The Biggest Challenges Facing Project Controls Managers – and How to Solve Them

Imagine for a moment that you asked 10 colleagues to write a story on a given topic. You didn’t provide any direction — no cues as to structure, characters or setting — you simply let them submit their pieces independently. Once the stories were returned back to you, you then tried to piece together a coherent big-picture view of a tale based on those disjointed accounts. That would be virtually impossible, right? With no common elements or shared points within their reports — no context in other words — there would be no way to form a cohesive narrative.

Unfortunately, this is analogous to the challenge faced by many construction project controls professionals today. Unlike a few decades ago when their biggest issue was a deficit of project data due to an inability to capture relevant information, today, it’s quite the opposite. Advances in technology over the past decade have resulted in an unprecedented amount of data being captured, recorded and distributed. What has not caught up to these capabilities, though, is the ability for construction teams to interpret that data to produce a meaningful picture of a given project, nor their ability to use the information generated to help improve future projects.


Dual challenges

The source of the problem is twofold. First, over time, many organizations have adopted disparate point systems to manage data, each targeted at a specific purpose. It is not unusual for companies that manage construction projects to use 10 or 20 different systems, and/or a slew of elaborate spreadsheets, for specific processes such as estimating, planning, scheduling, cost control, forecasting, project management and contract management (to name just a few).

While effective tools for achieving their specific purposes, these point systems don’t easily connect with, or “talk to,” each other. Nor does the information generated within them share any sort of common framework. Trying to connect data across a multitude of point systems feels a lot like trying to put square pegs in round holes. This not only creates confusion for the individuals tasked with making sense of this avalanche of data, it also hinders their ability to use the data gathered on the current project to improve future projects.

This leads into challenge number two: creating a useful knowledge library of project information that can make everyone smarter on the next project. Most organizations these days have no shortage of data that defines both the expectations (scope, budgets, schedules and work plans) and outcomes (daily reports, timesheets and as-built costs) of a project. Indeed, the significant time and effort associated with doing that is a foregone expense that comes with managing the project.

Unfortunately, how the outcomes of a project match up against the expectations heading into the project typically don’t get carried forward, so construction organizations are basically left to recreate the wheel with each new project. What’s missing is the ability to manage project information in a consistent way, with consistent context, so it can be beneficial to future projects. A knowledge library resulting from such a connected data approach can streamline processes like estimating and scheduling, and also drive better project predictability. The deltas and lessons learned from project one can be used to identify risks and enhance the outcomes on projects two, three, four and beyond.

The sheer size of the construction industry creates huge opportunities to leverage historical data to lower the overall cost of construction. Fortunately, the ability to utilize past performance to predict future results is not a new concept; there is precedence all around us.

Consider weather reports, for instance. Why is weather forecasting so reliable today when it wasn’t 50 years ago? Largely, it’s because we’ve developed reliable models based on tracking outcomes against expectations, and adjusting the assumptions in the models to get more accurate every day. Without these continually evolving forecasting paradigms, weather forecasters would be left to make one-off predictions with a much lower degree of confidence in the actual outcome.

Now apply this to construction project management. In addition to generating all the information required to successfully deliver a project, wouldn’t it be great to get ongoing value from that same information, to use it to generate more reliable outcomes on future projects? If you can develop a reliable model that takes into account past performance outcomes and pinpoints the factors that contributed to them, you can then use that model to enhance certainty not just on this project, but on all projects going forward. And that model can then be calibrated based on actual outcomes from each new project to make it even more accurate over time.
Such an approach also has a nice side benefit — organizational scale. By developing a meaningful project knowledge library, project team members can not only get their work done more efficiently, they are also empowered to make more knowledge-based decisions on their own, eliminating the typical bottlenecks that result from running everything important through the most experienced personnel. The result? Your organization can scale upward to take on more project workload without the proportionate increase in personnel. That achieves the handy trick of increasing profit for contractors, while lowering the overall cost of construction for owners.


Single solution

Fortunately today, technology continues to evolve from disconnected point systems and their “data overload” issues, to connected solutions with the ability to turn project data into useful project knowledge. Proven software solutions such as those offered by InEight can help project controls teams connect and integrate disparate bits of information to generate coherent, actionable reports that give a true picture of performance for any project. Even better, these solutions can help preserve this organizational knowledge — and make it easily accessible to everyone in the organization — to improve future project outcomes as well.
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