Falling into the Red
How to insulate your construction projects.
Insulation can mean many things to different trade contractors—drywallers, steel framers, plasterers, and ceiling contractors alike. By definition, the most common types of materials used for loose-fill insulation include cellulose, fiberglass, and mineral (rock or slag) wool. All of these materials are produced using recycled waste materials. Cellulose is primarily made from recycled newsprint. Most fiberglass products contain 40 percent to 60 percent recycled glass. So, this is a standard definition.
However, I’m going to take a different track and boldly present insulation as a concept to protect your projects from overruns, high costs, and losing profitability. But how do you do this?
In this article, I will highlight ways to improve managing labor, time, and materials and why technology is a must-have for your business to insulate you from increasingly complex and changing competitive landscapes.
You must focus on three core business areas: communication, operations and technology.
Why communication fails? There are many different reasons why communication breaks down between the office and jobsite or with other stakeholders involved in a project. Sometimes it is interpersonal conflicts, a lack of trust, or just general miscommunication. However, these small issues and miscommunications impact the project’s health and everyone’s bottom line. A significant reason for miscommunication also lays in a breakdown of processes and means to track communication during the entire project lifecycle.
Tips for better communication practices
The best way to improve communication is to map out communication touchpoints in a network diagram—stakeholder structure, purpose, process, and means (technology). You will be amazed at the number of opportunities you’ll have to improve your operations. Remember, you need a well-documented communications process for risk-mitigation. For example, all emails need to be tracked and easily trackable related to the project. Storing them in a network directory.
Miscommunication is one of the leading issues causing companies and projects to fail, so the communication structure, process, and technology used are essential to ensure success. A construction trade contractor that has a comprehensive stakeholder-driven communications plan for how to conduct the business of building and operations protocols will ensure that each stakeholder understands their roles and responsibilities. And how they may evolve to ensure a project’s success. This includes instructions for when and how to communicate with stakeholders, owners, architects, engineers, prefab team, project managers, and jobsite workers. Communicating frequently also ensures that downtimes are avoided, and employees are kept productive on other assignments.
Construction communication during the project should have a similar systematic approach. Having a construction management platform with email integration can help tag all project communications related to tasks, and assignments and teams. These emails are also easily accessible at any time because they are stored in a central database. Communicating with jobsite workers regarding optimal start times, locations, and priority tasks can help develop a more robust and efficient project delivery process. If work is stalled, ask yourself what the response plan is? This approach entails reducing the amount of unproductive work, like travel times during rush hours and lengthy pre-shift meetings. Ensuring materials are received at the specified locations at the appropriate time also helps to eliminate downtime that almost all jobs experience.
Operational efficiency consists of a company’s ability to deliver products and services most cost-effectively and profitably. Operational efficiency is achieved by ensuring production resources (people, time, materials) and delivery methods reduce waste, rework, and employee idle time.
OE is the measurement that directly correlates with production and profit. The challenge for construction firms is a myriad of problems to overcome to improve output. Things like manpower, environmental, technological, legal, domain expertise, cultural, and several others factor into operational efficiency. The transcending goal for an enterprise construction firm is to lower costs without compromising productivity, profits, and quality. Your firm’s reputation is on the line here, so we can’t sacrifice quality from the operational efficiency model.
Tracking time and labor productivity efficiently
If you’re not digitally tracking labor and loading that data into a project management platform, you will never increase operational efficiency. The primary reason is you’re not leveraging the power of data to evaluate the picture of performance. Scheduling is a crucial planning process for project managers, and historical productivity data is key to scoping durations, activity levels, and resources.
During construction, having real-time data available to adjust resources and schedules is mission-critical to addressing the unpredictability of construction to ensure profitability. Analyzing and studying elements of the entire project enables construction subcontractors to figure out what alterations need to be put into effect to improve delivery times. Time tracking provides a clearer picture in terms of how workers are managing their time, creating opportunities for boosting operational efficiency. Post-Mortem breaking down the entire construction process into individual diagnostic parts can provide insight into how labor productivity can be improved from project to project.
