Construction, whether commercial, residential and government, is an industry that relies heavily on organization. With so many moving parts, organization has always been the defining quality that separates profitable specialty contractors, general contractors, or construction management firms from those that fail.
It’s the attention to detail that prevents projects from running over budget through unruly purchase orders, or from going over time through poorly-timed inspections or submittals.
Because multiple companies and contractors need to work together in order to complete a single job, organization can be difficult. Construction project management software can serve as the solution. Though this particular type of software can feature significantly different use cases from organization to organization, this guide will walk you through which features should be included in any project management software you choose for your business.
Document Tracking and Management
It’s common knowledge that numerous documents will be exchanged between partnering businesses over the lifespan of a project. During the early stages, RFIs will need to be exchanged between contracting organizations and the contractors, submittals will be proposed as the job site is assessed and material needs are better defined, and every party must have the most up to date version of the contract within reach.
It’s in the management of the multiple types of documents that has often led construction professionals to become highly effective
paper organizers. Luckily, good PM software will allow you to abolish your overflowing paper files by storing and transmitting every document electronically. Managing documents electronically improves communication between different parties and allows for more detailed oversight of all the information pertaining to a project. In the area of change- orders specifically, a good project management system will allow users to submit photos to a database or attach them to change-orders, eliminating any confusion about the order.
The most robust construction software will offer users significant (or unlimited) storage space, as well as permission settings to control which users can access which documents. This greater level of detail directly contributes to budget control, as purchase orders become much easier to track and change orders don’t get buried underneath stacks of other documents on a superintendent’s desk, or an inbox full of emails.
Your organization’s document management expectations will vary depending on your role on the project – an engineering firm’s standards will differ from a specialty contractor for example – but a quality program will offer some version of document management for the following:
Managing the bidding process can be strenuous, as reaching out to your list of subcontractors or tracking their bids involves a great deal of organization. Requesting bids and managing the ensuing flood of proposals can be overwhelming if done sif done using an email system. When choosing software with bidding management, it’s important to consider how your organization participates in the process and select a product that contains those features.
For example, general contractors or builders will be formatting the bid standards and pushing requests for bids to their database of subcontractors. If this describes your company, you’ll want to look for software that helps you organize responses from specialty contractors and record the history of the bidding process, from RFI fulfillment to awarding the bid.
If you’ll be working on a submittal basis though, you’ll want to consider software that’s made for communicating RFI documents, drawing sets, and contracts to general contractors, construction firms, and owners.
For superintendents, project managers, and even subcontractor managers, it’s paramount to keep logs of what happens on the job site. Besides recording what work was completed each day, job-site logs that keep track of materials and tools allow for more accurate purchase orders and less waste. These logs can also ensure tools aren’t misplaced, or let you know which tools need to be moved to which job sites.
The functionality of jobsite logs varies between systems, some are as simple as blank documents that users fill with information while others are complex enough to feature pre-constructed templates or even display a list of tasks assigned from an integrated scheduling software. Another difference lies in the use of check-ins. Some software may not feature any check-in function, while others act like virtual time cards that help management better track the productivity of employees and onsite contractors.
The schedule is the heart of every construction project, so it goes without saying that vetting the scheduling function of PM software should be one of the first actions you take when shopping for a solution. Scheduling software often includes a number of customizable functions. For example, the best products allow you to create templates that map out the schedule of a project based on the type and details of that particular job. After the project has been completed, you can reuse the template and make adjustments based on how the previous project turned out.
Assigning tasks and deadlines to subcontractors is another common scheduling feature.
Delegating responsibility in this way eliminates the possibility of disagreements or confusion about job expectations. And if changes need to be made to the schedule, quality software will automatically update other stakeholders with emails or even text messages that explain what changes were made. In certain software, future deadlines and milestones will also automatically change when you adjust more immediate details.
Scheduling can also extend to highlighting dependent work, meaning managers can identify slowdown and pinpoint the jobsite and subcontractor holding up the schedule. Setting up dependent work helps keep everyone accountable, which increases communication and productivity.
Scheduling functions should almost always represent tasks in Gnatt chart form. This not only highlights the critical path methodology used by many project managers, but also emphasizes the sequential fashion of the work.
Estimating software helps specialty contractors calculate how much labor and materials will cost in order to prepare a project bid. While
this software – not to mention similar takeoff software -- is incredibly valuable to construction professionals, it’s often purchased as a standalone product that integrates with a larger management platform. For example, Procore’s popular management system integrates with Sage 300’s estimating platform.
Since many project management software applications are delivered in a Software as a Service (SaaS) format, mobile access is becoming increasingly common for this type of software. And since many construction professionals do their work in the field as well as in the office, mobile access is even more important than in office-based industries. The level of access may vary from a simple web portal that’s optimized for mobile use, to custom applications for various devices such as iPads, iPhones, and Android phones.
Many project management systems offer integration with other software applications, namely email clients such as Gmail and Microsoft Outlook, or storage programs like Dropbox. Considerations are somewhat different for construction organizations. If your company is adding project management software to systems already in use, you’ll need to consider integration with other management software such as Microsoft Project, or financial/ budgeting software like Quickbooks.
Additionally, stand-alone software exists for services like estimating and scheduling. Due to the complex nature of these tasks, construction firms may choose to use a standalone software instead of a platform that includes a range of features such as bid management or document management. It’s critical to consider whether a more general construction project management software can integrate with any of your existing stand-alone applications. Otherwise transferring information between the two could actually take up more time.
Stand-alone or all-in-one aren’t the only options, however. Certain vendors offer software in a modular form, which lets you pay for certain functions right away, while maintaining the option to upgrade or activate additional features later.
Construction projects often have numerous stakeholders working, so collaboration between contractors, builders, and owners is critical. Basic collaboration functionality can be as simple as submitting bid requests to a list of subcontractors and tracking the subsequent responses in the PM system. More complex functionality can allow different stakeholders to login through contractor or buyer portals and view or edit information based on their permission level, such as scheduling, change-orders, and contracts.
Collaboration overlaps with mobile access as it allows users to access information regardless of where they’re located. This type of access helps collaboration as updates can be made on the fly without a series of emails, and jobsite information can be viewed within seconds.
Myers & Chapman Uses PM Software for Real-Time Updates
Construction services firm Myers & Chapman works on a range of projects in the Southeast US. They had recently grown from managing projects around $100,000 to over $70 million. Because of this growth they needed to improve the communication between office-based employees and field employees, such as superintendents and project managers. To increase their decision making on-site, Myers & Chapman wanted information to be readily available whenever managers needed it.
After vetting their options, the North Carolina based company chose Procore as their project management system of choice. Through its Software as a Service (SaaS) deployment, Procore enabled field employees to check the project schedule, view change-order requests, or fulfill requests for information from specialty contractors. While other software offered the same options, it was the ease of use that set Procore apart. The software’s user friendly interface allowed staff with less technology expertise to quickly adopt the system, and reduced the time it took Myers & Chapman to begin realizing ROI. Procore’s usability has even translated into a selling point for the budding construction firm. When working with clients, Myers & Chapman simply grant them access to the Procore system, and they can login in to view schedules, contract changes, and document changes.