds of people to keep informed and working, often at several different locations. Some aspects of the projects could be handled in pre-fab facilities, while others occur on the jobsite. Project managers have to account for the physical building, bridge or highway work, as well as water lines, sewer lines, electricity, rights of way and easements, drainage, environmental compliance and more.
Project Managers have to be, or at least should be, involved with everything from labor and payroll issues to accurate accounting and job costing, to inventory and materials, to safety and compliance issues. Then there’s the project itself, which typically involves staying on top of multiple subcontractors, dealing with RFIs, change orders, submittals, transmittals and more, ensuring that ever-changing project plans remain up to date for everyone working on the project team. To say that construction project managers have their work cut out for them is a definite understatement.
Interestingly enough, despite all of the time-saving tools and advancements in software and technology that can help automate a lot of project managers’ work, many today are still reliant on outdated processes and systems.
An August 2015 study1 conducted by Capterra, a service that connects buyers and sellers of software, noted that only 52 percent of project managers were using a software solution geared toward construction project management. Of the remaining 48 percent, the two most common tools used to manage projects were Excel (33 percent) and email (27 percent.) Nearly a quarter of respondents (22 percent) were using “other” methods, “which could range from text message communication, handwritten checklists, or forgoing a formal process altogether,” the report read.
In the same survey, of the construction managers and project managers that were not using software, more than 37 percent said they were wasting two hours or more per day on project documentation alone.
Adopting new technologies, however, can often be one task that some project managers do not care to take on. Darin Bailey, project sponsor for Gilbert, Ariz.-based heavy highway contractor, Hunter Contracting, said the approach of “this is how we’ve always done it,” is still, unfortunately, a common practice among project managers. His company, however, is one that has embraced leading-edge software to help streamline project managers’ work.
“Things are definitely better. Information, people—everything is more accessible, and available a lot quicker than it used to be,” Bailey said. “We are able to get up-to-the-minute information that helps us to be able to evaluate productions/cost. The trick is to know how to read the data and to know what to do with it so we can benefit from it.”
While it is true that some project managers resist change, many are ready for technology’s helping hand—they just don’t know where to start. The best place might be to step out of the box of a million tasks and details and think about project management in its most basic sense: getting the right people on the project the right tools and information and the right place and time.
1. Capterra project management software survey conducted with Procore Technologies in August, 2015: http://www.capterra.com/construction-management-software/software-research-with-procore