Skill Level Intermediate
- [Jim] Hi, Jim Rogers here, bringing you another segment in my Construction Management series. So far, we've looked at quite a few different options for dealing with things like digital drawings and digital workflows. The common them in all of this though has really been a focus on changing the way that we manage construction projects and activities. Now, if you followed this series or watched any of my other courses here on Construction Management, you might have already guessed that I'm a huge fan of digital or, more specifically, replacing our paper processes with new and improved digital processes.
At some point, you might be compelled to ask though, "Why change the process anyway?" Well, I think the answer to this question is both simple and complex. The short and simple answer is that our industry desperately needs to improve safety, quality, and productivity. Construction is a $10 trillion industry, and by all accounts we lag way behind all other industries in all three of these areas: safety, quality, and productivity. That's not good. Now, is technology the answer to improving all of this? No, of course not.
There's no one single simple answer. But I do believe that our industry can make significant improvements by leveraging technology to do two basic things. Number one, free up more of our time. And number two, provide us with a means to actually use all the data that we can capture using technology in the field. Let's take a look at each of these. First, let's talk about freeing up our time. I think that the business world in general has evolved considerably since I entered it.
Starting back with word processors and then spreadsheet programs, we transitioned from fax machines to email and then to file sharing, and now we have apps that allow teams to communicate instantly, both internally and externally. We just communicate differently in business today than we used to. In some ways, I think technology has actually increased the expectations placed on individuals to communicate effectively and efficiently. In a lot of ways, we're expected to do more ourselves than we used to.
And in our industry, in construction, I see a great deal of construction managers and especially construction superintendents who are just not keeping up. Let's face it, I just don't see many construction projects where the people are leveraging communication tools like Microsoft Teams or using a Slack channel. Although these are widely used business communication tools, they just haven't penetrated the construction industry. Many of us have just kept doing things the same way we've always done them, in some cases meaning paper and pencil, and the result's been an increase in the amount of time we spend doing the job.
This has to stop. When this series began, I looked at software like Procore and Bluebeam and PlanGrid and a few others, and I showed you how to use these apps to manage digital drawings. And I introduced you to using these apps to create a digital workflow for the construction management process. This is all about saving time, and that's actually one of the common themes used by virtually all of these software vendors, the promise that their system will save you time. What you need to understand is that you don't get there by simply digitizing the same paper and pencil processes that we've always used.
We have to think differently, and we have to change the actual approach to almost all of our workflow processes. When we can do that, we will realize an actual savings in the amount of time and energy we put into these processes and that equates to better productivity. Now, I'll take that promise of saving time one step further and say that not only will going digital save you time, but it will help you be more productive, more accurate, and more thorough. And that all makes sense if you think about it.
If you can find a way to decrease time spent on your daily activities, like your daily log, documenting quality or completeness issues, and making sure that you and your team have the latest plan revisions and answers to all the latest RFIs, it frees you up to be more thorough, more complete, and sometimes just to go home earlier so you're recharged and ready to work the next day. Think about this. If you end every day by sitting down at your desk in the job trailer and spend an hour converting all your notes and thoughts into a daily log entry, that's an hour you could have spent on something else.
If you walk a job conducting something like a safety inspection, you walk around and take notes and snap pictures and make notations about times and locations, when you're done with that site walk, you should be done. And if you use the available technology, there should not be any need to have to sit down afterwards and spend an hour writing a report and figuring out who needs to be notified about what. We have technology that will do that for you, technology that will do things like capture 360 degree images of the project as you walk, apps that will allow you to take a note, attach a picture, tag it with a location, and assign the issue to everyone that needs to see it in just a few clicks without writing a lengthy report.
Now, I've given you a glimpse of this so far throughout the series, and it's what you should be working towards. Now, here's the best part. When all this data that we deal with on a daily basis is captured digitally, we also have a better means of extracting and analyzing that data. Think about that for a minute. We've always captured a huge amount of data in the construction industry, data on productivity, injuries, mistakes, rework, delays, changes, constructability issues. The list goes on and on. Problem is, that information has typically lived all over the place with no easy means of viewing it.
It's in time sheets, daily logs, incident reports, written RFIs and submittals, notes on plan sheets that someone has in their truck. It's all over the place. And you have to really need some specific information before you decide to go looking for it. In our industry, that usually means something's gone wrong and now we need information, data to back us up or prove our position. It's time-consuming and it's no fun and it puts us back in that position of doing more work and spending more time. This is that second area I mentioned where going digital is a huge improvement.
Not only can we collect more data because it's just easier to collect, but if we store it right, it's much easier to retrieve. Forget the old concepts of separate daily logs, incident reports, RFIs, and meeting minutes. It takes too much time to generate these things, and it's too hard to retrieve information. Think about it, if you want to reconstruct an incident, you have to comb through photos that probably live in many different places. You have to comb through daily logs and reports written by multiple people and oftentimes written days after the fact.
And then you have to reconcile all that with a long incident report that someone filed somewhere, along with notes from meetings that you had about the incident. Just like the paper drawings I started talking about in this series, there is no reason for this. Use technology to capture information as it happens or as you discover the issues right where you're standing on the job site. Let that technology store your notes, tag your location, attach photos, and notify people. And use technology to put all that information into the same place so you end up with something that resembles more of a project feed with input from multiple people, rather than disconnected formal reports, each written by a different person.
Think about it like a Facebook timeline if that helps. People that post little snippets of information and photos and videos to their Facebook page all the time can scroll through their timeline and see what they were doing on any given day. The same thing applies here, except you want a project feed with everyone on the job contributing. You can scroll through it to find entries on quality issues, near misses, and scheduling updates. If it's all gathered, tagged, and stored correctly, you can also filter the entries and find things assigned to you.
Find things like issues that are still open, unanswered RFIs, or really anything that you want. Ideally project management personnel would also be able to view this information in an aggregated form, like a dashboard, to spot trends both good and bad. The possibilities for improvement here across safety, quality, and productivity are endless. And I'll give you an example here that cuts across all three. I talk extensively about near misses in my course on managing safety and health in construction, but I actually think near misses can be an indicator of potential or future issues in quality and productivity as well, not just safety.
Why do I say that? Well, simple. We know that safety, quality, and productivity are inextricably linked. If one of these elements fails, the others will suffer. So by extension, if we do a better job tracking near miss incidents and then we see this information to spot trends, we can start to focus our attention on hot spots or problem areas. We can use our time to take small corrective actions before something goes really bad and then we have to spend a great deal of time on those formal incident reports and investigations.
In future episodes, I'll take some more time to explore these issues and talk about tracking more data in a more efficient manner. I'll also go into a deeper discussion on what I mean by near misses and how these tracking concepts apply to quality and productivity issues as well. These are discussions that we need to have in our industry, and there's information here for everyone in construction, no matter what your role or position. So with that, I hope you'll stay tuned, and I look forward to seeing you again in another Construction Management course as you continue on your path to be a better construction management professional.