Tips to Improve Submittals, RFIs, BIM, and More Workflows
Anyone who’s ever tackled a colossal to-do list knows that a scattershot approach doesn’t work very well. That’s why you clean house systematically from room to room. It’s why you plan errands in advance, to take the most efficient route and avoid traffic. And it’s why we prioritize tasks that build on one another, to minimize waiting and wasting resources.
It’s all about workflow–and if you’re not thinking about maximizing construction workflows, you’re missing out on key efficiencies. So much so that you might find yourself falling behind competitors and missing major opportunities.
So, what separates a good construction workflow from a poor one? Why does it matter? And ultimately, how do you fix shortfalls? Let’s take a look at all of this, and more, below.
What Is a Construction Workflow?
Before we get into how to optimize workflows in construction, let’s take a step back and look at what actually defines a workflow to begin with: “Workflow is the definition, execution and automation of business processes where tasks, information or documents are passed from one participant to another for action, according to a set of procedural rules,” says PNMSoft, adding that “Organizations use workflows to coordinate tasks between people and synchronize data between systems, with the ultimate goal of improving organizational efficiency, responsiveness and profitability.”
It’s obvious how this applies to construction, where tracking tasks and managing documents is a considerable part of the overall process, from preconstruction through closeout. Because it streamlines and clarifies each stage of the process, implementing strong procedures for each part of the construction process has significant benefits for any firm.
Why Work on Your Construction Workflows?
Need a reason why you should be focusing on construction workflow improvements? Here are a few critical reasons:
- Reduce inefficiencies: Optimizing construction workflows is a crucial method of reducing overall ineffectiveness step by step.
- Streamline processes: In many firms, especially construction, there are countless redundant tasks. By focusing on your workflows, you gain new insight into what is necessary–and what is not.
- Improve quality: Fine-tuning workflows also means you can provide better construction quality. That, in turn, means happier clients, less rework, and repeat business.
Key Pillars of Construction Workflow Failure and Time Waste
While construction workflows can bring huge boons to your company, that’s only if they’re well thought out, understood by every member of the team, and relevant to all processes, methods and materials. Unfortunately, many construction workflows are not well organized and implemented, and that’s a problem.
Typically, they break down in one of three areas:
- Communication: Good workflows require straightforward communication between all workers and stakeholders. Too many touchpoints like endless email chains are just as much a problem as not enough and can damage the workflow. When this happens, communication is scattered and unclear. It leaves people out of the loop, creates communication gaps and hampers productivity.
- Data Silos: Systems and data are often not connected, and they’re frequently stored in separate locations. This creates double-entry or a good deal of missing and incorrect information that can derail workflows and processes. Again, too many or too few touchpoints.
- Lack of Transparency: Workflows are only successful if there is visibility into the process. Workers need to know where they are in the process, what’s next and the specific action items required. Without transparency, action items are likely to be missed, delaying the project or creating work done in error.
Luckily, failure isn’t set in stone. Now, let’s take a look at how construction professionals can start to improve workflows, step-by-step.
4 Essential Traits of Successful Construction Workflows
Before we get into the six construction workflows construction professionals are more likely to waste time on, let’s take a look at traits that equate to universal success. Four of the most critical construction workflow traits include:
- Standardized: Central and common data platforms allow you to standardize workflows and processes in ways that reduce both redundancy and risk.
- Collaborative: Good communication allows all stakeholders to easily get involved and provide feedback. To be truly collaborative, workflows cannot rely on the sole responsibility of one project team member, but rather includes and gives agency to everyone.
- Automated (when possible): When construction workflows are automated, it reduces significant administrative burdens and streamlines communications and tasks. Automation includes notifying the relevant person when action or approval is needed.
- Integrated: Integrating the software you are using for workflow is key to reduce errors and double data entries. Therefore, if you are using multiple technology platforms to manage one process, look to connect to maximize value.
6 Construction Workflows to Improve Today
Want to whip your most critical construction workflows into shape? Here are six construction workflows to improve stat.
