In all walks of life, communication is typically the difference between success and failure. Not enough thought is often put into communication platforms on construction sites and it's very easy to overlook. You should ask yourself, how many times is communication the root cause to cost and schedule delays on your project?
There is no point talking today about Microsoft Teams, Hangouts or Zoom as COVID-19 managed to educate the market all on its own with those ones. What we suggest is simply for you to look at what else can be done now to ensure your communications are where they should be in your organisation. As always, we have your pockets in mind, where you might be surprised for the lightweight costs associated, or even the free options in some instances!
As we have been drafted into organisations over the past few years to look at the PMO and structure, we were surprised to see the amount of companies that utilise WhatsApp for their communications portal on site.
Although refreshing to see that an app actually managed to get into some of these organisations, we felt WhatsApp leaves you short of being able to structure and organise your work packages. So, what's the alternative?
Structured Instant Communication
I am sure many of you have heard of Slack, but you would be surprised by the puzzled looks we get when we recommend it. If we were to describe it, it is essentially a much more structured and controlled WhatsApp.
Slack allows users to create workspaces, which we typically role out as a project. Within the workspace you can create channels, which we commonly use as our work breakdown or work package disciplines. Within these channels you will essentially find a group chat (just like in WhatsApp, where you have threads and conversations). That’s pretty much it.
It has loads of other bells and whistles you would expect like adding attachments, reactions emoji’s, etc... and one very cool aspect is you can have a chat within a chat. This means instead of scrolling through multiple conversations (like you typically do within a group chat in WhatsApp to find the answer to a question you asked 11 comments above) you can now directly reply to a chat on the side. A very cool feature.
Slack, which is free to download (up to 10,000 messages), has very handy additional features where you can “@” somebody's name and it tags them, and you can use “#” to tag things. Although 10,000 messages seem like a lot, you won't be long clocking them up. Slack then archives these in a bid for you to sign up to subscription. This business model seems fairly reasonable as it gives you adequate time to see if it cuts the mustard. In terms of pricing for the output and structure it gives you, it is a very reasonable solution one which we recommend, so much so we use it in house ourselves.
Structured Information Sharing Communication
Like many of our recommendations, we have adopted these from the Technology Industry. It was a refreshing and eye opening experience when our team moved from construction sites to software development.
The efficiency is top class, with some pretty amazing tools and platforms that would work wonders in construction.
One such tool is Notion.
Notion is a tool that we at GagaMuller get great mileage from internally. It's less targeting such as the direct messaging and instant communication we get from Slack and more overall structured communication and sharing of information across a project or business.
Think of it as a blank canvas.
Not to be confused with a Common Data Environment (CDE) this little app has worked wonders for us when it comes to having a digital online portal where we can share internal communications, store our company policies, onboard new staff and communicate all of our “How to” videos and training.
It is a versatile application and could be used for all sorts of things. We have even in one instance built a full digital plan of work including all scopes and contract documentation on this as a proof of concept. It has very useful plug-ins, including kanban and timeline tools and it is really the "Roy Keane" of software applications: consistent, versatile, all without the temperament of the Irish veteran midfielder.
Notion is actually free until you are happy with rolling out to your organisation.
Definitely worth a look.
Back to Basics
While these desktop applications work wonders for opening up transparency and communication channels within your organisation, they will not change some old habits right away. A common challenge to the status quo we embrace at GagaMuller is meeting minutes. This is a dance we have to jive on almost every project we get involved in. Are you guilty of recording your minutes on a weekly basis and distributed them on Microsoft Word? Do you go one step further and go to effort and detail to structure those Microsoft Word templates as nice and tabular – ask yourself why?
Believe it or not, a lot to be said for good old Excel here. Yes, Excel! QS’s around the country rejoice, finally something they are comfortable with!
The biggest issue with Word meeting minutes is that they are usually 10+ pages long, and get longer every meeting. They get distributed to email threads in excess of sometimes 50 people and they don’t get opened until the following week where only the meeting host really knows what's going on.
There is obviously much better than Excel out there, but why not start here as a concept and grow once you get more comfortable with the idea.
Well, it's brilliantly simple. Most people know how to use it and more importantly for your business is that it is exceptionally good at structuring data and having a base location to build dashboards and provide you with useful visuals to close out issues.
If you were to start using Excel, you could assign responsible parties, you could create tidy overdue actions, you could make colour ranges for more impact on delays and if you were really pushing the boat here, you could create a dashboard of outstanding issues and topics per company which could be shared instead. Nothing exercises the project team to close out issues as much as a red mark to their name.
Neutralising the Myths
The real reason we would suggest to start with Excel is actually because we are lowkey trying to debunk and neutralise the fear in this industry to the words "Digital" and "Data Analytics". Any time these words are mentioned you can feel the room scrunch up, you can hear the eyes roll, the attention physically leave the bodies of the majority of those in attendance.
It is because it is unknown, that's it.
People see flashes of Keanu Reeves and The Matrix with numbers and code jumping around their mind.
"Sure, what's that got to do with me laying blocks and pouring concrete?"
Moving into the world of Excel will get people comfortable with the word "Database". Your Excel sheets are your databases. All the information in your Excel file is your "Data" and when you create a nice little pivot chart or line graph, believe it or not, that's data analytics.
So start here, and once you get more comfortable, you will start naturally thinking about better structured folders, creating macros between different Excel files, like we did. Before you know it you will be looking into what Power BI, tableau, data studio and API configurations can do for you.
It's a journey and the message here is clear: don't be afraid to start - you will find it is actually all pretty simple for the most part.
The output you ask? Absolute transparency on what is going on for starters. You could have cost report data associated to procurement schedules that are linked to the construction program, which in turn is related to drawing registers and technical submittal register all linked to on site Last Planner System.
Imagine all of these connected: any deviation (a warning or risk) raised in any of these verticals could raise a red flag up or, down the line, instant communications and messaging to the relevant stakeholders of issues.
This is not only possible, but with careful consideration and structured set up at the beginning it's a very real and achievable possibility.
The biggest problem lays at the very beginning: those who control the funds (QS, Commercial Managers, Contract Managers...) must see the value and have the foresight to invest front end, because once that window is closed its very hard to claw it back.
The last little app worth mentioning is free to download and it's up there with one of the handiest little gems we have had the pleasure of using. For those of you who like to talk, Otter will transcript everything you say in real time and jot it into text for you! On site maybe you are a site manager whom still hasn’t bought into the iPad issue management routine (you really should). Instead, just pull out your phone and tell it what is wrong, where it is, who should fix it and when.
When you get back to the office you can literally pick up that text, copy it onto an email and send it. You're welcome.