Lessons Learned #13: Is Technology Serving (or Hurting) You? – Part 3

Last issue I discussed common problems that are encountered when applying technology to manage field operations (e.g. job costs, daily reports, issue tracking, and photographic records).

The final issue of this series will deal with the application of technology to various aspects of managing your business.  My remarks will be generic, since it is not my intent to endorse any particular vendor’s product.

I want to get you thinking about this by asking questions about the way you currently manage your work, offering suggestions that may improve your business by having technology “serve” your needs.

1 – Job Cost Accounting:

How much thought and planning goes into setting up the job cost categories for your projects?  Do your job cost reports provide useful information other than the current total cost?  Extensive, unnecessarily detailed breakdowns of categories, can confuse your field staff, frustrating your ability to capture accurate information on project performance costs.  Your managers should take the time to create a list of categories that will be relevant to the work on each project.  That will make it easier for your field staff to report their progress accurately, and will provide you with more meaningful reports with which to manage the work.  I’ve seen many job cost reports on projects which, as a result of being too detailed, were inaccurate and therefore rendered useless as analytical tools.

2 – Management Reports:

Have you invested in state of the art hardware and software for your business but failed to have your employees thoroughly trained in its use?  Do you find yourself routinely complaining that the reports you receive from your system fail to provide you the information you need to manage your work, or company?  Do you find that you have to create manual, custom management reports to fill in “the gap” because your systems can’t produce them?

In this economy your overhead should always be under scrutiny.  One way to minimize overhead is to maximize the use of investments you make in technology and information systems.  It’s not enough simply to purchase the hardware and software tools that you believe are needed.  Training is essential to be able to get the most bang for your buck!

Most accounting programs come with features that allow you to customize standard reports to suit your specific needs.  If reports can’t be customized to your liking, the system usually allows you to export the data requested to a spreadsheet program, where you can further manipulate the information to achieve the report you desire.  You should always strive to get management reports with minimal re-entry of data to avoid wasting valuable employee time and errors that can result from re-entering information.  Often companies create special spreadsheets for collections, and other purposes, when adequate reports may be available from the accounting system without any additional work.  Sometimes it can be lack of training or knowledge of your existing system that keeps you from operating “lean and mean”.

3 – Online (virtual) meetings:

Are you spending too much traveling to meet with customers for routine matters?  Is your work spread out geographically but you don’t have the resources to visit your managers often enough?  Thanks to improvements in technology, you are able to hold productive meetings online, share documents in real time and view the participants, much as you would if you were present with them in person.  The advantages are clear:

  • savings in travel budgets
  • meetings can be held with remote parties on short notice
  • very little investment is required (you probably already have most of what you need)

There are some minor disadvantages with using electronic meetings:

  • lack of “real” personal interaction
  • can be confusing when many parties are involved
  • coordinating a convenient meeting time across multiple time zones
  • quality of the conference (voice/audio) may vary depending on the participants’ internet connection

Based on my experience thus far, I find this to be an excellent way for a company to stay in touch with remote projects on a frequent basis, and greatly reduce travel costs.  The benefits of holding virtual meetings with your customers should be weighed on a customer by customer basis, with consideration given to the specific purpose for the meeting.  With greater frequency of electronic communications, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that sometimes you need to have personal (face-to-face) contact with a customer to build and preserve relationships.


In this series on technology applications to construction I have emphasized the following:

  1. Try to find the simplest solution – don’t overkill with technology
  2. Investing in hardware and software is only part of the solution – training is essential
  3. Organize before attempting to automate
  4. Maximize the use of technology to minimize your overhead

“Technology is like a tool to a craftsman, you must select the proper one and learn how to use it well to get the job done.” – Paco Farach

© Farach Consultants, Inc.  •  all rights reserved  •  954.434.7710

Lessons Learned #12: Is Technology Serving (or Hurting) You? – Part 2

Last week I introduced the topic of the use of technology in construction and mentioned three pitfalls that you should try to avoid:

  1. Technology overkill
  2. Failure to train
  3. Improper match (square peg & round hole)

In this issue I discuss the challenges faced in applying technology to the management of your field operations.

Obtaining timely and accurate information from your field activities is essential to managing work profitably.  Software packages today are equipped with complex tools capable of providing in-depth analysis and greater detail than the typical project requires.

