Contractor Project Management Software Implementation

If your construction company is considering implementing a project management system or moving away from the system you’re currently using – take heed.

There may be obstacles in place that will hinder the selection of any project management system and result in the entire endeavor being thrown aside, leaving you with the same inefficient and often antiquated methods you were trying to escape.

There are a two major issues that can delay or even derail the implementation of a project management system:

1. The selection team includes people from various departments who have differing interests than those of the operations team.
An example is when accounting personnel attempt to drive the decision making process based on their need to receive project related financial data directly into the accounting system. While this integration can almost always be done, it does require planning and coordination to make sure the integration works correctly based on the business needs. In the past decade or so, accounting software providers began to offer project management tools as an “add-on” to their accounting systems. While these integrated systems can be well-liked by the accounting groups, the operations groups often find the project management tools weak and lacking the level of detail they require. It’s at this point that the subject of accounting integration leads to overall indecision and the selection process is abandoned because it won’t meet the needs of people who won’t even be using project management software on a daily basis.

2. Upper management fails to mandate and support standardization and centralization of project data.
Can you imagine hiring a new estimator who would only use his/her own estimating system or accounting personnel who kept critical financial information in formats that no one else could understand? Probably not, but that often happens on the operations side of the business with project managers or administrators who will only use their own spreadsheets and documents to log and track information. Everyone tends to have their own way of doing things and this leads to resistance and even unwillingness to change their methods. This is not good and can lead to loss of data, poorly managed projects and most importantly, loss of money. Not to mention the fact that if these people change projects or leave the company, the possibility of project information going with them increases. The security of project data is completely lost. This situation is a common problem among all types of contractors and is especially common among larger contractors. There are reasons for this but I’ll save that for a future article.

First and foremost, a project management system is meant for the Operations area of the business for managing and tracking projects.
The primary goals are to centralize project data so it’s organized, easily accessible and secure to various users. It should also standardize processes so that the people are using the same procedures for managing and processing project information. A project management system is NOT an estimating, accounting or BIM system. That being said, the primary group of people who should be involved in the selection process should be actual users of the new software, i.e. project managers, assistant project managers and the operations managers. That doesn’t mean that the input from the other departments isn’t important, it certainly is. But there is a time and place for their input.

To find the best project management system for the operations department, follow these steps:
Step One: Put together a list of “must haves”, “nice to haves” and “bonus” items that required for the Operations personnel in a project management system. Break these items this into three categories: Documentation Needs, Financial Needs and Other Needs.
Step Two: Look at systems that provide the tools needed for the documentation needs of the project FIRST – by this I mean the non-financial areas like submittals, RFIs, Daily Reports, file storage, etc.
Step Three: From the best systems selected in the Step 2, consider which of those systems provide the best tools for financial management such change orders, budgets, purchase orders, etc.
Step Four: After qualifying the systems in Steps 2 and 3, engage people from the accounting team to discover what they require in order to reduce double entry of data between the operations and accounting departments. Review the capabilities of the qualified systems to determine which of these system can best meet those requirements.
Step Five: Engage other teams that have ancillary interests such as Estimating and BIM teams for their input.

Now, realizing that “out of the box”, there probably isn’t going to be one system that meets everyone’s needs perfectly, go with the 80/20 rule. Decide which systems can meet as close to 80% of your company requirements and what each system can do over time, to fulfill the remaining 20%.

Questions to be asked of each software vendor at this point should be focused around (a) what they have in their development pipeline and their estimated time frame for release, (b) their willingness and ability to customize their system to meet the company needs, (c) their willingness and ability to build integration to the other required systems (i.e. accounting, estimating, etc.) and finally, (d) the estimated costs for required integration and customization. If your company can find a project management system that can meet the most important requirements (70-80%) and there’s willingness by the software company to work with you to get to a 100% solution then you can make a logical decision.
Once you decide on a system, there must be commitment and involvement from upper management to let everyone know that use of the new system is required and implement an ongoing training program for both new and existing employees that will train everyone on how to use the system. Without this, people will fall back to the “old way of doing things” and a lot of money will be spent for nothing.

Finally, it’s imperative that you consider what problems you’re trying to solve immediately and what can be planned and implemented over time. Remember, humans don’t really like change and it’s going to take some time to get any system implemented – use that time wisely to redefine processes, train users and build required integration. Before you know it, you’ll look around the office and wonder where everyone is – only to find that they’ve all gone to their happy place while working together harmoniously – just as it should be.