Digital Strategy Playbook: Construction Documents

improve digital construction documents

Welcome to our first post in our Digital Strategy Playbook series. This blog will focus on the first of seven key performance indicators (KPIs) essential to business success: construction documents. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be rolling out individual blogs focused on each of the seven KPIs. Once the series is complete, you’ll be equipped to craft a robust and winning 2020 digital strategy for your company based on project activities most closely aligned with performance and success. 

If you stumbled upon this post–and are trying to catch up–check out our introductory post overviewing the series. But before you dig in, we’d strongly suggest taking your free Construction Health Check. The 15-minute assessment is essential to finding out where you stand before you start crafting your digital strategy. 

Are you ready to learn how your company can create a winning digital strategy for construction documents in 2020 and beyond? Let’s dive in. 

The Current State of Construction Documents

First, let’s clarify what exactly we are talking about when it comes to our first essential construction KPI: construction documents. The study from Dodge Data & Analytics and Autodesk discovered that the frequency with which contractors are capturing errors, omissions, and/or constructibility issues in the ‘bid set’ of construction documents relates to a project’s overall performance. 

And the results of the “Key Performance Indicators of Construction” report are surprising. 

construction documents statisticsFor many construction professionals, there are a few key areas of concern (and opportunities for improvement) for construction documentation identified by the report:

Construction Data is not Captured

Today, only 54% of contractors and trade professionals frequently capture errors, omissions, and constructability issues and compare them to past projects. While there are multiple reasons why data is not being captured on projects, over 55% of contractors and 44% of trade contractors cite how capturing this information is time-consuming and expensive. Nearly another quarter believe it’s time consuming, and feel there’s no easy way to do it. 

On the other hand, for the companies frequently capturing this information on more than half of their projects, only 14% reported a high degree of difficulty doing so. We’ll get more into specifics below, but this leaves us to believe that once companies get past the initial barriers of cost and adoption, capturing and reporting information becomes part of a company’s standard operating procedure.

Standards Aren’t Being Implemented 

While it’s important to capture issues on current projects, it’s equally crucial to set up standard processes to compare them to past projects. However, fewer companies are utilizing reports and data to compare against similar projects to reduce risk. In fact, according to the Dodge study, only 47% of contractors and trade professionals have a standard process in construction documents to compare findings from past projects and improve future work. 

For the companies who are both capturing and comparing errors, omissions, and issues in construction documents, 66% are using these findings to mitigate future risk. As continual risk reduction remains a priority for the vast majority of construction companies, this highlights how both data capture and standardization are essential components to digital strategy. 

Company Culture Is Not Supportive 

Perhaps one of the most surprising results from the construction documents portion of the report was the divide between understanding the benefits and implementing action. In fact, 67% of professionals who are not capturing data and information when it comes to construction documents believe increasing frequency will provide high value. This could signal a rift in the company culture. If a company’s culture does not prioritize data capture and standardization, it can be challenging to establish processes and procedures to effectively do so. 

How to Create a Foundation for Better Construction Documentation 

What the study shows are the issues most contractors live every day when it comes to construction documentation. But the data also highlights there is a desire for improvement. By identifying and removing some of the barriers mentioned in the report findings, there are opportunities to improve current processes and create a winning digital strategy for 2020. Now, let’s get into the specific strategies to help you create a winning 2020 digital strategy.

But first, it’s important to note that the strategies below all relate to one common theme: instilling practices and procedures that help teams frequently and consistently capture critical data during the documentation part of the construction process. 

A solid foundation for documentation and data capture also helps to set the stage to improve the other six construction KPIs we’ll discuss in future posts. But without further ado, here are our essential tips and strategies to set your projects up for better documentation. 

  1. Start Building Data into Your Company Culture
  2. Evaluate Your Current System(s)
  3. Identify Your Champions
  4. Out with the Old, In with the New
  5. Find Your New System and Standardize
  6. Define (and Communicate) Your Workflows
  7. Close the Gaps
  8. Make Continuous Improvements

1. Start Building Data into Your Company Culture

Like we alluded to before, it’s nearly impossible to implement new processes and systems if your staff–especially leadership–isn’t on board. A supportive culture is essential to the success of new digital strategies. For teams to accurately capture and utilize information to improve construction documentation and ultimately reduce risk, a data-driven mindset needs to be ingrained in the company and project culture. So what does this culture look like? While in every company this looks a bit different, it involves two key end results; employees understand the value and take action. 

