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Four Strategies to Gain Control of Construction Approval Workflows

Opening Thoughts

For many reasons, the construction industry has been slow to modernize its processes for approval workflows. Many organizations have continued to rely heavily on paper-based approvals, using fax machines and routing hard copies. And then COVID-19 changed everything. With offices shuttered and key stakeholders working from home, organizations that relied on physically moving paper from desk to desk for approvals have been immobilized. Manual processes aren’t just inefficient, costly and risky — they’re now impossible.

Businesses that had already made the switch from paper to workflow-based approvals reported little disruption when they moved to working from home. For others, to survive and thrive in this new normal, owner organizations must make digital processes part of their everyday operations. By using automated process management tools, you can eliminate those paper-based systems, support remote workers, and keep your approval workflows on track. In fact, those approval workflows will be more accurate, faster and less risky than ever before. The increased visibility into the approval workflow can quickly improve change management, cost tracking and regulatory compliance across all of your construction projects.

To help you rethink your current situation and move forward with confidence, we’ve outlined four strategies that can help transform your approval processes to reduce risk, cut cycle time, and increase your productivity and profit:

  1. Define your approval process.
  2. Integrate processes to gain real-time visibility.
  3. Standardize document management to reduce risk.
  4. Build your system to fit your organization — not the other way around.

Define your approval process

What does your approval workflow look like right now? Do you know who is assigned to the approval workflow? If you’re not working with an automated solution, chances are good that you have a mashup of emails, shared documents and physical paperwork. In a best-case scenario, most of your approvals are organized within a construction management system that your project managers can access, but you still face complications and delays, especially when sharing information with outside organizations.

From startup to closeout, you need efficient workflow processes that enforce careful attention to data entry details and the tracking of documents. Otherwise, you have a disjointed approval workflow that can lead to:

  • Work stoppages or slowdowns.
  • Missed approvals — leading to missed budgets and forecasts.
  • Lost or misplaced documentation.
  • Untracked change orders.
  • Missed regulatory deadlines.
  • Failed audits.
  • Increased risk of litigation.
  • Long approval cycles leading to costly delays — and in some cases, significant late payment penalties.

But it doesn’t need to be like that. Start by defining your existing operational procedures to identify holes in the processes or unnecessary steps that too often result in lost productivity, efficiency and profitability. Identifying and defining your processes can be difficult — but usually eye-opening. You may find you have people in the approval process who do not need to be. You might also discover that some changes to your organization’s culture will be necessary to make the business more cost-effective and efficient. Once you have identified and defined your processes, you are ready to analyze and improve them.

Modern workflow management solutions allow you to build processes in a visual format, assign roles for your project constituents and stakeholders, and test your workflow model. You can visualize how approvals travel along your workflow paths — and where they’re getting lost or delayed. The best solutions have built-in verification tools that ensure forms are complete before you submit them for approval, and all documents are tracked and saved for easy reference, so nothing can get lost in the system. Electronic signatures, a feature that is proving particularly useful with so many stakeholders working remotely, can also significantly shorten approval cycles.

Integrate processes to gain real-time visibility

What if you could see straight through all the moving parts and pieces of your construction projects and know exactly where approvals are, where they have been and who they go to next? It’s not only possible with an integrated system, it’s essential to success in today’s complex construction world. With change orders, contractor and supplier schedules, and shifting regulatory requirements and deadlines, you can’t afford to lose track of a single approval. If you want to stay on track and reduce unnecessary costs and change orders, it’s crucial to integrate your approval process with your other processes, and do it in real-time — a task that is next to impossible with manual systems.

Having an integrated system can also ensure that your approvals are reflected immediately and accurately where they need to be, and the right people are informed. For example, if a change order has been approved to move from estimate to pending, your cost information must be updated in your financial systems. This is essential for cash flow so that the money is where you need it, when you need it. An automated approvals process ensures that payment approvals are processed quickly and contractors are paid on time, avoiding late payment fees. It also ensures that the approval of a supply order triggers other downstream processes such as the scheduling of crews. An integrated approvals process updates the required documentation, notifies the stakeholders and keeps your projects on track.