Daily reports and regular check-ins with the field
Countless subcontractors relying on manual processes and paper to create Daily Reports repeatedly say this time-consuming, but vital task, ends up being a weekly report to management. Waiting for regular weekly updates translates into operational delays. Imagine three hours to create a Daily Report being trimmed down to 30 minutes because the foreman can capture and digitally document and voice-text all his or her activities (e.g., field notes, images, issues, comments, etc.) throughout the day while canvassing the entire project.
In addition, regular check-ins with field workers are useful for keeping everyone on a construction site up-to-date and provides a time where instructions can be offered. Keeping morning staff meetings to a minimum before the day starts, quick check-ins allow Foreman to visually assess the productivity of workers on a frequent and daily basis, as well as leverage hands-on expertise on how to best proceed on an issue. This is a more proactive management approach and keeps employees on their toes and productive throughout the entire day.
Connecting the office with the field
Finally, you need to build efficient communication and workflow between the field and the office. Untracked communication and standalone applications cause data silos, and if you’re project delivery practices are beset with manual processes, the results are constant project delays and costly re-work on construction projects. You’ll never get ahead by allowing these situations to coexist.
The office and field have very different technology needs from estimating, accounting, and project management, to document management to jobsite field applications for daily reports and field notes. Therefore, you should look to selecting the best for both worlds—try “best of breed” integration partnerships to break down the different data silos between the internal departments, as well as those between the owner, architect, and general contractor.
Your proverbial Tech Stack needs to integrate with a back-end database, so you have a single source of truth that makes all of the data collected accessible in real-time and actionable for your office and field teams.
The rise of field-first project management software powered by jobsite data drives Construction Operations. It’s not GC software packaged to look like it’s for subs. You need software designed for you—the subcontractor.
What is field-first project management and document control software? It’s software designed for Construction Operations and powered by using mobile apps to collect real-time field data helping the office and field operate transparently, efficiently, and more effectively.
As JB Knowledge mentioned in its 2018 Report, many contractors are rolling out tablets and mobile smartphones on the jobsites. These are fantastic tools for increasing operational efficiency if they are integrated with cloud-based project management and document control platforms. The data collected on the field should drive construction operations, but if there are data silos (i.e., tools used) but not connected to the backend for reporting, than this is a dangerous loophole. Or, if you rely on manual processes to collect, export, and re-enter the information—most companies do—then you have potential hazards for profit slippage in the project delivery process. These need to be cleaned up.
A web-based centralized database is crucial for collecting all labor, time, materials, documents, and plans so that all stakeholders have access to the real-time information they need to keep the project moving smoothly. The platform’s database becomes the “source for truth” or “system of record” with synced mobile devices running applications to improve communication, yet capturing mission-critical project and employee performance data (labor, time and materials) for real-time analysis.
Communication through mobile devices ensures that all stakeholders of a construction project can connect, both on and off the jobsite. A real-time mobile connection can also provide real-time instructions or version-controlled designs to workers, as well as adjustments to the project throughout the day. Your mobile devices can also include instant messaging and other tools used to save time and reducing the need for face-to-face interaction, which is often time-consuming. However, buyer beware. If you get in the app buying business, you may inadvertently be creating data silos which have adverse effects on increasing operational efficiency. Best of breed integrated platforms are the way to go.
Field-first, Cloud-based software offers several advanced features, functionality, and automated workflows to help turn operational efficiency and profits into hyperdrive. First, it opens up a tremendous amount of transparency to what is occurring on all the projects across your firm.
Field-first project management software helps with everything from project ROI dashboards, to purchase orders, daily reports, submittals, RFIs, to billing and document management. Subcontractors now have affordable technology that is designed for them, not forced to sacrifice using a system designed for general contractors. It also benefits key stakeholders, executives, project managers, estimators, field forepersons, VDC designers, and accountants. Everyone involved in the project can auto-complete tedious and time-consuming tasks and better keep track of the overall productivity to improve operational efficiency.
From the executive to the jobsite laborer, it’s essential for trade contractors to commit to improving communications, maximizing operational efficiency, and selecting the right technology to move the needle to be more competitive, more profitable, and more insulated from changing market dynamics.
Drywallers, steel framers, plasterers, ceiling contractors, and other trade contractors can afford to make these changes when the economy is chugging along, and it will also prepare themselves for the next downturn and be in a better position to generate higher profit margins. W&C