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D4COST Software

Three Steps Your Firm Can Take Now for More Effective Project Management
By: Dennis Stejskal,
Vice President of Product Management at Sage Construction and Real Estate

Managing a construction project requires both attention to detail and wide-scope foresight. There are a million moving elements that contribute to the completion of a job - employees, equipment, subcontractors, permits and contracts - all of which demand consideration and drive to get the project from day one to the finished product.

It can be a full-time job in and of itself to try to gain access to all of the key information and then gathering it in one place, so it can be used to make critical business decisions. Although this may once have been an optional strategy, it is increasingly becoming a staple for success.

When competition is stiff and construction jobs are few and far between, the smallest mistakes can become large problems for businesses, making effective project management more important than ever. This can seem daunting but there are three steps your firm can take now to help you manage your projects more efficiently: (1) select a software solution that addresses the needs of your company, (2) increase mobility and collaboration, and (3) conduct a business visibility audit.

Firms can ensure projects go as smoothly as possible from start to finish by using business intelligence software, which is quickly becoming a standard tool in the belts of companies across the industry. This software serves as an important business tool, providing access to data that helps supervisors and site managers keep tabs on every aspect of a project so they can make timely informed decisions.

The best systems fully integrate with a company’s estimating software so all estimated costs flow directly to job costing. Job cost accounting systems give the company control of the budget even as production levels vary due to worker skill or equipment use. Integrated construction software enables project managers to effectively monitor job costs and progress, which can identify potential problems before they become an issue. This allows you to adjust labor hours, equipment usage or other job functions to maintain your work schedule.

Once a business solution is in place, a project manager must ensure that communication and collaboration are top priorities. The ability to communicate and collaborate is not just an issue of convenience, but rather an essential project element where time is of the essence.

Construction decisions aren’t confined to a desk or executive boardroom. Many of the most critical business decisions happen on the job site. In order to keep projects on track and make sure your team is in the loop, you need to have critical project data at your fingertips wherever you go.

Having a cloud-based mobile solution will ensure that everyone on the building team has the most recent information and can keep projects moving in real-time. You can share key project data and reports with building team members both within and outside your company, and even with your customers to give them the visibility they need into the project. In today’s digital world, we are used to having instant access to information. The ability to provide your customers with real-sight data about construction projects can help your business gain a competitive edge and perform jobs with greater precision.

Having the right technology is only half the battle when it comes to effectively managing a construction project. Gaining business knowledge and understanding of how to use information and technology to better manage projects is crucial to your company’s success. Today’s firms cannot afford to deal with situations and challenges in a reactive manner. You need the foresight required to make the right decisions for your company. When I speak at construction events, I often tell contractors that decision making is made up of two things: experience and data. The more you have of both, the better your decisions.

Metrics provide project managers with information across departments to help them get a sense of the big picture. Breaking down a project to easily understood data can provide firms with better control over their workforces and budgets.

So you may ask yourself: “What data can I use to make the most informed decisions?”

The answer starts with understanding your business goals. In fact, it’s a good practice to step back at least once a year and identify which areas you want to focus on in your business. Is it profitability? Do you want to grow top-line revenue? Maybe you specifically want to improve your labor productivity. Then, through an annual “business visibility audit,” make sure the processes and data are in place to measure your progress towards reaching those goals.

Here are five steps to conduct a visibility audit:

1. Analyze your current situation
Based on your goals, look at your past performance and where you are today. If you want to increase profits, for example, identify the projects which have the best contribution margins. What patterns and anomalies stand out? Does job location affect your profits? Or is it the type of work that makes a difference? Could it be a particular project manager’s jobs that are dragging down your overall margin?

2. Benchmark
Once you have completed your analysis, establish benchmarks related to your current performance and how you compare to other construction firms. Several contractors I know establish competitive benchmarks through regular contact with peer groups. However, benchmarking does not always mean comparing yourself to another company. You can benchmark within your company. Focus on areas that are going well and identify what you are doing differently in those areas and use that information to help with the areas that need improvement. Set regular benchmarks to track your progress.

3. Consider “Big Data”
I’ve just described today’s world of benchmarking. In tomorrow’s world, benchmarking will revolve around “big data,” the massive amounts of information – text, audio, video, photography – that companies generate each day. Cloud technology will help to quickly aggregate and analyze big data across multiple construction-related companies who opt into sharing information such as wage and materials pricing or productivity metrics. Industry associations, publishers, trade groups, and even suppliers are sources to look to for big data.

4. Set your KPIs
Based on your business goals and benchmarks, define key performance indicators (KPIs), such as RFI cycle time, and the time frame you should look at each metric. How often you track a KPI depends on how often the data changes and how quickly you can make course corrections.

5. Put processes in place
Once you’ve identified what you want to monitor, make sure your processes can deliver your data. For example, if you don’t currently update your estimates with change orders, you can add that to your workflow to get a truer picture of your estimate-to-actual cost variance.

Having the right tools, increasing mobility and collaboration among your teams, and gaining greater visibility into your business will help you increase efficiency and productivity in all of your projects. You will be better prepared to tackle challenges and better position your firm to remain competitive and grow your business in a tight market.

About the Author: Dennis Stejskal has over 30 years of experience developing, supporting and selling software and technology to construction and real estate companies. His comprehensive product knowledge and understanding of customer and market needs propelled him into his current role as vice president of product management for Sage Construction and Real Estate.

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