The Past, Present and Future of Construction Project Management Software
Do you ever ask yourself any of these 10 questions?
- Why do organizations use construction project management software?
- What’s the best way to manage construction documents?
- What can I do with a specialized system that I cannot do with DocuSign and SharePoint?
- What should I look for in construction management software and systems?
- Why would we need anything other than Excel or Google spreadsheets?
- How can we ensure compliance with regulations and schedules?
- How does construction project management software improve audits?
- How can owners improve capital improvement programs?
- How much time would I save using a dedicated construction project management system?
- How could we improve forecasting?
Part 1: The Spreadsheet Era
The beginning of office automation
For people accustomed to paper, what a breakthrough the digital spreadsheet was! It automated the tedious task of manually recalculating formulas on paper spreadsheets. But despite the switch, manual tasks remain—and seem to be growing.
If you’re reading this text on a computer, you have digital spreadsheets to thank. Spreadsheet software launched personal computers in 1979. People were buying $2,000 Apple II computers to run $100 VisiCalc programs. Even today, the digital spreadsheet is among the most popular applications for business. For managers of capital improvement programs, spreadsheets are right behind email as an essential application for work. Spreadsheets automate a task that was bone-crushingly tedious on paper: recalculating totals as line items change. But managers of capital improvement programs—CIPs—have a lot more to do than calculating columns of figures.
Spreadsheets make amazing to-do lists—up to a point
Capital projects have a million moving parts and keeping those parts moving in the right direction—on time, within budget, and in compliance—requires much more than spreadsheets can provide.
- Will a spreadsheet forecast for you? Its data helps, but only with a lot of massaging.
- Will a spreadsheet force users to comply with regulations and best practices? Nope.
- Will a spreadsheet capture an audit trail? You wish.
- Will a spreadsheet standardize operations? Try as you might, individual managers customize their spreadsheets.
- Does a spreadsheet lend itself to collaboration and version control? There’s not a project manager alive who would let others touch his or her spreadsheet.
Spreadsheets don’t flag delays or hasten turnarounds
Because construction schedules are critical, the biggest shortcoming of spreadsheets is their inability to prevent delays. Let’s say a time-sensitive invoice goes into an approver’s inbox on a Friday. And the approver is away from work. So the item sits in an inbox until that approver gets back and catches up because, with manual processes, the invoice cannot escalate itself up the chain of command after it sits idle a few days. Similarly, vendors often phone with questions. Where does that RFI stand? Did you decide on that change order? How about those submittals? Fast answers are critical. Keep reading for ways to respond faster.
Spreadsheets are outgunned
Despite the tremendous popularity of spreadsheet-based construction project management, they make it hard to do your best work in four key areas:
To improve performance in these areas and more, a new category of software came into being even as spreadsheets ruled the field.
Construction project managers began using spreadsheets in the 1990s.
Today, they tell us they spend a shocking 15 to 20 hours a week searching for information!
Manual processes take time and raise risk
When construction project managers track their projects on their own customized spreadsheets, reporting requires a manager to consolidate data from many sources. That means standardizing entries, such as making sure everyone uses the same definitions for estimate, forecast, pending, and approved for change orders. Will a spreadsheet make sure everyone uses the same method of noting dollar amounts, whether $15,000,000 or $15M or $15,000k? That makes a difference when you’re rolling up data for a report. It’s rather amazing that spreadsheet-based construction project management is as widespread as it is, given its hazards.
Errors, omissions and noncompliance
Manual processes are prone to human error. For example, people overwrite data or fat-finger formulas. We neglect to erase a figure that’s been moved to a different column; say, when a dollar amount moves from Pending to Approved. The next thing you know, you're getting a false representation of project health because cell LL38 on tab 43 isn’t right. All organizations have policies and procedures in accordance with the law and best practices. Auditors check to see that people have complied. And it’s the users who must comply because spreadsheets cannot enforce compliance.
- Widely known
- Highly versatile
- Individual ownership
COSTS OR RISKS
- Time-consuming report generation
- Weak forecasting
- No process enforcement
- Limited collaboration
- Lack of uniformity
- Limited audit support
Capital projects in jeopardy
As powerful as spreadsheets are, they obviously lack what’s needed to address widespread construction project management challenges.
- Change orders push 85% of projects over their original budgets.
- 93% fall behind schedule.
- 63% have quality defects.
Click here for Part 2 of the Ultimate Construction Software Buyer's Guide.