Game, Set, Match

I'm a pretty big fan of team sports. I'd have to put basketball and baseball high on the list (a somewhat painful situation since I live in Seattle), and our Seahawks are usually good for some playoff football drama. But I am also a fan of tennis.

When the Majors—a.k.a. the four Grand Slam tournaments—are on, I have a hard time not tuning in. I was able to see a few matches of this year's Australian Open, and as usual I was struck by how simple the game is in concept but how much discipline it takes to master. Conceptually, the objective is simple: When the ball is in your court, put it in the other person's. The trick lies in knowing how and when the ball is going to land in your court, getting to the ball, and delivering it back effectively.

All this is painfully obvious even if you're not very familiar with the game. The reason I bring it up is that, as usual, I found an analogy to our world of construction project management. Elements of information are constantly bouncing in and out of the courts of everyone involved in a construction project. Emails, plans, specs, submittals, RFIs...the amount of communication and documentation can be overwhelming. It's like a game of tennis but played on multiple courts with many balls at once.

I believe that the success of a construction project is a function of how well the balls move between the different players. When a change request is lobbed over to an owner for approval, is it returned in a timely fashion? Did the subcontractor send in their submittal when it was due or is that ball still in their court? Like tennis, the concepts here are simple. Know what information to expect, have a fast and easy way to access it, and process it efficiently.

The importance of collaboration in the construction industry is a frequent topic of discussion, as I think it should be. To take collaboration out of the realm of discussion and into the realm of reality will take a disciplined approach to project communication and accountability. Technology can help contractors play the game and keep track of all the balls, but to win the sets and the match will take a commitment to adopt new project collaboration technologies and make them a part of the way we work together.

How do you manage collaborative work with project partners? What technologies do you use?

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