As a sponsor of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA), OpenSpace is committed to providing valuable insights and resources to our customers and industry peers. Recently, we had the privilege of hosting a series of fireside chats with distinguished NECA members TCE and Cleveland Electric. These engaging conversations touched upon various aspects of our industry…
Top 3 Challenges of Progress Tracking on Construction Sites
January 13th, 2021
Have you ever had subcontractors show up to a job site only to be turned away because the site wasn’t ready for them? If so, you know there is nothing more crucial to a project’s success than progress tracking.
But it’s also one of the hardest things to get right.
Many GCs today are still doing manual progress tracking. That means someone has to walk the entire floorplan on a daily basis, while carrying an 11×17-inch clipboard, and write down the percent of work completed for each trade/sub.
For those who’ve done it, you know that it’s a frustrating and sometimes confusing process. On bigger projects, the clipboard has 30+ pages showing every floor/level of the site. Finding the right place to note progress is time-consuming.
A bigger problem is that the data on these clipboards is not immediately shared with the rest of the team. Instead, the clipboards are usually collected at the end of the week during a scheduling meeting, where the data is painstakingly entered into the GC’s scheduling software.
This archaic process leads to some significant issues for builders. Below, we’ll discuss the top three challenges with progress tracking and what it means for the industry:
1. Lack of Transparency
For a General Contractor who is building a large project, transparency is absolutely critical. If you can clearly see what is happening on the job site every day, you can make better decisions, schedule trades at the correct times, give accurate updates to your owner, and make real-time decisions in order to avoid problems before they arise.
However, manual progress tracking often fails to provide the kind of transparency GCs really need. When clipboards are collected and data is added to the computer, it already shows a picture of the world that is out of date.
In some cases, the schedule updates are running several days behind the work on the ground. In other cases, the notations are incomplete or inaccurate. When this happens, it can unleash a chain of reactions that are not only frustrating but also costly. If the framing is not completed but the drywall installers show up, the GC may have to pay the drywall installers even though they can’t do any work that day.
Automated progress tracking tools, such as those being developed at OpenSpace, make this process much easier and give GCs the visibility they need to get projects done on time and on budget.
Sample of Construction Project Gantt Chart (Source)
2. Verifying Pay Apps
At the beginning of a project, a general contractor typically accepts bids and chooses subcontractors based on the best estimates of how much work they can do over a certain period of time. The contract usually extends for exactly that amount of time, with the GC paying the sub on a monthly basis. Ideally, the payments should equal about 50% of the total when 50% of the work is completed.
However, what often happens is that payments begin to outpace the actual percent of work completed so that when the contract period is over, the GC has paid 100% of the payments but the work has only been 80% finished.
That is obviously a problem. And it happens because somewhere along the way, a system for tracking progress broke down and stopped working properly. This is especially true when manual progress tracking is used, as paperwork can get messy and those in charge can fall behind, leading to errors or discrepancies.
Another reason this happens is that every subcontractor seems to have a different way of tracking their progress. Managing these different forms can be a full-time job. In fact, many GCs have a dedicated Project Manager whose only job is to keep track of pay apps and make sure subs get paid every month.
These kinds of issues are much easier to resolve when automated progress tracking tools are used. After implementing such a tool, GCs often find that verifying pay apps becomes a much more reliable and simple process. When they can see percent complete at a glance, it allows them to quickly verify that tasks like framing, drywall installation, etc. have been done.
Sample Pay App (Source)
3. Poor Communication
The worst mistakes on a construction site usually happen because of bad communication. A critical piece of information was not relayed to a decision-maker or was simply missing.
Most GCs have robust processes for communicating across teams—these include bi-weekly coordination meetings, OAC meetings, the one-week lookahead, two-week lookahead, etc. However, even with the best processes in place, mistakes can happen.
Manual progress tracking can sometimes lead to slip-ups that have far-reaching consequences. For example, a Project Manager tells their drywaller installer to bring a crew next week to hang drywall on the first floor, but they don’t realize the top track has not been installed, so there is nothing to hang the drywall on.
That in turn might lead to a snowball effect wherein the Project Manager has to reschedule several different crews, costing them weeks or even months of delays. These kinds of errors affect the critical path for the project, pushing the timeline for completion out further, in some cases beyond a point of profitability for the GC and/or owner.
This is one of the main reasons top builders are adopting automated progress tracking tools. By maintaining a closer watch on work as it is completed, GCs are able to avoid the costly errors and oversights that are all-too-common and costly.
A Coordination Meeting (Source)
For owners, GCs, and subcontractors, airtight progress tracking is a gift that keeps on giving. It makes everyone’s job easier and leads to better outcomes. It also is an acknowledgment that humans are good at some things and computers are good at other things. Combining the power of both gives teams the tools they need to be successful.
With automated progress tracking, builders can do what they do best while maintaining the confidence that they’re operating efficiently and with the highest degree of accuracy.