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Keeping Projects on Track with Construction Software

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There are two main issues that throw a project off track:

1. Going over budget
2. Going over the allotted time

Throughout each stage of a construction project, benchmarks and forecasts must be closely monitored, using budgeting tools, to ensure that costs are on target. The latest and greatest schedule must also be regularly compared to the baseline schedule, since it will change hundreds or thousands of times throughout the course of a project.

Project management software should not only assist with monitoring costs and schedules, but also optimize them for efficiency and cost savings.

Here are the steps to keeping construction projects on track:

Identify Blockers

Project managers can save on unnecessary costs by pinpointing “blockers”, which are things that must be done before any other work can be continued. Sometimes blockers will be permitting, inspection, not having certain materials on site, or difficulty obtaining a certain piece of equipment. These all serve to block or impede forward momentum on a construction project.

One important way that construction management software can track blockers is by having a submittal tool. Submittal tools should be a data field called the “required onsite date”. Keeping this date in mind throughout the submittal approval process is important, in order to make sure items are going to be available when they are needed.

As a submittal is sent to a series of different people, such as the architect or subcontractor, there are several places where it can be held onto long enough to fall behind schedule. If the person managing the submittal process does not have a good way to track the required onsite date to see if these turnarounds are setting materials behind schedule, a crucial portion of the project could be delayed. Blockers that fall behind schedule could potentially grind the entire project to a halt. That’s why it’s critical to identify and manage potential blockers before they occur.

Manage Change

Whether public or private, nearly all construction projects have changes. In a survey done by the Construction Management Association of America, respondents queried on both public and private projects reported change orders averaging 7.5% of total project costs. In extreme cases, changes reached as high as 34% of total costs. On the public side, a school district in California reported changes amounting to more than 6%, while the North Dakota Department of Transportation attributed nearly 6% in increased project costs to changes.

Even though a prime factor in controlling changes is to have a well-defined project scope that has been accurately estimated, there is no shortage of other factors that can contribute to escalating costs due to change orders. Chief among those is losing track of change order documents. A change order log can track the change process from the time a change is under consideration until billing time. If a system allows input from a schedule of values, retainage can be calculated automatically, and all approved changes should be reflected in the project's contract value.

Change orders usually require input from subcontractors, and construction software should simplify the interactions. Subcontractors should be able to easily submit pricing, receive approvals, or changed specifications, and can then receive their copies of updated contracts and submit billings for draws, all within an automatically tracked process. For the prime contractor, software should simplify the interactions with the owner, by allowing change orders to be combined and submitted simultaneously, reducing the document signing requirements.

Punch the Lists

The job's not done until the punch-list items have been cleared, but the process can be fraught with missed deadlines and high anxiety. Unclear expectations as to what constitutes a remedied punch-list item are a chief contributor to delays in completion of a scheduled activity. Punch-list tools should set up the opportunity to clearly define the requirements for completing a punch-list item. A superintendent or manager can use the large text area to specify not just what has to be fixed, but also how it has to be done. And, if the software supports copying and pasting, supers and managers creating the entries can easily add specifications for the particular punch-list item without having to retype those that already exist.

A smart punch-list feature is mobile-ready, and easily accessed on iPads, iPhones and Android operating systems, allowing field input where it is most likely to occur. Supers and managers should be able to snap pictures of defects using their mobile devices and include them with the punch-list record. While all punch-list items must be remedied, there are some that are more important than others -- either from a cost or time perspective. The ability to note the impact of the critical items on the project's schedule, cost, or both, can even include the expected delay and the expected additional costs if an item goes beyond its deadline. Once a deadline is established, it should be tracked automatically, and reminders, when set up, will also occur automatically. 

Managing Time

Productivity in construction is mostly hampered by employees waiting for materials, tools, equipment or instructions, and by travel. In fact, by just recovering lost time for waiting, traveling and instruction, a project could get more than a 50% boost in productivity, according to J.F. McCarthy writing in "Choosing Project Success." Key to managing time is accountability, and timecard tools make the process comprehensive and accurate.

