Empowering the Project Team

This is the second installment in a five-part series on how innovative technologies and software are helping project managers streamline processes to build faster, smarter projects.

While the lifeblood of the construction company is the construction project, the lifeblood of the project is the people working on it. Hire bad people to manage and build the project? The results will be poor. Hire smart, talented folks with expertise and the results will be good. Hire forward-thinking, open-minded folks ready to try new things and take calculated risks? The results are likely to be even better.

With construction booming again after the recent recession, there is plenty of work to be had. The talent pool for skilled construction professionals, however, is woefully shallow right now. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report in December of 2013 noted that the construction industry could face a shortage of 1.6 million skilled workers by 20221.

The retirement of baby boomers, a dearth of technical schools and certificate programs training the next wave of skilled labor, and the fact that many former construction professionals took jobs in different industries to get by during the downturn have all contributed to the slim pickings today.

“It’s changed how we choose our construction teams,” said Dallas Williams, vice president and general manager at Red Deer, Alberta-based general contractor Scott Builders. Williams, who has served as lead project manager on many of his company’s projects said decisions are being driven by money. “Right now, it’s based on price and it should be based on value, experience, reputation, etc.”

Championing Collaboration

Another challenge is that project managers often don’t get to pick and choose every member of their project teams. In construction projects, the people involved are a constantly changing cast of characters. Most of those who wind up working on a project will not be under the direct employ of the primary contractor, but rather different tiers of subcontractors. And these workers will undoubtedly change from project to project. In any given year, a project manager for a mid-sized company could be responsible for thousands of different workers touching the project in some way.

This means that project managers often don’t know, or are not always familiar with, the workers on their projects—their skillsets, their personalities and work habits, their certifications and insurance documentation, etc. The onus is on the project manager to make sure everyone on the project team is capable and certified. Project managers also need to ensure the entire team understands the project—its end goals, deadlines and special circumstances.

“We start each activity with a pre-activity meeting that discusses all aspects of that scope of work, including budget,” said Hunter Contracting Project Sponsor Darin Bailey. “We talk about crew size, productions, safety, and more, and we make sure the foreman or superintendent is on board with knowing what the expectations are. It makes it easier to follow up during the construction process to discuss how things are going. My most successful projects involve sharing as much information as possible.”

Bailey said he also involves many team members in the decision-making processes on the project, listening to feedback and new ideas. “I have to make the final call, but I benefit greatly from everyone’s input. It made my job easier,” he said.

A Tech-Empowered Workforce

Technology is aiding that collaborative effort. Here is a brief look at five technology advancements that are having a positive impact on collaborative project management:

  • Talent Management Software—From recruiting and hiring, to onboarding and training, all the way through to assessments and retention, there are all-inclusive software packages to streamline human resources functionalities. This involves employees in the HR processes and allows contractors to focus on the work rather than sorting through mounds of employee paperwork. These solutions also ensure that top-notch, skilled employees that are the best fit for the companies are in place and brought up to speed quickly.
  • Online Plan Rooms—Technology has allowed contractors to avoid the hassle of taking plans and specs to reprographics providers and then dealing with keeping track of those paper plans—and any changes to them—during the project. Online plan rooms digitize the plans and spec process, while making them available—and usually easily changeable—to everyone on the project team that needs to see them. This increases collaborative decisions and ensures that project teams always have access to the latest information.
  • Construction—Specific Project Management or ERP Software—What better way to improve collaboration and keep workers moving than software specifically designed to handle the projects? Some software packages manage and track projects in ways that contractors relate to, while larger, enterprise resource planning (ERP) packages integrate all facets of the construction project. ERP systems can track data project on the jobsite and seamlessly integrate that data with accounting, inventory, equipment management and other areas of functionality. This one-platform approach reduces multiple data entry and makes data easy to pass from one department to another, allowing everyone on the project to work from the same playbook at all times.
  • Cloud-based mobile solutions—Mobile and online tools allow project data, financial information, materials and equipment information, employee time, labor rates and more to be entered directly from the jobsite. This saves the once-necessary, once-a-day trips back to the office to ensure that data is collected and entered correctly. Meanwhile, cloud-based portals or kiosks allow additional streamlined functionality while tying data directly back to software packages or ERP systems. For instance, one portal/kiosk could provide employees a place to check their pay stubs, view employee information or download W2s or other forms. Another might allow subcontractors to enter their project information, update compliance related documents and more.
  • Video conferencing programs—Thanks to video conferencing programs like Skype, GoToMeeting.com and others, entire project teams can now meet face to face multiple times a day. Teams can go over project updates, review plans and project phases, resolve conflicts and more—all without project managers or supervisors having to leave the jobsite to do so. Other advancements like FaceTime, allow face-to-face video chats via iPhones or iPads.

These technology advancements are empowering construction project teams to work smarter, more collaboratively. And it is not just the processes, but the quality and relevance of the shared construction data itself that is getting a boost from technology.

Read the rest of the Construction Project Management Series: Part 1 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Monthly Labor Review, “Industry Employment and Output Projections to 2022,” December 2013: http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2013/article/industry-employment-and-output-projections-to-2022.htm

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