From the back office to the job site, there are numerous scenarios in which improved project management capabilities could transform a contractor’s processes for the better. A workflow that involves real-time, heavily automated data interchange in a web-based software environment holds multiple advantages over an old-fashioned approach dominated by inefficient legacy technology.
It’s not unusual to find companies within the construction industry that are stuck with suboptimal processes for organizing their projects, held back by inertia and the view that they shouldn’t replace technology that “isn’t broken.” However, once leaders at these organizations discover the value they can achieve with better project management and collaboration capabilities, they’ll quickly realize that old workflows are essentially broken, and are not providing optimal returns.
Refreshing the systems that connect office and field operations means removing a few of the issues that can plague workflows – from elevated risk of human error to delays between collecting data and sharing it with other stakeholders. The benefits accompanying new project management tools extend to every element of the project, from initial project planning to completing the job and closing it out.
What are the key features of construction project management software?
Project management systems aren’t defined by one component. Keeping a project on track and connecting every member of the team are objectives are achieved by deploying suites of modules that will have a positive impact on multiple departments, and that can integrate with whatever legacy tools remain in use.
The following are four main functional areas of project management today, each enhanced by deploying the right software for the job. Expert construction project managers will likely discover shortly after deployment that their decision-making power has improved markedly, powered by the newly unified data environment they’ve created through their new software choice.
When the beginning, middle and end of a project are each handled in a disjointed fashion, with important internal and external communications being stored and tracked haphazardly, the risk of costly and time-consuming human error affecting the project increases. Collaborative management tools in construction sort information by project and allow companies to control the flow of communications from the bidding process to the closeout.
Working with vendors, speaking with customers, communicating with other internal stakeholders – all of these processes are improved and streamlined with purpose-built construction project management software. A good system for this purpose isn’t just a repository in which to dump information, either – through real-time collaboration tools and actionable alerts, personnel can become quicker at learning the status of every item within a project and formulating a response.
No matter how many meetings occur in the course of a project, the centralized system can keep all the minutes on file. Inventory data, too, is accessible on demand. Employees with access to the system can perform information requests on demand and learn about any communication that has occurred regarding the job thus far. With such an effective way to keep and share data, stakeholders never have to enter duplicate information into multiple systems, saving time and lowering the risk of human error corrupting the data.
Construction stakeholders shouldn’t have to make important decisions based on outdated or incorrect information on the status of a project. With the right site management modules in place, they can forget about the outdated concept of working from periodic updates. Real-time data, direct from personnel on the job site, can become the fuel for predictive analytics algorithms and deliver improved insights.
Daily journals, productivity reports and to-do punch lists are all accessible through site management tools. This data, as entered by personnel on the job site working on their mobile devices, is uniformly accessible in the field and in the office. This real-time consistency ensures that strategic choices are made based on facts and figures that all parties can agree on.
When the day-to-day status of a project is becoming unstable, or a team keeps encountering problems, stakeholders will immediately notice what is happening if they have real-time data access. Responding to an issue while it is still developing – or before it becomes truly damaging – enables leaders to get things back on track and preserve maximum value. Leaders can assign tasks that will have a real positive impact, then ensure those actions are completed on schedule.
There are many ways for personnel within a contractor firm – and the many subcontractor, client and partner organizations working on a project – to communicate. If these methods are disconnected, with no centralized and secure point to keep the resulting data, the result could involve confusion, long searches for needed information or flawed decision-making due to key missing records.
Having a central repository for every email from a project is an essential step for leaders who don’t want to lose track of their operations. Ensuring this file storage location is accessible offline and receives real-time updates is another best practice in project management. Years into a project, when a stakeholder needs to recall an old communication for regulatory or decision-making reasons, that content should be easily found.
Communication is one of the hardest areas of construction project management to scale up. Adding more third-party partners to a job drastically increases the amount of email and other records generated, and extended timetables simply add to the volume and potential confusion. Responsible project leadership today involves making sure there is a technological solution to these issues.
There are unique document types associated with construction projects that are absolutely indispensable. The plans and blueprints generated in planning must be accessible – with all relevant mark-ups and in their latest versions – to keep the job on track. Furthermore, back office stakeholders and field personnel need to know they are working with consistent information.
In addition to plans, drawings and blueprints, each construction project will involve bid packages which should come with their own attached files, along with closeout documents to smoothly transition out of one project and into the next. A document management module that can facilitate all these needs and integrate with common industry-standard software to accommodate unique file types is a major organizational upgrade for a contractor.
A photo from the job site – a CAD file from an architect – a subcontractor document shared in Microsoft Office format – all these and more should be accessible throughout a contractor’s team. With a high-quality document management tool as part of a project management suite, stakeholders can view all this relevant content to detect any issues affecting a project and make necessary adjustments proactively.
What is the value of construction project management software on the job site?
The value of project management software in construction can hinge on just how widely available content is, with real-time access to information enabling a smoother and more intelligent approach to organization and decision-making. One of the pillars of this approach involves including field personnel in this data sharing environment. Content from office and job site teams should be instantly accessible throughout the network.
Using mobile devices and effective interfaces that integrate with centralized desktop systems, employees in the field can both send and receive information, viewing documents, alerts, communications and more as well as providing real-time updates to fuel strategic decisions. Due to the fact that mobile device use has become a natural and effective part of communication in both professional and personal settings, it would be self-defeating for contractors not to make smartphones and tablets a fully ingrained part of their project management systems.
Giving team members in the field a better way to share information, with everything meticulously documented and easy to locate, can be a time-saving approach to communication. For example, checking a punch list remotely, performing one of the necessary actions and then reporting its completion is a simple process, one that stakeholders in the main office will learn about in real time, enabling them to plan for the next steps of the project without reaching out manually or forcing the employees on the site to enter data twice.
Why should contractors of all sizes embrace modern project management?
There’s nothing stopping construction firms from making meaningful changes to the tech processes powering their workflows. Even small organizations that are only ready to embrace a limited degree of new IT deployments can derive value from adding mobile technology and integrating these components with their existing software environments.
One of the primary value propositions of modern, purpose-built construction project management systems is that the tools in question are scalable. Rather than just helping up to a point and then losing their effectiveness, these solutions help contractors of all sizes keep track of their project documents and communications, powering decision-making on a project or organization basis, no matter how many active job sites a particular company may be overseeing.
Removing time-consuming data entry tasks and cutting the risk of human error are value-adding outcomes for businesses throughout the construction industry. From the largest general contractor to the most niche specialty contractor, improved document management, communication and collaboration will always be welcome. A small contractor that handles its project management needs in a highly efficient way may see better return on its investment and be better equipped to grow and achieve its potential for larger jobs.
Today’s centralized database platforms are the project management tool construction stakeholders have been looking for. Simplified data access solves numerous problems at once, in all corners of an organization. Whether information is being requested by office leadership, field personnel, partner organizations or regulators, web-based tools put the content at users’ fingertips.