With the right time card tools, employees enter their timecard information using mobile devices in real time. Superintendents and managers should track the time worked each day and enter the work performed, assign the work to a cost center and indicate the billable status. There should also be a field where they can enter more details. More importantly, it becomes possible to establish a record of productivity that can then inform decisions regarding crew makeup, task assignments and estimates for future work. The timecard tool should not simply be a stand-alone aspect of the construction software. All timecard records should have the ability to be exported in CSV format to be used in the payroll system and filtered by project, cost code and billable status. Then, superintendents and managers can also use the timecard data to review the productivity of work teams and individuals.

Logging the Day

The daily log of a construction project is often overlooked and abbreviated, as other, more pressing, matters compete for attention. For many projects, the daily log is never called upon to settle disputes and contractual matters, and is simply shunted off to the archives at project completion. But if and when detailed and accurate information from the log is needed, any shortcuts taken earlier can present enormous potential problems. A complete project management solution should include a daily log tool that automates aspects - no longer requiring manual look-up and entry. For example, a prime notation for all daily logs is the weather. As an added feature, some software automatically collects the weather information and places it in the log, where it can be manually augmented and where it also becomes the basis for creating a weather snapshot for any particular day. 

When it comes to the presence and activities of subcontractors on the site, the daily log tool should pull all the tasks from the project schedule each day, providing an easy way for superintendents to log who showed up, what they did, and what percentage of each task was completed. There are also fields where supers can enter data to help with tracking productivity. The daily log should be highly customizable, allowing each user to configure the sections that maintain their records. As a reporting tool, a daily log tool can have filtering and search abilities, making it easy and quick to find out the total man-hours used during a specific period, or to get a summary of who worked and what they worked on. From a security perspective, digital daily logs are removed from loss and damage affecting physical logs, because they can reside on multiple hard drives with cloud-based software.

 

mobile-ready log

Maintaining a “Ball in Court” Workflow

While construction management software typically indicates who is responsible for a submittal at a certain job, construction software should have a “ball in court” feature -- allowing users to see who is currently sitting on the submittal and could potentially be holding up the process. Workflow tools allow tracking of the duration of time elapsed, how long each person in the step took, and how long they have been in possession of an item. The slow parts of a workflow can be pinpointed and optimized to make sure that these items come through more quickly in the future.

Cloud-based construction software should have the ability to send reminders based on current time-sensitive tasks. A centralized repository prevents wasted time by sifting through email to find relevant information. Additionally, all items should be assigned a due date. Administrators should have the ability to log in and see at a glance which items are overdue. On the opposite end, overdue notifications should be sent to relevant parties.

If several approvers are involved in a submittal, and construction management software is not being used, information must be manually tracked and monitored to ensure it gets passed along in a timely manner.

Schedule Management

Software should integrate with programs like Microsoft Projects or Primavera, allowing schedules to be directly imported. This data can become web-accessible and visible to everyone on a project. If Microsoft Project were used in isolation, sharing schedules would become a potential problem. Schedules would need to be converted to PDF and sent to all relevant parties by email. Recipients would then have to keep track of the PDFs manually.

Construction software should allow schedule information to be viewed by anybody who needs access. Users should see exactly which tasks are taking place throughout any specified timeframe. Software can also be configured to send out weekly look-ahead schedules automatically. Some construction software will disseminate resource schedules so that tasks are only given to the specific person responsible for them.

Throughout the course of a project, schedules can be kept up to date with percentage completes on all different tasks. With Microsoft Project’s task dependencies running in the background, a realistic idea of upcoming dates is available at a glance. Task dates can be adjusted automatically as they run ahead or behind schedule.

Users who are holding up the process can be identified, and updated schedules are available for comparison with the baseline to see if tasks ended up taking longer than intended. After the end of a project, a postmortem can be done to find out why that was the case.

 

About Procore Technologies, Inc.

Procore Technologies, Inc., founded in 2003, provides cloud-based construction management software to more than 750 clients across the globe. Using its award-winning suite of construction management software, hundreds of thousands of registered Procore users manage all types of construction projects, including industrial plants, office buildings, apartment buildings, university facilities, retail centers and more. For more information about Procore Technologies, or for a free online software demonstration, visit http://procore.com/. For more articles on construction news and technology, visit our blog at http://procore.com/blog.

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Tags: More, Construction Management



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