Time is wasted in preconstruction workflows when various stakeholders feel disconnected from one another. Since there are so many teams involved in this stage, the problem is rampant in many projects. Whether it’s bidding, estimation, or qualifying subcontractors, there are a few too many cooks in the kitchen. As a result, documents and data can be disorganized, missing critical files, or get buried in the inbox. Teams struggle to get their ducks in a row when it comes to organizing and collating all the necessary information to start a project off on the right foot.
Here’s how to improve the preconstruction workflow:
- Centralize Data: Preconstruction teams are notorious for storing their project data in a million different places, from file cabinets to Excel spreadsheets. With the right tool, it’s possible for that data to all live in one continually updated single source of truth. Storing all project information in a single place ensures consistency, strengthens communication, and simplifies preconstruction workflows.
- Integrate and Automate Workflows: Create integrated workflows that others can review quickly. This means getting off a reliance on email and manual processes that are likely to leave key team members out of the loop. Bid management software with automation capabilities can help teams to automatically forward bid invites, sync calendars with key bid dates, calculate hit rates, and qualify and assess trade partner risk, helping teams to save time and automate manual tasks.
- Connect Data from Preconstruction to the Field: In addition to a system that centralizes information, find technology that allows teams to seamlessly push preconstruction data and documents like bid information, designs, estimations, and more to the field once construction starts. For instance, an integration between bid management solution BuildingConnected and collaboration software PlanGrid streamlines construction workflows between preconstruction and construction.
Building information modeling (BIM) is generally touted as a time-saving construction strategy–but only if it’s used correctly. Improperly implemented, BIM can lead to even more wasted time, especially if there is the use of duplicate information, incorrect information, or gaps in modeling. This can frequently happen when two different teams model the same set of elements.
Additionally, data is often lost when models are used in the field. Originally detail-rich property data, for instance, is flattened into PDFs when sent into the field, leading to lost information. The attempt to recover or make sense of incomplete data can lead to errors, rework, and wasted resources.
Here’s how to improve the BIM workflow:
- Adopt a Common Data Environment: Use cloud-enabled BIM to create a common data platform to avoid duplicate or missing info. This type of technology will allow everyone to see what’s already been uploaded and what has not, and any duplicates can be easily identified and removed.
- Connect BIM Data: To maximize its use, as well as ensure accuracy, connect your BIM data to other design, preconstruction, and project management workflows including design reviews, takeoffs, estimating, change management, and value engineering. This will reduce risk and improve efficiencies during project planning and execution.
- Enhance Accessibility: Make BIM easily accessible in the field to everyone, and let anyone conveniently and immediately access models in the field and operations.
Submittals is one of the most important construction project management workflows to start off a project on the right foot, and one of the most commonly botched.
Typically, the submittals review process is long and brutal. Stakeholders need to aggregate them from all engaged contractors, ensure they cover each aspect of the project and input them into a system–often manually, which introduces mistakes and omissions. This can take weeks or even months, and as the project grows in size and scope, so do the errors.
Here’s how to improve the submittals workflow:
- Automate Submittal Logs: Automate creation of submittals with systems like PlanGrid’s Automatic Submittal Log (ASL), which enables you to create a downloadable spreadsheet with all submittal register items in a matter of minutes, all without mining data from the previous months or years of the project, or waiting on others to send it in. Beyond saving time and money, improved accuracy can reduce the chance of rework.
Without a comprehensive submittal log, it would be impossible to manage the submittal process confidently. If you are looking for a submittal log template, download our free template here.
- Digitally Manage and Track Submittals: Digitally manage and track Submittals in one system. Each stakeholder can upload submittals right to a cloud-based platform where they can initiate requests, manage reviews and approvals, and sync critical information to mobile devices for offline access. This eliminates the need for contractors to manage them manually, and it neatly packages them all in one place to ensure nothing gets lost.
While at times painful, requests for information (RFIs) are a necessary part of any project, and without solid project management workflows RFI processes can suffer. RFIs ensure that crews build correctly, reducing rework and maintaining quality. But for all that they’re essential, RFIs can be roadblocks to a project if the process is not streamlined.
