Top 5 Ways to Mitigate Risk When Project Data Is Unorganized and Scattered
BY AARON KIVETT
TECHNICAL PRODUCT MANAGER, NEWFORMA
Information is the lifeblood of every commercial construction project. From the initial stages of a project to its conclusion, having the correct information at every step is the only way to ensure you won’t unnecessarily face costly delays and errors. Whether you’re an architect, engineer, or a contractor, organizing your information is the first step toward mitigating project risks.
The following tips identify five areas where risks are most likely to arise, and what you can do to prevent them.
1. KNOWING WHO DID WHAT, WHEN (AND SOMETIMES WHY)
One of the most direct risks any party to a construction project faces is the risk of being sued if something goes wrong, having others claim that you did not do what you were supposed to do. Thankfully, there’s a very direct way to mitigate this risk and be able to disprove such claims. Litigation doesn’t have to be the final phase of every construction project.
Take this over-simplified example of a door that needs to be moved a foot to the left because it will not open. The architect updates the plan and distributes it to everyone on the project, but the contractor claims to never have received it, and accordingly builds a door that will not open. Parties immediately start pointing fingers and placing blame. However, if you conduct your business on a platform that facilitates the sharing of information between all parties and their individual systems, you will have a clear record of who sent the relevant document, when it was sent, who received it, and when it was downloaded. With a centralized platform, there can be no more claims of people failing to receive project information that was sent. These audit trails or history logs not only allow you to track project activities, knowing who did what and when, but they also directly mitigate your risk because they hold up in a court of law and allow you to support your true story.
2. MANAGING EXTENDED PROJECT TEAMS
Construction is a unique field, in that it requires many different companies to come together to build something on a one-time basis. Every company involved in a project has its own team – an architectural team, an engineering team, a construction team with dozens of subcontractors. With many teams involved and operating separately, there is a huge risk that each team does not know who the other players are or what they’re working on at any given time.
The way to mitigate this significant risk is to find a tool that allows all these dispersed teams to collaborate in a single place. Having a unified vision or approach to understanding who is on the larger project team and making sure that team can communicate among itself in an efficient fashion is essential to preventing miscommunications and things falling through the cracks. Without a centralized platform, you will inevitably see scheduling mix-ups, missed deadlines, and a whole host of other problems that result in additional cost.
3. LOST DOCUMENTS
In an average construction project involving thousands of documents, finding the exact one you need at any given time can be the bane of your existence. Whether you’ve misplaced it entirely or you just cannot remember where you filed it away, trying to find it can waste valuable time and impede productivity. Worse yet, you can be putting yourself at serious risk. Any time you cannot access the information you need to make the best possible decision, you could be opening yourself to mistakes and jeopardizing the whole project. Having a system that allows you to find and access your project information regardless of where it’s stored is crucial to avoiding that risk. With a complete index of your project data, you can easily search and find what you need, and possibly even things you didn’t know about, allowing you to make the most timely and effective decisions possible.
4. MISSED ASSIGNMENTS
Because you have so many different people working on a team, it’s not enough just to know who is on the team and how to contact them. You also need to be able to create and assign tasks to specific people, and then track who those tasks have been assigned to, what their current status is, where they are in the process, and if they’ve been closed. If you don’t know the status of assignments at all times, you are creating a situation where mistakes happen.
Think about submittals. Contractors turn in submittals specifying how they want to meet the design criteria and the architect signs off on them. But what happens if the submittal gets lost in the process and no one is ever assigned to approve it? The subcontractor ends up onsite and ready to install according to the submittal, but cannot determine if it was approved or finds out that it was never received. Sorting through the mess of miscommunication can take an inordinate amount of time before the project can move forward. With a system that allows you to keep track of assignments, you will never find yourself in that risky situation. You’ll always have an inside view of what is going on, what is late, and where there are bottlenecks, allowing you to avoid delays or mistakes that increase project costs.
5. TRANSCRIPTION ERRORS
Every team has its own preferred system, but realistically there is no product in the world that can be all things to all people on a construction project. Even in the ideal scenario, your contractors and engineers are likely each using their own specialized software. The obvious risk is that the same information won’t be entered into all systems.
One possible approach is to manually retype information between the two systems. The obvious problem with this approach is that manual entry always opens the door to mistakes and omissions. The result can be as simple as catching the error and manually fixing it, resulting in lost time and energy, or as serious as missing the error and having it percolate through the system, resulting in many additional errors across the project. Progressive AEC firms are adopting systems that help reduce transcription errors and are designed to work with many disparate construction management applications.
As with anything that involves a large amount of information, disorganization in construction projects can quickly lead to delays and quality assurance issues. These potential problems are only compounded as your project grows – large projects with several disparate teams that aren’t coordinated face the possibility of exponentially worse problems. Information can make or break your building and infrastructure projects. Using tools that keep your information organized can help you mitigate some of your biggest risks and ensure your project is a success.
Aaron Kivett spent nine years at BNIM Architects in Kansas City learning first-hand about information management in the design industry. He has spent the past nine years as Newforma’s technical product manager, helping global architecture, engineering and construction firms solve information management problems. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.