The role of construction project manager is not for the faint of heart. They’re the eyes and ears of everything happening on a job site and are responsible for keeping the office staff and other key stakeholders in the loop. On top of that, they spend their time planning, benchmarking and managing time and risk, as well as distributing resources and managing the projects budget.
Until recently, being a project manager has required an extensive number of manual documentation processes that include paper, spreadsheets and multiple types of technology solutions, which has greatly limited their effectiveness. Fortunately, the ability to have and share live field data changes all of that. Live field data gives project managers the ability to lighten their data management workload and focus more on the human elements of their projects, expanding their geographic footprint and giving them the ability to increase their overall project productivity.
Here are four key areas where live field data can expose risk, share information and improve project efficiencies.
Project managers who rely on sharing information on paper or in person are struggling. Before COVID-19, project managers often got delayed transferring field data to the office. Now, with so many office employees working remotely, the lag time has increased as firms don’t have one central office location to deliver the data to. This lag is one reason it is so imperative for companies to take steps to ensure data can be collected and distributed with the click of a button.
Live field data solutions offer support like cloud-based time tracking, equipment tracking, mobile forms with photo or video attachments, progress tracking and integration with enterprise and payroll systems. Armed with these tools, project managers can have their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the field and take corrective action if needed without physically being on the jobsite. By removing delays from labor hours and progress reporting, project managers can quickly make adjustments to employees and equipment locations to fill gaps, whether they’re at the job site or not. All employees can conveniently access cloud-based solutions through smartphones, tablets and other devices. Even when field employees work in remote locations without service, live field data continues to be collected offline as work happens so the data can later be shared and synchronized with the cloud platform solution once the device is back in service.
Live field data platforms dramatically increase the accuracy of the collected field data because it is collected in real time and then integrated back into the company’s other software systems. This eliminates manual data entry, keying errors and reallocation of job costs, and it connects the project manager with employee progress. With the data collection streamlined and completely digitized, the end result reporting in the ERP is accurate. With live field data, project managers can have confidence in their project status reporting and spend more time on analyzing how to manage the project to profitability instead of spending all of their time on manual, after the fact data collection and entry.
Labor costs are typically the largest variable expense category for a construction project, which often makes it one of the most significant risks for cost overruns. Since the lack of skilled labor continues to be one of the top issues in 2020 for the construction industry, these resources are precious and need to be utilized fully.
When not physically on the jobsite, a project manager doesn’t have a reliable way to ensure that employees were actually on the job site performing work or they were down the street eating breakfast. They also wouldn’t know for sure if employees are submitting a full day’s labor on their time cards or evren for their buddies on the crew on occasions that they leave the jobsite early for the day. This can be a substantial risk factor when there are reported labor hours without any real output like the examples above. This can also lead to artificial overtime on a project and drastically escalate the overall labor costs.
Project managers often struggle to track labor hours and tasks, especially as the number of job sites increase. Loss of productivity, if not tracked and mitigated, can easily spiral out of control on any project, destroying profits and eroding client satisfaction.
Placing technology into the hands of every worker, foreman and supervisor isn’t complicated. In fact, it’s as simple as having them use an app on their smartphone. Facial recognition and GPS tracking with geofencing lets project managers know where the employee is and that the right employee is clocking in and out. Project managers and supervisors in the field can be alerted when employees’ clock in or out when the punch photos don’t match their profile photo or when they’re outside the jobsite geofence as it’s happening. With live field data, a project manager can receive regular man hour reports on each cost code allowing them to easily track employee time and productivity, allowing them to head off delays that stem from inaccurate or held up data.
Live field data also automates the integration of data collected into and from the ERP, which ensures that any new cost codes, projects, or new employees are automatically synced with the data collection app. This allows the field employees to accurately enter their time and allocate it to the right cost code or project in real time for the project manager without extra work for the project manager.
Construction projects rely on optimizing company equipment. Without live field data to know who has what piece of equipment and which project it’s assigned to, it can be difficult to get employees the right equipment to perform their work safely and efficiently. Employees in the field and supervisors waste time making unnecessary phone calls, sending text messages and extra emails to locate the right equipment, or sometimes project managers rent unnecessary items when they’re unable to locate the appropriate owned equipment.
These inefficiencies may seem small, but systematic resource issues add up to big costs over the life of a project. Live field data gives project managers accurate real time visibility into equipment inventory, assignment and usage. Project managers can proactively plan new equipment purchases or rentals based on actual asset usage, or schedule repairs based on maintenance requests through the mobile app. They’ll also see which equipment is underutilized or overutilized.
Production progress made by workers can be viewed in real time, giving flexibility to reallocate staff to the locations that can best take advantage of their strengths. These types of insights allow them to take action, like balancing out the usage of the equipment to extend the asset’s useful life cycle and to reduce asset replacement costs. Or properly managing the workforce to avoid unnecessary overtime. Proper distribution makes sure that the right tool is at the right place at the right time so that workers can continue to progress without delays.
Communication from the field to the office can be as difficult if not more difficult than across the job site. At a high level internal and external stakeholders want to know if the project is on schedule, within budget, and whether there are any potential future risks. For a project manager to have this kind of visibility, they need access to live field data showing daily log reports, labor hours, completed quantities by cost code and completed safety reports. It’s a challenge for project managers with manual data collection and processing to have this level of visibility.
From a project management perspective, live field data has completely changed the game. Field supervisors clearly communicate the project’s daily status using mobile forms with attached photos with markups and automatically send them to the project managers. Project managers no longer have to compile the daily log reports from multiple paper forms while also having to dig through various emails with photo attachments to make sure they are using the right photos to accurately communicate the current status of the project in project status meetings. Internal and external stakeholders will in turn receive daily log reports in real-time without adding to the project manager’s workload. The project manager then can discuss the daily log report in project status meetings with owners and developers or key internal project stakeholders based on accurate live field data.
On smaller projects, mobile forms with live field data and embedded photos with markups and annotations can remove the need for extra project managers because the automated daily log reports communicate the project status more completely and accurately. For a real-world example, a North Carolina electrical contractor using live digital forms with photos and video integrations found that real-time media-rich mobile forms transferred project status information more accurately, effectively and efficiently than hiring additional project managers. Live field data extended the effectiveness of each project manager and maintained the company’s bottom line.
Construction projects require extensive planning and management to be properly executed from bid to completion. To say project managers have their hands full would be an understatement. Live field data has changed the focus of project managers from collecting and recording data to reviewing and analyzing it. The days of flying blind or on data that is weeks or months old is a thing of the past. Having the data immediately available as tasks are completed can take a project from being completely unwieldy to effectively managed. Live field data solutions give project managers the tools they need to increase critical data tracking, reporting and productivity.
Mike Merrill is co-founder and chief operating officer of WorkMax.