First, it’s essential to gain buy-in from executive staff, as they will likely be the ones with the authority to roll-out a new system or process company or project-wide. For some companies, this might mean implementing a new technology or workflow on a pilot basis to make the case. However, keep in mind that not every new initiative will pass with flying colors. Failure is part of the process; it’s more important to learn, adapt, and try again. In a recent session at Autodesk University (AU) Las Vegas 2019 on creating a forward-thinking technology culture in construction, Travis Voss, Leader of Innovative Technology at Mechanical Incorporated, commented, “It’s just as important to celebrate failures as it is to celebrate success.”

While many companies want to move towards a data-centric culture, it’s not always an easy transition. When trying to make meaningful changes that prioritize data and innovation, many companies find they are met with a certain degree of resistance. After all, construction is an established industry–with many skilled professionals who have been crafting and perfecting their trade for their entire professional career. Change can be scary–even when it’s necessary. In the same session at AU, Sean McGuire, Director Innovative Technologies at Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), wisely said:

“People hate to change. If given the choice, they will rarely be self-motivated to do so. You have to make people uncomfortable to get them to change.”

First, it’s essential to recognize for some employees change is uncomfortable. Some jobs will be impacted more significantly than others. When that happens, make an effort to nurture these employees a bit more. Educate them on the benefits (e.g. how it makes their jobs easier and projects run more smoothly) and make sure you listen to their feedback, as they will be likely your power users. Processes need to become a foundational piece of your company culture, especially when it comes to adopting and fully utilizing technology. The expectation for how project team members use it has to be clearly communicated from leadership. This helps everyone understand why they need to adhere to processes that consistently and frequently capture the important information that is later analyzed for continued improvement.

2. Evaluate Your Current System(s)

If you think your system for capturing data during documentation is robust, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is it easy and fast to use? Can anyone track down information instantly when using it?
  • Is it accessible anywhere? Underground and high above, remote, and trailer-side?
  • Is it cloud-based? Does it work across mobile applications?
  • Is it scalable? Can it grow with your team as you take on more work?
  • Can it downsize with you if necessary?
  • Can you quickly add new stakeholders and remove others?
  • Is it secure? Can you let in the right people and keep out the wrong ones?
  • Does it value customer support? Can a provider quickly address your issue should have one?

If you can’t say “yes” to all of the above questions, it’s time to reconsider your documentation system, or make major overhauls on the one you currently have. Documentation shortfalls could also root in a process problem. Dig a bit deeper, asking:

  • What projects are currently capturing errors, omissions, and other critical data during construction documentation? Only a few, most, or all? 
  • What projects come up short when it comes to recording critical information? What is preventing project teams from doing this as a standard part of their workflow?
  • Have all project members been briefed on the importance of these standards and processes?

3. Identify Your Champions

As part of a culture shift to a data-driven construction company, it’s vital that every employee feels empowered to be responsible for the success of document management. But while everyone on your team should be participating in making data capture and documentation a success, having a key contact spearheading and advocating for change is vital to rollout. 

Find employees who are passionate about technology innovation and excellence in your organization. These individuals can help companies identify, test, and implement new systems. Once improved documentation processes are in place, they can also help troubleshoot potential issues, establish templates, and keep workflows moving. They can also work with staff who are not following new procedures and guide them back on track. Lastly, as experts in the system, they can be an internal point of reference if needed. However, it’s essential to establish formal ownership if you are asking champions to be responsible for the success of data capture and documentation. While these individuals might have other job duties, empower them to dedicate regular working hours to the effort and underline their value in improving documentation on a whole. 

4. Out with the Old, In with the New

If you are using any last traces of paper for documentation, it’s time to cut the cord. It’s nearly impossible to create a standardized system and process for data capture and comparison with loose sheaves of printer paper, blueprints, and scribbled sticky notes floating around. 

Other culprits of construction documentation disorganization include systems like Excel and a heavy reliance on email. While both email and Excel have a place in the majority of construction companies, they are not suitable tools to store and compare data. For instance, disjointed email chains are not helpful to determine specific changes, with attachments that are hard to track down and rarely the right version. Going digital with the right cloud-based system is the only way to achieve better construction documentation. 

