3 steps for building a strong culture around planning

Project managers and their teams on site should be continuously connected around ...
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Project managers and their teams on site should be continuously connected around the same, live version of the programme to avoid miscommunication and work as one towards safeguarding their tasks, and by extension the entire project, from uncertainties that could lead to increased operational costs, downtime, delays or even disputes and penalties.

Free ebook: Why WhatsApp and Excel aren’t enough for running complex construction projects

And at the end of the day, as we already mentioned above, this is also what makes the difference between a construction team that is doing just okay from a team that is doing great and is showing the way towards construction’s new normal.

Without further ado, here are the three secrets you should keep in mind when you try to introduce and develop a sharp culture around planning in your projects:

1. Make your plan easily available to everyone

As a project manager, you should always think of the schedule as the heartbeat of your project. One of your top responsibilities is to keep your project’s rhythm at a regular pace. It’s like running a race. If you want to succeed, you need to find the right balance and avoid going too fast or too slow.

To make that happen in projects that have a lot of repetition (hospitals, roadwork, apartment blocks), you have to break down your programme into smaller manageable tasks that consistently add value to its development.

Like that, you will be able to plan your next steps with precision, maintain better control over your project and prevent delays before they expand out of proportion. If you plan your tasks in days, then any delay that might appear will most probably also result in a delay of a few days. If you make your schedule estimation in months, however, the delays you will have to face will also be in months.

Bigger chunks of tasks can have a negative impact on your project’s heartbeat and result in outstretched delays. So instead of trying to plan ahead for the entire project from start to finish, it is better to roll out 3-6 week lookahead programmes and link them to the master schedule. In that way, you will have more flexibility when defining the next milestones and you will be able to align your teams around them much easier.

But here comes the real challenge. Many project managers quickly find themselves lost in a sea of disconnected information because they are using the wrong tools to connect their different schedules.

They have their master schedule lying around on paper form, detailed programmes stuck in MS Project, numerous updates from the site on WhatsApp and Messenger, outdated reports on Excel, and document approvals lost on email threads. And don’t even mention the endless phone calls and the information that is lost there.

Read also: Why every residential project needs a real-time GPS, not a paper-based map

However, it’s not project managers to blame for this chaotic situation. Working on all these applications makes it impossible to keep track of what’s happening on the field. This is why you need to move all data and project communication to the cloud like you already did with your documents around a decade ago.

If you connect your teams around a live, centralised version of the programme, you will also connect your data and your workflows. These are key components of building trust between your teams, becoming more proactive in resolving or even better preventing unforeseen events, and all in all building better.

Exactly like Matt Ghinn, Project Director at VolkerFitzpatrick, who replaced MS Project, WhatsApp, and Excel with a single source of truth. Matt quickly saw the benefits of this new approach when, during a meeting, he received a push notification on his smartphone about a task that was delayed by a day. By checking a connected task in the procurement schedule, he managed to reschedule the concrete trucks for the right day avoiding extra costs. Thanks to the overview by connecting everyone in his team around the schedule, he was able to immediately cancel a €10,000 concrete order that would, otherwise, have been wasted.

“We’re not phoning out, we are not using WhatsApp groups, we’re not sending emails. The programme is just live, it’s there and all data from the site is captured,” says Matt Ghinn.

And he adds:

“We often had subcontractors arriving on site and not getting any work done because the previous tasks haven’t been completed. Now, we have full visibility of project progress. So if there is going to be a delay, we let them know a week beforehand.”

Hearing this story, you already understand why making your plan easily available to everyone can bring value to your project and empower stakeholders to respond quickly in cases of uncertainty.

2. Get visibility and clarity of where your project really is

Imagine that there is a group of blind scientists who go to inspect an elephant for the first time. They have never seen one before in their life so they will try to understand what it looks like just by touching it. The problem is that all scientists have their eyes covered and will get to inspect the elephant at a specific place without being able to exchange data and communicate their findings to the others.

Soon, they start disagreeing because each one of them gets a different, and at the same time distorted, picture of what an elephant looks like. The one who inspects its tail thinks that an elephant is like a snake, the one who touches its leg believes that the elephant is like a tree and the third one who inspects its ears thinks that it looks like a fan. Unless they gain access to the whole picture and stop working in silos, they will never be able to come up with a reliable and accurate version of the truth.

Does this sound familiar to you? Well, that’s exactly what working on a construction schedule that isn’t shared in a real-time, collaborative environment feels like. The programme stays locked in MS Project or Excel making it impossible for project managers and site foremen to align with the rest of their team. As a result, no one can be sure that the version of the schedule they have in their hands reflects reality. They are just getting frustrated sending emails back and forth trying to figure out where they stand. Like blind scientists who inspect an elephant. In the meantime, the project manager and the site foreman are overwhelmed trying to collect multiple documents and updates from different sources to update their plan. However even after spending 40% of their day on this, they still can’t be absolutely sure if the tasks they have prioritised bring value or that the promises they have heard from the team about closing an activity are reliable.

This is why moving your project information to the cloud is so essential. It will help you connect the dots and keep all team members on the same page. Consequently, this will allow you to keep your programme up to date at all times without getting buried under a mountain of contextless data.

But it’s wrong to believe that you can rely on tools like WhatsApp, Excel and MS Project for that. Good as they are, these solutions aren’t built for team communication in construction.

Learn more: I use MS Project. Why would I want to use something else?

Instead, you might want to follow the example of Raul Hernandez, VP of Business Development at the residential contractor Grupo Provivienda, who managed to reduce building time for one house from 310 days down to 60 days after:

  • moving his plan to the cloud (same thing he had already done with his drawings).
  • no longer sending emails back and forth to validate the latest programme version.
  • replacing MS Project and Excel, because they weren’t fit for purpose.

On top of that, as his team works now on the same programme and is fully aligned, it became easier for team members to hold their commitments and take ownership for resolving any constraints that might come in the way. Raul finally has peace of mind that reliable work flows are put in place and that everyone is working from the same version of the schedule.

“Before, it was taking us 310 days to construct a house. It was due to downtime between activities. Now the same house is built in 60 days. The thing that changed it for us was connecting the teams through a live programme. If your programme is not updated frequently, problems on site get worse because they have not been communicated to the right person quickly,” explains Raul.

3. Make sure your team contributes to the schedule whether you are on site or not

How often do you check your smartphone during the day in order to send a message, take a photo or just go through the news? An average smartphone user does that a couple of times per hour. Why is it then that there is so much resistance from people on site when there is a suggestion of bringing smartphones on the field for progress schedule control and progress schedule reporting?

People on site should be able to pick up their phone and contribute real-time updates in a shared location on the cloud where all stakeholders can easily respond, add their comments or take action to prevent or overcome a constraint.

This is what connectivity in construction should be all about when the discussion goes around planning. It’s about bringing the site and the people together and about combining the physical with the virtual. In other words, connecting field updates and photos taken on site with progress reporting in a single location open to all relevant parties. Subsequently, this central place will be used for sharing progress, flagging issues and reacting to bottlenecks in a timely manner.

That’s something that forward-thinking players of the industry, like VolkerFitzpatrick that we mentioned earlier, are already doing actively:

“Our programme is updated at site level. That means that the operative supervisor provides us the information from the site. So we get photos; we get updates. This allows the team to take more ownership and provides us with visibility across the whole site team,” highlights Matt Ghinn from VolkerFitzpatrick.

So at the end of the day, it’s about having your eyes on site at all times without necessarily having to be there physically.

If you also want to know how you can consistently stay connected with your teams at all times and support the delivery of value-adding activities to ensure the successful completion of your project, download our free ebook here.

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