According to a report from Autodesk and Dodge Data & Analytics , 68% of contractors see increasing the adoption of processes to frequently and consistently capture RFI data as a massive barrier. Unanswered RFIs can lead to cost increases and time overruns on all types of construction, so it’s important to manage them with intelligent workflows.
Here’s how to improve the RFI workflow:
- Go Digital with RFIs: Instead of relying on paper and creating manual RFIs or managing on separate systems, use one digital system. Onboard everyone, from workers right on up to owners, so they know where to submit and answer RFIs. Collaborate effectively, again using integrated and centralized cloud-based systems.
- Standardize the Process: Having no standard template and form for RFIs is a significant disadvantage and can waste unnecessary time. Secondly, without standard formats and data input, it’s nearly impossible to use historical RFI information to compare to similar projects to reduce risk. Instill formal RFI processes on individual projects or company-wide, and set standards for all levels of documentation.
Instead of throwing your hard hat down in frustration, using a template for the RFI process provides consistency and improves the process on the whole. Looking for a template for construction RFIs? Download our free template here:
5. Punch Lists and Closeout
Punch lists are essential to closing out a project, but they can be left to the last minute and can delay closeout further. Manually keeping track of punch lists can also waste time, as there is no transparent and accurate system to see the status of a task.
When it comes to punchlisting continually throughout the construction project (also defined in the Autodesk and Dodge report as punch list-as-you-go), only 44% of general contractors are utilizing this method on at least half of their projects. In many projects, closeout is delayed because punch list items are not properly managed and handled ahead of time.
Here’s how to improve the punch list workflow:
- Track Punch Lists as Tasks: Task-ify punch lists using cloud-based software. With digital technology to which everyone has access, you’ll have a much cleaner punch process.
- Use Mobile Solutions: Implement punch lists for mobile, so you and your team can take the list everywhere you go.
- Deploy “Punch List-as-you-go”: Don’t wait until the end of the project. Instead, check tasks off as you complete them. This is further motivation to make sure you have a punch list system that can go with you, from the office to the field to environments lacking in wi-fi entirely.
6. Cost Management
Tracking costs, managing risk, and keeping a project on budget can be one of the biggest hurdles in a construction project. For instance, a typical construction project can have dozens of change orders. Therefore, finding efficiencies in cost management workflows can make all the difference in delivering a project on time and on budget.
Project executives and project managers often have to navigate information silos, which increases risk due to outdated or missing information, unreliable response times, and convoluted processes involving a variety of vendors, systems, and products. Most importantly, teams need accurate, real-time data on the financial health of the overall project so that well-informed decisions can be made quickly.
Managing construction costs throughout the lifecycle of a project, including tracking change orders, managing supplier contracts, and visibility into overall budget impacts, is tedious. Project managers and engineers often have to navigate information silos, which increases risk due to outdated or missing information, unreliable response times, and convoluted processes involving various vendors, systems, and products. Most importantly, teams need accurate, real-time data on the financial health of the overall project so that well-informed decisions can be made quickly.
Finding efficiencies in cost management workflows can make all the difference in delivering a project on time and budget.
Here’s how to improve the cost management workflow:
- Streamline Change Order Tracking: Instead of spreadsheets, utilize a centralized construction management platform to transparently track all cost changes and view impacts on the overall budget. When upstream and downstream change order workflows are streamlined, it ensures better accountability so nothing slips through the cracks and allows you to maintain positive cash flow, reduce risk, and maximize profit
- Automate Contracts and Markups: Staying on top of multiple spreadsheets and folders to manage all of the subcontractors on a project is stressful and time-consuming. With a system that automates contracts and markups, teams can easily create, edit, and view supplier contracts in a centralized location. This provides a clear picture of income, expenditure, costs, forecasts, and variances related to each contract.
Why Get Started with Construction Workflows Today?
Change doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t expect your team or your firm to finetune every single one of their workflows right off the bat. Approach workflow changes like a marathon – it will take time to implement them, work out the kinks, and onboard everyone, from the highest stakeholder to the newest worker.
Even if you start today, you can expect to go through a transition period of several months. For that reason, there’s no time to waste. Get started with optimizing the fundamental construction workflows above today.