Better data capture and documentation doesn’t just starts with bubbling up the most recent and correct information. While it may feel safer to enter things manually, this opens up documents and plans for errors. Look for advanced solutions that can automate elements of documentation. Any bit of automation your team can incorporate in data capture processes only improves accuracy and reduces admin work.

5. Find Your New System and Standardize

It’s crucial that you have one single source of truth for all your data and documentation. This means that if staff needs to access or create changes to the current set of construction documents, they can feel assured that when they search for it in your system, that’s exactly what they’re finding. Everyone can identify and compare changes. Access to historical docs is still available, but it’s clear what’s new and what’s old.

Once you have the right system that fits the criteria we listed above, the ultimate goal is achieving data capture and documentation standardization. This might be a slower process than anticipated as you gain buy-in, but it’s well worth it over time to have your entire project and company working from the same system with the same templates–no exceptions.

6. Define (and Communicate) Your Workflows

New technology will not get your company to change alone. Process is equally important to make a new system successful. 

A streamlined and standardized workflow is critical to improve data capture and documentation. Establish what works best for your company and projects in terms of workflows by first asking questions such as:

  • What’s the exact process for capturing data? How is it inputted in your documentation system, and by who(m)? 
  • How should changes, errors, and omissions be handled in documentation?
  • Who needs to review and approve changes?
  • Who gets notifications on changes?
  • Once an error or omission has been identified, what’s the process for managing the change?  
  • Who has what level of control in your documentation systems?

The answer to these questions depends entirely on your current structure and even can look different on a project to project basis. While workflows should be structured and controlled, it’s also important to keep some flexibility, which allows you to address changes and compare issues efficiently, should they occur. Once you have defined specific workflows for data capture and documentation, stick to it, educating and training people where necessary.

7. Close the Gaps

While we discussed the importance of creating a single source of truth, you are likely using multiple solutions for data capture and documentation. If this is the case, the solution isn’t to necessarily remove specialized systems, but to make sure they can talk to one another.

After all, if data and documents are in multiple places, someone will likely work off or compare the wrong set and changes won’t be reflected elsewhere. This could create mass amounts of rework and errors if these changes are not properly managed before construction begins. Instead, ensure your systems for data capture and documentation are built on connected platforms. Think carefully about the systems you have and where/if integrations can be made to avoid any potential data loss down the road. 

8. Make Continuous Improvements

Setting up a better system for data capture and documentation isn’t a one and done kind of thing. It needs to be nurtured and evolved over time based on your company and people. Your goal should be a continuous improvement rather than one ultimate perfect solution. Conduct a periodic assessment of how things are going with your current documentation system. And make sure you speak to all your staff–both champions and technology resistors–about how it’s going and what they would suggest for improvement. That way, you’ll not only earn buy-in, but you’ll also keep it forever.

One KPI Down…Six More to Go

We hope you enjoyed our first deep dive for our Digital Strategy Playbook series on construction documents. Next up, we’ll dive into the next key performance indicator essential to construction success–RFIs. If you have any suggestions or topics you’d like us to cover in our next post, or any other future blog post, comment below! 

Kristen Sylva

Sr. Manager, Construction Thought Leadership & Content Marketing, Autodesk

With a colorful 18-years of marketing experience ranging from sports and entertainment, to web design and healthcare, Kristen Sylva found the most excitement and passion for the construction industry. After putting on her first hard hat, safety vest, and boots in 2008 as a marketing manager at Topcon Positioning Group, she knew that an extensive career in construction technology was in her future. While at Topcon, Kristen oversaw sales-driven marketing programs and led customer symposiums that evangelized the adoption of construction hardware technology. In 2014 she made the transition from construction hardware to software and joined Autodesk as Construction Industry Marketing Manager. In her role, Kristen has the privilege of connecting with construction professionals and spearheading initiatives that showcase the innovative ways companies are using technology to digitize their construction projects and processes. She also leads initiatives that support lifting and building awareness for women in construction and serves on the board of Autodesk’s Women in Leadership organization. Kristen is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma (Boomer Sooner!) and currently resides in the East Bay of California with her husband, two kids, and two dogs.

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