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.



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