How to Improve Communication on a Heavy Civil Project

Mon June 15, 2020 - National Edition
Mike Merrill, WorkMax



Complex, large scale projects such as highways, bridges and railways require hundreds of people to be on the same page in order to operate as a cohesive unit. And while sharing information across multiple departments in a company is no easy feat, ensuring crystal clear communication across the board has to be a priority.

Luckily, new technologies have eased this pressure in the world of heavy civil construction. Cloud-based tracking solutions help companies marry key areas of their business, ensuring data from job sites can be communicated to internal departments, such as payroll and accounting.

But before companies invest in such technology, it's important they understand the hurdles they face, how technology can alleviate communication pain points and why employee participation is the key to more accurate data collection and clarity among departments.

Challenged by the Size and Scope of Civil Projects

The size and scope of a heavy civil project can create a number of communication issues between departments within a construction company that can negatively affect the bottom line. A few include:

  • Tracking different tasks and quantities Task tracking becomes difficult to manage and maintain as the number of tasks and crews on job sites increase. This causes a disconnect between the progress happening in the field and what is reported in the office. It's often the case of what's on paper doesn't match what's actually happening in the field.
  • Staying in compliance of labor laws Davis-Bacon and FLSA require accurate tracking of employee hours, including associated job classes for each task performed and any overtime. But without a seamless way to track time, companies risk delayed and inaccurate data being reported to their accounting departments.
  • Accurate asset tracking Heavy civil projects rely on tracking equipment usage to manage a project's budget. Without clear reporting from employees tracking what equipment they're using and for how long, supervisors will be unable to oversee equipment usage, causing costs to spike.
  • Managing the actual budget vs. projected budget To stay within budget, accounting must receive timely communications from employees and supervisors in the field, including task progress reports and labor costs. Any delays between data being collected and shared risks companies making decisions with incomplete information where over or underbilling could occur.
Allow Departments to Collect and Communicate in Real-Time

Heavy civil construction projects need labor, safety and equipment data to be collected, reported and available to different departments at a moment's notice.

The traditional methods of doing so, through paper forms and spreadsheet tracking, is cumbersome, risks human errors and eats away at precious administrative time. That's where cloud-based resource management solutions with live field data come in.

Data collection and sharing can be a fairly simple and painless process. Placing a resource management solution into the hands of every worker, foreman and supervisor is as easy as having them use an app on their smartphone.

Facial recognition features can be required at key points in the process to ensure the information that gets communicated is accurate and reliable. Live field data is gathered from job sites, and integration capabilities ensure the information gets communicated to different departments within the company.

For instance, when an employee time tracking software is integrated with payroll software, companies can avoid FLSA violations and be confident their employees are getting paid for the hours they worked. Additionally, when field employees use a time tracking app to collect time, job costs, and completed work that integrates with the ERP system, project managers can easily compare estimated labor and production to actual labor and production.

Another example involves safety and health. Safety managers can require employees on clock in or out to answer specific questions and based on their answers prompt them to complete a safety form. Examples include confirming if an employee is wearing appropriate PPE on clock in or if they have completed all training requirements for the task at hand.

Contractors also can accurately track their tools and equipment inventory and assignment, log equipment operator time and equipment maintenance forms all in one resource management app. Integration ensures information would be available across the organization so decision-makers won't ever be in the dark.

Fosters Better Business Practices

A cloud-based resource management system continually reports data to key areas of a construction business for labor hours, job costs, production, safety and asset management in real-time all in one app. From field operations to accounting and finance to payroll and to project management, departments can use these insights to improve their business across the board.

From a project management perspective, field supervisors clearly communicate the project's daily status using mobile forms photos with markups and automatically send them to the project managers.

Project managers no longer have to compile the construction daily reports (CDRs) to provide to internal and external stakeholders from multiple paper forms while also having to dig through multiple emails with photo attachments to make sure they are using the right photos to accurately communicate the current status of the project in project status meetings. The project manager then can discuss the CDR in project status meetings with owners and developers or key internal project stakeholders based on accurate live field data.

On smaller projects, mobile forms with live field data and embedded photos with markup can remove the need for extra project managers because the automated CDRs communicate the project status more accurately.

Another example is when workers on a job site is tracking the equipment. Companies can turn to data to see when new equipment should be purchased or rented, when repairs can be expected, and to identify deviations from job costing and productivity projections. They'll also see which equipment is underutilized or overutilized and balance out the usage on the equipment to extend the asset's useful life cycle to reduce asset replacement costs.

Another benefit of increasing communication among departments through data is the ability to achieve real-time earned value calculations (EVs). Resource management solutions with live field data give construction companies accurate real-time labor costs and up-to-the-minute quantities completed to use in their EV calculations on heavy civil projects and the ability to easily run EVs on a regular basis. This alerts them to red flags and helps identify positive or negative trends right away.

Heavy civil construction projects often employ hundreds of people and involve many moving parts. The best way to ensure everything stays on track is by fostering a way for field employees to clearly communicate key project performance data to various areas of the business. By implementing a cloud-based resource management solution with live field data that also integrates with the ERP and payroll systems, construction companies can more accurately communicate project performance and harness critical data to streamline important areas of their business, improve their decision-making processes and ultimately improve their bottom line.

For more information, visit www.workmax.com.

Mike Merrill is the co-founder and COO of WorkMax. With 10 years of experience in construction and real estate and 16 years as a technology executive, Merrill brings strong leadership and expert knowledge to the WorkMax team. Before running business operations for WorkMax, Merrill spent 22 years as an entrepreneur and business owner in the construction and technology industry. He also brings insights and strong industry relationships from his participation in Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA) and Construction Open Standards Alliance (COSA).