Relying on email and information sharing systems can feel outmoded and unreliable when sharing paperwork on lengthy and complex projects. Companies that are choosing a single platform for organising and distributing documents are saving time and reducing hassle
It’s 3am: Do you know where your documents are?
Trying to track down project information in order to keep the project moving on schedule can be a daunting task; it’s also a chase that takes a lot of time. Whether you’re dealing with electronic files, hard copy documents or a combination of both, the hunt for information is a challenge facing many construction professionals. It’s likely that someone in your organisation (perhaps you) has considered questions like these:
- Who is currently reviewing the latest set of drawings or submittals? Who needs to process them next?
- How do I ensure my supply chain is using the most current set of plans?
- Can I easily find a record of all the changes that were made to any given document?
These common questions have answers and a solution is available to contractors seeking to reduce or, better yet, eliminate the issues altogether.
According to an International Data Corporation (IDC) whitepaper, the average knowledge worker spends 15-25% of their time looking for documents. That means that in an eight-hour day, that worker spends nearly two hours looking for information.
For a five-person team, that’s 50 hours per week wasted chasing down documents. If each team member got back just one hour of that time every day, the team regains 25 hours a week.
Imagine how that time could be more productively spent by effectively planning, anticipating and coordinating – rather than searching, chasing and hunting. There has been a big effort across the construction industry in the past few years to eliminate waste for better efficiency and productivity. Spending 50 hours a week to chase documents is wasteful on a colossal level.
A common scenario
Let’s put this problem into a financial perspective with an example involving curtain wall prefabrication.
It’s obviously important to get the glass on a building so interior work can commence without issues like water intrusion. With it taking between an estimated six to 12 months to fabricate and manufacture the glass, it’s critical to stay on schedule and that every day is productive. What there isn’t room for is a submittal to be sat in an information sharing system (for example, SharePoint or Dropbox) for two weeks, with nobody aware that the subcontractor has uploaded it. Without a built-in workflow engine, notifications are not automatically generated - so, despite being uploaded on time, important documents are often missed.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Having to constantly check a system for new information is a waste of time. Losing weeks as something sits in the dark is frustrating. A mad dash hunting for a document at a deadline is chaos. So how can this be fixed?
Businesses tired of that wasteful scenario have moved to a solution like Viewpoint For Projects, which includes workflow processes for document reviews such as submittals.
So, for example, an assistant project manager comes into work at 7am and at 7:30am they receive an email notifying them that there is a new submittal that needs to be processed. From that notification, they access the submittal, perform their review, and then passes the item on to the design team for further review and processing. All of this takes place automatically through the system for every stage of the review process. At each of these stages (built according to a firm’s or client’s needs), any time a document moves from one stage to another there’s a time limit, and if no appropriate action is taken, the document automatically moves on.
So, instead of being reactive and wasting time searching for documents believed to be overdue, companies can now be proactive, and:
- View when a submittal is approaching its due date
- Send reminders to the supply chain about the required submittal
- Know exactly when it’s been uploaded via an automatic system notification
You’ve got mail … lots of mail
So that scenario illustrates how a workflow engine like that found in Viewpoint For Projects can help eliminate time-wasting document chasing by sending instant notifications to appropriate stakeholders for review and processing.
Of course, project teams have enough day-to-day email to sort through without a batch of notifications dumped to their inbox. Let’s consider an alternative solution.
A day at work can bring a mix of checking emails, reviewing various Excel spreadsheets for deliverables and looking through sticky notes of to-do tasks. It can involve quite a bit of juggling with no room for error. Managing a workload in this fashion can lead to a hectic day and cause unnecessary stress and anxiety, as well as potential for oversight, miscommunication and costly mistakes.
Those issues could be eradicated by using a solution like Viewpoint For Projects that provides a single location for access to all tasks and documents that require your attention or review. The software essentially creates your to-do list for you, putting items requiring your action and awaiting your approval in your line of vision and at your fingertips.
You can’t spell wait without IT
For many construction organisations, any document control or collaboration solutions deployed on a project are administered by someone in the company’s IT department or by an internal software administrator responsible for handling all company projects in addition to other responsibilities. In such cases, project teams are typically required to submit an IT ticket in order to have any needed adjustments made to their project environment - things like giving access to a new subcontractor, making adjustments to workflows or adding new folders to the project directory. You are at the mercy of that administrator and will have to wait hours or days in order to see your needs met.
Managing time is critical to a project’s success. Project managers can’t afford to wait for changes or additions they need made; delays could place a serious threat on productivity and overall success. The alternative to waiting could involve ‘going rogue’ with project managers downloading files directly, which could involve using unsecured systems, lack of processes and opening the organisation up to technical issues, viruses, etc. So that’s clearly not an option to pursue, but waiting cannot be the answer.
Instead of creating that IT ticket and hoping a request makes it to the top of IT’s priority task list, what if you could walk over to the project administrator and ask them to invite the new subcontractor into the environment or to make a needed change to an existing review process workflow? Instead of waiting hours or days, the process only takes minutes. IT doesn’t become mired in a never-ending list of requests and the clock doesn’t run out on project managers trying to keep a job moving forward.
It becomes a story of embracing technology - leveraging contemporary collaborative solutions as tools of the trade. For those businesses feeling a struggle with time-sucking file chasing, paper pile rifling, email overwhelm and an IT impediment, you’re succumbing to “the way it’s always been done” while not acknowledging that your business needs have changed, the industry has evolved and better solutions exist. Look beyond your current burden and consider a more efficient way to collaborate, to improve workflows, to allow confident decision-making and to bring a new level of productivity across your business.
Thinking outside of the ‘in’box
Email may be named a necessary evil. It’s an absolute necessity to business communication and for many it’s an essential tool for personal communication, too. Many also consider it a time-sucking burden. Love it or hate it, we’re stuck with it. Indeed, contractors and their external team members rely on email as the de facto tool for all project communication and collaboration. Everyone on a project has an email account and messages can be delivered almost seamlessly regardless of email client.
However, Su Butcher, social media consultant and volunteer on the UK government-initiated “BIM for Manufacturers and Manufacturing” working group, recently raised the issue of email and its use as a communication tool in construction: “With project teams scattered across your country (or the world for that matter) and fewer opportunities for face-to-face meetings as our workload gets ever more challenging, we need communications tools that help, rather than hinder, the smooth process of decision-making. Email just doesn’t cut it.”
While she goes on to acknowledge email’s benefits - stability, ubiquity, relatively private - Butcher also emphasises its drawbacks:
- Complete lack of any reliable audit trail (though many pretend there is);
- The tendency of people to send emails to absolve themselves of responsibility, instead of solving whatever the problem is;
- A constant drain on time and energy;
- Some are so busy doing proper work that they never read their emails, which means that other people are wasting hours of their time composing long treatise which will never be read.
These issues bring us to another point - too often, email serves as a proxy for managing tasks. Alexandra Samuel, online engagement expert and author, contributed to the Harvard Business Review about the problems this substitution can create: “If you’re conflating email and task management, then the job of simply communicating - reading and replying to your messages - gets bogged down by all the emails you leave sitting in your inbox simply so you won’t forget to address them. This approach also makes managing your to-do list problematic: when you need to quickly identify the right task to take on next, nothing slows you down like diving into your inbox to scroll through old messages. The reason so many of us fall into the trap of conflating email and task management is that email is inextricable from much of what we do in work and in life: many of our tasks arrive in the form of email messages, and many other tasks require reading or sending emails as part of getting that work done.”
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