Organizations that use construction management software that is integrated with capital program management have the advantage of full visibility into the most accurate, up-to-date projected and actual costs available, all viewable directly within their project management tools. This enables the approvals process to both inform and be informed by accurate, real-time data to help organizations maintain control over budgets, schedules and changes for even the most complicated of projects.

Standardize document management to reduce risk

One of the most challenging tasks for any owner organization is maintaining accurate and complete documentation. Whether it’s needed for day-to-day tracking and reporting, to satisfy regulatory requirements, as a basis for future planning or for an audit, accurate and accessible documentation is critical. Workflow inefficiencies can easily lead to problematic gaps in documentation that make your business vulnerable to risks, extra costs, regulatory fines and legal disputes.

For example, consider a simple case where flooring needs to be ordered, shipped, received, stored, and ready for a crew to install. The crew needs to be hired and in place on the correct day — all dependent on other things occurring before, during and after the floor installation. Immense amounts of money can be wasted if these things don’t happen or don’t happen in the right sequence. A lot hinges on a reliable and fast approvals process.

Using manual processes, approvals can be one of the messiest and least traceable types of documentation, often undergoing multiple versions and passing through several hands and inboxes before they’re finalized. It is also an area auditors focus on when performing a construction audit. To ensure a smooth audit, business owners and executives must be able to explain their approval workflow processes and demonstrate how they are controlled, followed and enforced within the organization. Failing to provide this documentation can have devastating financial and legal consequences.

To reduce exposed risks, many organizations are using construction program management systems to automatically control different versions of documents and keep a trustworthy and comprehensive audit trail. By centralizing their documentation within a cloud-based digital platform, they can easily enforce policies and procedures and bring data-entry consistency across all of their projects — and gain accurate visibility, tracking and tracing for approval data. If an audit is required, their processes and documents are already in one place, making the audit process easier and more accurate.

Standardizing approval workflows with cloud-based document management that’s integrated throughout your business sets you up to increase productivity and efficiency in every part of your business.

Speak to a program advisor

Build your system to fit your organization — not the other way around

COVID-19 has made the need for digital transformation crystal clear to owner organizations. Automated processes can help improve every workflow, not just approvals. But too often when adopting new software it feels like you need to change your business to fit the software. Most construction owners and managers want to create operational processes that reflect their organization’s unique strengths and solve its unique problems, but they don’t want to invest time and money into configuring a new system.

With the right platform, you receive a set of prebuilt components and assemble them into workflows that bolster and enhance your existing processes — with full freedom to tweak, add and subtract modules as you improve and amend these processes. The right system is easily configurable; you don’t need to change code or bring in someone technical to get what you want.

Look for a system that can integrate with your existing tools and programs. It should honor the uniqueness of your business while helping your organization become the very best, smoothest-running, most productive version of itself.

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Transform your approval workflows with e-Builder

e-Builder’s complete construction program management platform, e-Builder Enterprise, enables you to model your approval workflows with intuitive drag-and-drop diagramming. With e-Builder Enterprise, you can:

  • Trim cycle times significantly with configurable control features such as signing authority and compliance and escalation rules.
  • Easily test and validate your processes.
  • Enable fully remote, fully secure approvals with the tool’s built-in electronic signature integration with DocuSign.
  • Connect with your existing accounting and enterprise systems to sync data across your whole program and provide visibility into every facet of your business.

The decision to make big changes to your business workflows can feel overwhelming, but it shouldn’t be. At e-Builder, we know this — and we also know construction. We have the depth and breadth of industry experience to offer you best practices for your business. We can help you to identify which of your business practices are working for you, and which ones aren’t. As your partner, we’ll help you define those operational processes so that you can move forward with confidence. Our dedicated team of industry experts is here to help you make improvements that can get your projects moving now and keep your business moving well into the future.