We have covered a variety of use cases for software on this blog. From law firms to content marketing, to CRM for restaurants. We are going to continue with our trend of giving you the most eclectic list of uses for software known to man. Today we are going to talk about a class of software closely related to project management. We are going to dive deep into software that is designed to help out managers of construction projects.
We are going to lay out the feature set of the best construction management software available. There will be some overlap with project management software, as there is a huge project management element to construction management.
Features of the best construction management software
The challenges faced by construction crews are enormous. The amount of planning that goes into building even the simplest structure is mind boggling. Anybody that has done any amount of handiwork around their home knows that things often go awry, even when you have a carefully laid plan. Now magnify those small problems by 1000 and you have some idea of what it would be like to manage a construction site. Fortunately, modern software is capable of handling the dynamics of a construction project to make the lives of the managers and crew much more tolerable.
Let’s start with document control, since construction crews handle a surprising amount of paper. From building permits to schematics, there are bound to be mountains of paperwork to keep track of. This means that over time the mountain will only grow, and keeping track of changes can be a Herculean task. Suppose the crew is building a new home and the home owner to be decides she wants another room added on. This is going to change the plans, wouldn’t you say? Keeping everyone in the loop regarding these changes is critical. You don’t want the electrical and plumbing crews caught off guard when they’re told they have another 400 square feet to write / plumb.
As the project scope changes (along with the documentation) costs are also going to fluctuate. I think we can all recognize that in most construction projects costs are only going to go one way: up. To accommodate the dynamic nature of the project costs, the best construction management software is going to include a set of features for managing change orders and updating the budget to reflect the changes in cost.
In parallel to tracking the change orders, the software should be keeping a running tab on the job cost. In particular, it should be tracking cost relative to budget. No project manager wants to be blindsided by the sudden realization that they’re halfway done with only 20% of the budget remaining. Nice ancillary features include notifications to key stakeholders in the project to keep them abreast of any milestones passed (i.e. project has hit 10% of budget, etc.).
In order to keep track of the costs, the software needs a robust system for managing purchase orders. It should be able to log all items that have been bought for the project and file them away for later access by the bean counters.
Since the project is going to involve a small army of stakeholders, information management and the facilitation of collaboration are key features to be on the lookout for. Requests for information need to be transmitted and tracked to ensure accountability by all team members. Knowing that your request was received and read is critical for a project manager. In addition, keeping a record of all transmissions is important for disentangling the sequence of events should anything go wrong (not that it would… oh wait, yeah it will).
Construction management software also has to have core functionality related to project scheduling. Since construction is a sequence of steps that all have to be executed in order (maybe some in parallel, but you get the point) it’s important that everything go smoothly and efficiently. The ability to schedule and track critical tasks is going to be essential to keeping the construction project on point and on time. Delays are costly, and further delays can be catastrophic.
Additional functionality you want includes the ability to allocate resources to various aspects of the project, and across multiple projects. In particular, the allocation of manpower and expensive capital equipment is going to be important. Needless to say, your critical personnel can’t be working on two projects at the exact same time. If you only have one engineer or architect, they are a valuable resource that must be allocated effectively to make sure your construction business is firing on all cylinders. This goes for expensive and cumbersome equipment as well. You probably only have a few construction cranes, and they take time to move between projects. You don’t want a project to be delayed because of inefficient resource allocation.
Mobile integration is going to be a great feature for your work crews. Since it’s likely that everyone on your team is going to have a smartphone, the ability to disseminate documents and keep track of tasks from a mobile device is going to help matters immensely. This one is probably a given, in light of the fact that virtually all software developed within the last 5 – 10 years will have had to deal with mobile integration.
Now that you know the critical features, let’s talk a little bit about selecting the appropriate software.
How to Select Construction Management Software
One thing you want to consider is what is the functionality you really need? Maybe you’re a small operation and don’t need extensive capabilities. Maybe you’re running a monstrous operation that builds skyscrapers and stadiums. Your needs are going to vary based on the types and sizes of projects your business takes on. We’ll give you some things to mull over when considering which software is right for you.
If you’re an independent construction manager then you’re going to need the whole slew of features. You’ll need budgeting, cost, document control and scheduling / resource allocation functionality. If you are money constrained then you will want to look into web based solutions, also called software as a service (SaaS) offerings. This will allow you budgetary flexibility while still getting all the features you need to take your construction operation to the next level.
Building owners will need portfolio management systems that facilitate collaboration amongst your property managers. Budgetary and document tracking features are going to be critical as well. Since you’re running operations in multiple locations, the SaaS billing model is going to work for you as well.
General contractors will want to be able to schedule and track projects as well as keep track of costs and documents. Depending on who you ask, you may or may not need integrated accounting features. Do your homework to see what your organization is currently using.
Sub-contractors will want to maximize the efficiency of their limited manpower. Scheduling functionality is going to carry the day here as well as document control to ensure that all communications are kept track of. Look into the SaaS model with mobile integration since you’re going to be on site most of the time.
Potential Challenges when Deploying Construction Management Software
One thing you are going to have to face, as will any business, is organizational inertia. People are inherently resistant to change, particularly when it means they have to change up their routine. Give your team fair warning that the change is coming, and be sure to solicit their input in the buying process. You want to make sure they can live with the software you are going to choose, since they are probably going to have to handle data entry. If the new software isn’t user friendly, the members of your team will simply revert back to their legacy systems in the interests of efficiency and economy of time.
Invest the time up front to solicit input and get buy in from everybody that is going to be affected. This may seem like too much, but it’s important to keep in mind that personnel are the most valuable asset on any crew. If your team isn’t on board with the change and the software is not easy to use, you may very well have a mutiny on your hands.
Another hurdle you may face is integration with existing systems. If you are already using desktop software or spreadsheet based systems, how are you going to port over the data? How are you going to keep track of contacts, projects, bids, paperwork, etc.? This is something you need to think about up front, and should definitely be a topic of conversation between your organization’s buyer and the potential software vendor. You don’t want to interrupt your operations while the new software is being deployed, at least no more than is necessary, and you don’t want to deal with a complete nightmare during the integration. Ask the difficult questions up front so that you can avoid dealing with issues down the line.
As you can see, construction management software has a variety of functions and features that are essential for the effective execution of a construction project. You should have access to full project management functionality, with expanded support for document control that facilitates collaboration among your team members.
When choosing software, take into account the scale of your team. Don’t pay extra money for features you won’t need in the next few years. If your operation expands, you can usually upgrade to a higher tier down the line.
Another thing you need is organizational buy in. Don’t underestimate the power of organizational inertia. Getting people to change is difficult, so you don’t want to foist it upon them right at the last minute. Let them know it is coming, and get their input in the selection process. This will make the whole process much smoother.
We hope this has been helpful. I know it’s a lot to mull over, but this is a critical decision for your organization.
Stay tuned for the next article!
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