We’re all familiar with the iconic image of the construction project manager: button-down collared shirt, creased trousers or nicely ironed skirt, sensible shoes. A hard hat isn’t mandatory, but is advisable, the better to protect oneself in the event a wayward ceiling panel should flutter down in a faint cloud of plaster and knock over the framed family portrait.
Which is to say, a construction project has a split personality. Over there you have the carpeted project office where the build is ‘administered’, while over here you have the project jobsite: a highly organised riot of men and women wielding expertise and hammer drills in the assembly of a physical structure. The historic disconnection between the project office and the project jobsite (the ‘suits and boots’ issue, as it’s been called) has long been an unresolved sticking point in the world of construction, and for a number of reasons.
I call this the ‘disparity of perspective’. You either work in the office, or you’re on-site all day walking around and getting your hands on the project. These are two very different worlds. Workplace culture aside, there is a measurable downside to the site and office separation, and that is the communications gap – a less-than-seamless information flow the most familiar hiccup of which is budget-and-schedule-eating Rework. As construction evolves technologically, I see this breach between site and office widening even further.
Clients are expecting more innovative solutions – new materials, new processes. Designers try to outdo each other with competing visions for the next amazing building. The technical requirements of construction and construction management have become exponentially more complex. From a vertical procurement perspective, that’s led to contractors becoming more like management organisations than building companies. In the last place I worked, one day I went searching for a tape measure and a ladder. They literally didn’t have either one. Everything is getting subcontracted out. If you pay me $100 million to construct a building for you, I can bet you that about $90 million of that goes to other people who I just manage.
In this era of increasingly intricate construction protocols, the growing chasm between site, office – and, yes, the client – can swallow fragile project profits. Siloed teams, remote stakeholders and glacially slow information-sharing lead inevitably to breakdowns in communication. How to keep these disparate command centres and stakeholders not just fitfully connected by fax or email, but truly joined 24/7 in a virtual common room where information and conversation are exchanged in real time, and from any location? Don’t we owe it to both boots and suits to build this new collaborative model?
The fact is, a lot of effort goes into planning a project, but it never ever, ever goes 100 percent to plan. I always affectionately refer to construction as ‘controlled chaos’. The success of the project is dependent upon how you actually deal with the problems. If we can bring people closer together and exchange ideas more quickly, we can more immediately identify where those problems are and deal with them. Bringing the project’s people together – that’s really what Procore does.
Nuts and bolts. And (yes) a cloud
Procore’s cloud-based project management platform for the construction industry gives project players an actionable X-ray into every aspect of the project, as well as a constantly open, unimpeded conduit for information-sharing and problem-solving. Procore’s digital tool suite – from Budgeting to Transmittals and everything in between – neatly populates an actionable, intuitive dashboard that lives on your mobile device. Yes, this does require a substantial gathering of resources: namely a mobile phone and forefinger.
So for instance, a PCG meeting (Project Control Group: typically the contractor, client, key designers and high-level subcontractors) generally happens once or twice a month for a major project, and an often unappreciated component of the PCG meeting is the time it takes to prepare. It’s one guy sitting down for almost a full day putting together the meeting agenda, the RFIs (requests for information), drawings, defects, drawing approvals. It’s crazy. With Procore, all the work and activity that occurred through the month has been automatically recorded in real time. So I build a custom report and say to the program ‘send this report to me with all the logs and registers on the 25th of every month’. Because on the 27th of every month, I sit down with my client for one of these PCG meetings. So what previously took almost a whole day of work now just magically arrives in your inbox in a beautifully readable report.
Procore’s fluid, real-time transparency is likewise mirrored between teams and individuals on the work site. It makes on-site communication easier, and engenders an accountability culture from which everyone benefits. I used to physically have to go up to level 15 on a building to check how something was going, or call someone on the phone to ask about progress. With Procore I just pull out my mobile phone or my tablet, and I can see it with my own eyes. I can also see what I need to do on a given day, and I can see who’s holding me up. And that accountability within the team builds respect and self-awareness.
This fluidity of communication between site and office goes all the way to the top, so to speak. The client doesn’t have to call you up and say, ‘Hey, can you send me this report?’ They just log in and do it themselves. It's all on demand ready for them, as well. So whatever they can see, they can extract. And that’s a big benefit for clients.
Maybe the client wonders how a site inspection is going. Well, they don't need to wonder, don’t need to find out at the next meeting. They can literally watch the site inspection being completed while they’re sitting in an office on the other side of the country. Procore has definitely bridged that gap.
Image: 123RF's Aleksandr Khakimullin © 123RF.com