The new year is the perfect time to take stock of where you stand and make resolutions to improve in certain areas. Doing so will benefit your clients, your company, and, yes, your employees, too.
For the construction industry, opportunities abound, from getting organized to evaluating employees to streamlining processes to improving relationships.
Technology can improve organization by making it easier to manage contracts, schedules, estimates, change orders and other critical documents. There are many options, but it’s important to make sure the software you choose fits your needs and meets your expectations.
Take multiple software for a test drive first, suggests Bob Dresser, a construction expert advisor and witness who is president of Strategic Executive Consulting in Mechanicsburg.
Make sure the software offers the tools that you need and will improve your productivity and your ability to manage, report and predict the impacts of your decisions.
ProCore, Timberline and Sage are among the most commonly used tools, but there are others available as well.
Some examples, according to Dresser, include:
Teknobuilt’s Pace 4.0: Enables end-to-end digital management and construction workflow automation and has intelligence to help solve problems and make decisions at the root of issues. Pace is state-of-the-art and works at all levels of an organization, from C-suite to foremen.
Contractor Foreman: Basic tool that helps streamline tasks for smaller-size constructors and projects.
Raken: Allows project managers to maintain daily work logs, schedule and assign jobs to employees, send updates to field agents and generate and share snapshots of a project’s progress.
Other examples, according to a recent article by Forbes, include:
JOBPROGRESS: Developed by contractors, its apabilities include managing proposals and bids and project management.
Fieldwire: A cloud-based project management tool that is for use by contractors of all sizes, including subcontractors. Because it is cloud-based, additional services are necessary for storage of documents, on a platform such as Dropbox.
Buildertrend: Forbes describes it as “one of the more complete apps” capable of managing all aspects of a project, from presales and project management to invoicing and real-time communications.
Houzz Pro: Focuses on lead generation solutions for small contractors or subcontractors looking for individual jobs such as home improvements. It comes with templates and allows custom templates to be created.
Monday.com: A general project management software that does not include industry-specific features or tools.
“There are many to choose from,” Dresser said. “It is most important that you evaluate your real needs, short- and long-term, based on your leaderships vision. Be honest about your needs prior to contacting potential companies. Include your service and growth expectations as well as your technical needs. It may help to have a third party walk you through this introductory process.”
Dresser offers five other suggestions for how to break bad habits and start your company on a new trajectory in the new year.
Know your contracts
Construction contracts can be long and boring. An important but often overlooked strategy is to break them down into an abbreviated “Reader’s Digest” version for each functional group in your organization to ensure all are clear about their obligations. This communication piece helps to ensure compliance with terms, minimize the potential for legal trouble and maximize profit potential on each project.
“Whether you’re a purchasing manager or whether you’re a project manager, scheduler or safety or quality coordinator, each role will have some pertinent contract clauses that they need to be aware of,” Dresser said.
“You need to know what the contract says you must do. The contract may say if I’m going to be late doing something, no matter the reason, I may have 14 days to give my client notice. I need to demonstrate that we are making our best efforts and have developed mitigation measures and communicate all to the clients within those 14 days with how this event impacts the project schedule and costs.”
Managers shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming all contracts are the same or that they know all of the terms by heart because they were involved in the negotiations.
Contract summaries can be created in-house by project managers or legal counsel or can be outsourced to outside counsel. Outsourcing may cost a few thousand dollars, “but it’s probably the best few thousand bucks you ever spent,” Dresser said.
“I would say Rule Number One for the new year is just know your contracts, no matter what it takes. Make sure your people know what their roles are as far as being compliant with your contracts.”
Plan, plan, plan
Don’t leave anything to chance when launching a new project. Nail every detail down beforehand, from the labor and materials to the equipment and tools. If temporary power and water are needed, make sure they are installed.
“There’s nothing worse than for anyone to get to work and not have everything they need to perform with good productivity,” Dresser said.
Projects that get off to a rough start impact morale, he said, in addition to wasting money.
Creating a RASI (responsibility, accountability, support and information ) matrix that matches duties to the responsible parties is a way to simplify a project with multiple stakeholders and make sure they work seamlessly as one team, Dresser said.
“Moreso, implementing a detailed pre-planning process, such as workface planning, which leads into a disciplined mobilization readiness platform, will ensure your sites hit the ground running.”
All of these are practical approaches and can be created in a Microsoft spreadsheet and do not require fancy technology.
Don’t fight change
“Change is usually a dirty word in construction. Construction superintendents and foremen are usually apprehensive to bring a problem or a change to the owner or the engineer because it usually creates negative tension,” Dresser said.
It shouldn’t be that way. The sooner that everyone involved in a project recognizes there is a need to change something, regardless of what caused the change, the easier it will be to keep a project on schedule and minimize cost increases.
“The thing we’re doing and that’s getting a lot of traction, is embracing the concept that ‘Change is your client’s best friend,’” Dresser said. “If you do things in a timely manner, like right now, as soon as you sniff that there might be an error or a problem in the field, you bring it forward immediately and engage the appropriate parties.”
The more people who are involved, the more brainpower that is tapped, and the easier it will be to navigate the change effectively.
“It’s when you hesitate and don’t bring things forward right away, that’s when the tension mounts and problems start,” Dresser said. “Being transparent and honest with change is usually a very good thing and will be received well.”
Confess if necessary
“Make sure your relationships are strong and positive in nature. If you have any sins to confess it might be a good time to do it at the new year,” Dresser said.
Such a scenario might be: “I have a problem on this job that has really been wearing on me and I’ve been apprehensive to bring it forward to you, but in the spirit of starting the new year, I’d like to bring it forward now and work it through with you.”
Transparency, Dresser said, mitigates risk.
“By having these tight teams as far as trust and communication, I think the biggest win over time is that we mitigate risk, thus reduce all stakeholders’ contingencies and make the total installed cost for the owner much more streamlined.”
The new year is a good time to have each employee review their job description to make sure that what they are doing matches up with what they are supposed to be doing to boost profitability.
It doesn’t take much time and can lead to better efficiency, Dresser said, by identifying gaps and overlap.
Managers should also conduct employee evaluations with a caring approach.
“I have a client right now who is doing a really good job of employee evaluations. They are really putting a lot of horsepower and meaning into assessing how their employees are doing and interviewing all their employees,” Dresser said.
Evaluations are a way to set up the company for success in the future by building and retaining a strong workforce, including helping team members to develop new skills and to advance their careers.
“What do you want to be doing a year from now or three years from now? What kind of training do you need to get you where you need to be? What are your greatest strengths? What do you really need to improve?”
“Your whole company will benefit from a good evaluation process,” Dresser said.
Check out other articles in the Winter 2023 issue of The Keystone Contractor!