The challenge you have is one of proper application, or how to make the best match between the data-capturing capability of your software and the project type and skill level of your field staff charged with the task of reporting that data.  Let’s look at four main areas of application:

  1. Job Cost: Although your estimate may be based on thousands of items and work activities, there is no reason to set up your job cost system to track each and every one. Here are some key factors to consider when setting up the job cost system categories:

a) type and scope of project (size, complexity, repetitiveness, duration)

b) ability to track accurately by floor, area vs. type of work (e.g. rough, finish), or both

c) your company’s real need for specific information based on its potential use in managing the work

d) likelihood that field staff will make the effort to track consistently and accurately according to the level of detail requested, and their knowledge and degree of training.

In my experience, most contractors opt for far greater detail in this area than they need, or intend to use.  My advice to clients is that for most projects, “less s more.”  Even if a simpler list of cost categories is used, you should retain the flexibility to add job cost categories as you need to account for:

  • issues that arise during construction that should be tracked (T&M extras, for example),
  • work activities that lend themselves to comparative analysis for productivity purposes,
  • issues that need to be tracked separately, due to their potential to result in a request (or claim) for additional compensation.
  1. Daily Reports: If you are a subcontractor, you need to prepare and submit forms containing information on manpower, work activities and problems on a daily basis. The importance of preparing a thorough Daily Report cannot be overstated.  As the only daily document on most projects, it can contain sufficient information to allow someone to piece together the history of the project (from your perspective).  You will need to strike a balance here between trying to record information vs. the capability (and training) of your superintendent to complete this task daily.  Push to get too much detail, and you will turn the superintendent’s job into a clerk of the works.

Typically, your office will print forms to be completed in the field by your superintendent.  Alternatively, you can have the form completed electronically (using text editing software, or a spreadsheet application).  These electronic versions are then submitted daily to the GC (as well as your home office).  I am a proponent of electronic forms for the simple reason that they can be reconfigured quickly, are easier to transmit than paper forms, and they can be saved and stored safely at the home office without the need for physical transportation.  The downside is the potential for others to modify the form after the fact, compromising the integrity of the record.  For this reason, if you use electronic forms, you should make sure that they are converted to a format that is not easily modifiable.

Electronic Daily Reports can be searchable and are easy to review after the fact in the event there are lingering issues that require you to analyze the work or explain events during the job.  This can save you great expense, if you have issues that end up in dispute.

  1. Issue Tracking: If you don’t have a system for tracking issues and problems that arise during construction, you are relying on chance and memory to collect information that you will need when addressing the problem in order to request payment or to support (or defend against) a claim, if needed.

I suggest using simple methods whenever possible.  One way to track project issues is through the use of an Issue Tracking Log that can be created in a spreadsheet with categories for all of the pertinent data that needs to be collected (much like a log of RFIs or pending changes).  You should also set up an electronic file for each issue to be tracked and place a digital image of each document in its corresponding issue file. You could use hyperlinks within the spreadsheet to connect the document location to the description of the entries in the log for ease of review.  You need not have any custom software to track your project issues this way.

  1. Photos – There are probably more project photos taken at job sites than ever before. Managing the large quantity of digital images can be a challenge. However, a simple digital folder for collecting them weekly or monthly should suffice. Whenever photos are taken for specific purposes (e.g. to record a field condition, problem, or issue) a copy of the photo should be placed in the corresponding issue file as well.

If you follow the simple recommendations above, you will be able to create a reliable and thorough system for gathering the essential records from your field operations.  More importantly, this system will be relatively easy to manage with some training of your existing personnel for the majority of projects.

The most essential criteria for the success of any system for collecting data is to have clearly established procedures for its consistent execution, and training of all employees who will be responsible for its use.

“Technology is like a tool to a craftsman, you must select the proper one and learn how to use it well to get the job done.” – Paco Farach

2015 Park City Ski-Photo2It’s ski time once again and thanks to the proper application of technology, I was able to keep my balance while going downhill at speeds that could have done some serious harm otherwise.  Of course, it helps to have adequate training and experience too…  Oh, and I should mention that it wasn’t until my second set of skis that I found the correct match for the snow conditions.



© Farach Consultants, Inc.  •  all rights reserved  •  954.434.7710