By Joe Gatto on September 10, 2015
If you run an electrical or plumbing contracting business, you know that your business is moving faster and faster. Effective construction management is becoming an essential part of life for every successful general contractor. Fast-track general contracting projects are more common, and timelines are tight: one electrical general contractor reported having just 120 days to install 9,000 outlets and a copper-fiber backbone in a multimillion-square-foot casino. Another general contractor commented on a recent 840,000-square-foot healthcare facility: “This isn’t fast track, this is psycho track.”
To meet these accelerated timelines, everything your construction crew does has to be on point. Even minor, run-of-the-mill setbacks can cause a project timeline, activity duration, and budgets to run over in serious ways — and with serious consequences. What safeguards can you put in place to prevent this from happening? Here are six essential steps for effective construction management.
Consider prefabricated parts
Sometimes your hands are tied by a general contractor or architect, but if you have the choice to reuse a standard design for your role in the project, do it. Prefab parts can also decrease field installation time, so consider having a prefab shop bend conduit or pre-install motion detectors if they are planned to accompany lights. Vendors in the construction industry can label and pre-spool all wire onto one reel.
By using prefab parts, your construction workers may be able to start your electrical or plumbing work early and limit prolong activity duration. After all, you’ll have the specs in hand so you can get rolling, even before the parts come in.
Ramp up project management
When timelines are aggressive and you’re working with a team of various construction managers or specialists — builders, architects, construction crew — excellent construction management is critical. The right software solution can be a lifesaver, enabling your team to stay on top of everything from work orders and estimates to safety regulations.
Yet with so many project management software tools on the market for the construction industry, where do you start? For one, stay away from overly complicated programs that are hard to get up and running without on-site consultation or that come with a lot of bells and whistles. These will only cause frustration for most construction workers who want something that will make their job easier, not complicate the construction process. Also avoid generic or inflexible technologies that don’t let you tailor the tool to your unique needs or as the variables of the project shift (as they nearly always do). Instead, look for simple solutions to common problems that will ultimately decrease the activity duration of common tasks. These include:
Anticipate bumps in the road
Think ahead and plan for possible disruptions in your workflow. Are materials coming from overseas? Converting metric to imperial units can slow things down. A mobile app can take care of the math for this or any other conversion (think overcurrent protection, refrigerant charge, etc.) so you don’t have to remember any formulas. Likewise, mobile apps can keep you from being hit off-guard by things like inclement weather, backordered supplies, or cost over-runs on labor and materials — all of which can wreak havoc on the success of your project and the reputation of your company.
Clear, ongoing communication is a necessity with fast-track construction projects, which often involve off-site vendors or employees who need to stay in the loop. Keep all stakeholders informed of any changes or updates to the project, either through a daily standup meeting and/or through digital communications. And make sure you’re getting the info you need from others to do your part of the job effectively.
Again, mobile apps can play a big role here, allowing you to share construction activity data and information with others in near real-time. Because the data is stored in the cloud, there’s only one “definitive” copy of any document floating around, rather than multiple versions that could be out of date. In addition, your team can submit updates immediately, instead of hours later by manual entry from a paper form.
With team members who speak other languages or have a disability, you may need to find alternate forms of communication. This mobile version of a checklist created by the American Disabilities Association can help you figure out where communication barriers exist so you can come up with a solution.
Even with the benefits of cloud computing and other technologies, many businesses in the construction industry are still using old-fashioned, paper forms to track all parts of their construction activity — from ordering materials and creating estimates to tracking labor, invoicing, and keeping up with safety regulations. Consider the case of Great Lakes Fusion, a construction company that went paperless in 2013. That one move cut down on the administrative work of processing timecards by two hours each day, streamlined GLF’s invoicing process, and reduced its error rate on change orders and field reports.
Area Development magazine puts it this way: “Although not ideal, a fast-track situation typically requires ‘locking in’ a footprint and site plan very early, knowing or expecting there will be changes. …The key is to manage the change process and not get caught off-guard when the architect moves a door, adds a service bay, or reconfigures a parking lot.”
And if the architect does move the door, make sure that everyone knows about the changes as quickly as possible (by, say, updating the cloud-based, digital version of the plans) so that your team can plan and react.
Ultimately, the success or failure of a construction project is up to you and your team. So if you agree to an accelerated timeline, you’ll need to do everything you can to plan ahead, stay organized, communicate effectively, and work efficiently. In all of these areas, technology can help. Learn how to get started in our free eBook, “Save Thousands of Dollars This Year: The Definitive Guide to Eliminating Paper Forms in the Construction Industry.“