A few years ago, I found myself tasked with leading a complex project with a clear, 15-month plan of action. After only six months, the project was running behind schedule. The main reason: I didn’t have good visibility into how much work was being done outside of the formal meetings. The project ended up a success, but it took more than two years and a complete restructuring of the original processes.
Construction projects are often the same—you set a strong foundation for the effort, but communication gaps along the way cause delays and cost overruns. Poor visibility into operations is often a major culprit in why projects fail to meet budgets and timeframes. There are two bits of good news. First, technology that helps you manage projects better is more accessible—and affordable—than ever. Second, the entire construction industry is grappling with the same challenge.
The Construction Sector’s Great Project Management Dilemma
Any number of hiccups can derail a project: Customers can change their minds on the design, key contractors can get sick and push off work streams on the critical path, weather can slow early outdoor work. These headaches are normal; what makes a difference is a construction firm’s ability to learn about the changes, understand the full set of repercussions, and adapt their approach to maintain forward momentum.
KPMG International found that recent innovation in construction has been exciting, but has also fallen short of its potential. The industry has generally gotten better at operating more efficiently and improving risk management.
Even so, just 25 percent of people responding to the KPMG survey said they think the construction industry has reached acceptable standards for completing projects on time and on budget. Projects that fail to meet timeframe and cost expectations are still way too frequent.
KPMG’s advice boiled down to three ideas:
- Take a fresh look at how you govern projects and adjust to changes.
- Make time to develop a quality staff at all levels of the organization.
- Create a plan to use digital technologies to bring together operations.
This guidance puts the idea of visibility into perspective. Governance creates clear expectations. Well-trained workers are more likely to communicate effectively. Digital technologies make it easier to ensure that all stakeholders are on the same page—all the time. Making these adjustments in isolation isn’t enough, KPMG explained. All three are required to create a cohesive, high performance operation.
If you want better visibility into your projects, you need to re-think how you work. Here are five tips to help you do just that:
- Make Communication Easy
Don’t force workers in the field to jump through hoops to update somebody in the office. Use a central ERP system as a dedicated hub so everybody can access key information in real time, simplifying construction management.
- Automate Tedious Work
Sending out new vendor requests, confirming invoices or checking on shipping can all distract your leaders from more important project management tasks. Automating these processes through ERP-based updates and notifications saves time and cuts down on stress.
- Enforce Compliance Automatically
Imagine you set a lumber budget for a building add-on, but prices change. Now you have multiple workers making phone calls to a bunch of stakeholders just to get approval for what amounts to a minor change. With an ERP system, you can set boundaries for spending that allow for a degree of variance, and when you do need to approve something manually, you get a notification and related information in one place.
- Create and Communicate Customer Expectations
People change their minds. They take too long to make important decisions. This uncertainty is normal in construction, so plan for it. Set clear deadlines internally and with customers. Discuss the consequences of missing those deadlines realistically; don’t scare your customers, just make sure they know what a delay will mean. Then, ensure that all of your stakeholders understand the situation and any changes that arise.
- Leverage Digital Technologies
Asking a vendor for a replacement component because a shipment arrives damaged can be a nightmare when you have to manually take a photo and upload it through multiple systems. If your worker can snap a picture with a smartphone, upload the image directly to your ERP software and send it to the vendor, it’s fast and simple. Let technology make your life easier.
Now you may be thinking, “Sure, this sounds great, but I don’t want to deal with a big ‘horizontal’ ERP solution.” That’s what we at CMiC think, too. We’re not alone. CIO magazine reported that mainstream ERP systems might not be a fit for many industries because most of those solutions fail to support specific use cases and process types. The CMiC platform—designed from the bottom up for construction firms—supports the unique workflows, assets and data that you deal with every day.
When I ran a two-year project, I learned that the greatest barrier was understanding what the team was doing at any given time. I wish I could have easily gotten updates and checked in with stakeholders on an ongoing basis. If you want the kind of visibility that can transform your ability to deliver projects profitably every time, contact CMiC today.