Production tracking is a critical yet often overlooked construction management process. It’s essential not only for making good decisions and tracking profits on your current projects, but the data you collect also impacts your ability to win future bids. Production tracking should be based on the best data available, but that’s not what’s happening today.
Many other industries have already leaned into data. Yet, based on my experience and that of the companies I’ve worked with, never before in the history of construction has it been possible to capture much-needed production data in an automated fashion. The opportunity hasn’t been there largely because the technology required to digitize a physical jobsite is either impractical or non-existent. As a result, we’ve had to rely on manual efforts with varying levels of sophistication to gather this vital information.
In today’s data-driven world, the limitations of these efforts are exposed, and we can see how production tracking is broken. Current production tracking methods cost time and money, yet we have mostly accepted this as “the cost of doing business.”
State Of Play
Because we largely rely on manual methods to track data, the data we get is incredibly inaccurate and inconsistent. The processes we see in the field range from “I’m giving it my best guess about percent complete we have on this scope” to “I’m going to walk the site and a highlighter to track installs, then take that back to the office to manually drop it into a spreadsheet.” It is not exactly an efficient process.
The way we collect data is risky. When the most experienced Superintendents and PMs provide percent complete numbers, the data is probably reliable, but what happens when slightly more junior field staff are the ones reporting quantities and production data? What happens when the field team thinks they are 70% complete but are only 60%, and you have to put in more hours to get the job done?
Piecemeal data collection and guesswork fail to give us a complete look at what’s happening on a project. For most of today’s production tracking processes, the best case scenario is several weeks are likely to pass before you gain an understanding of how the job is tracking toward the plan. By then it’s too late.
Production-tracking limitations can also create unwanted project outcomes. The longer it takes us to track the work and forecast profits, the less time we have to course correct. Fixing a production issue could be as simple as a quick chat with the architect or engineer about a design detail that is slowing down installers — but if you don’t have the data, you’re not going to have that conversation.
But production tracking is about more than one job. Without solid historical information, it becomes difficult to provide an accurate estimate for new bids. If your historical productivity estimates are too conservative, you could come in too high and price yourself right out of the job. Unless your service is so outstanding that you can always afford to have the high bid, inaccurate historical productivity data is going to cost you work.
Given the current market climate, where some areas or sectors of construction are growing aggressively while others are contracting, data becomes even more important. Without it, you put your business at a distinct disadvantage of losing work in hard-hit areas or missing out on potential growth and revenue opportunities in more active markets. You can’t adapt and respond to changes accordingly.
So how do we solve production tracking issues? The short answer is new technology. Builders moved into what could be considered Cloud 1.0 not that long ago, which essentially digitized paper and spreadsheets. After some struggles, trials and testing, we’re getting pretty comfortable with technology. But we can do so much more. We can move beyond manual data entry — such as asking our field teams to punch numbers into a form field on their mobile device — and begin to automate the process of tracking installed work.
We are now entering the Era of Intelligent Construction Management. Smarter software can lay the foundation for a new paradigm in how we think about construction. During this period, new solutions for intelligent project tracking are entering the market, fueled by various types of reality data — from photos to LiDAR — and powered by AI. This wave of software unlocks real automation in the way projects are managed.
In order to take advantage of some of the big advances in ConTech, we need to look for the tools that provide truly useful information. Does a product deliver data that meets a real, immediate need? For example, can an application provide insight that helps with estimating or cost analysis? Can it track the work that has been completed in a manner that can be shared with a client to show you’ve done the work you say you’ve done? Don’t adopt a tool just to have something new in the arsenal. It has to have a purpose and be able to do what it claims — try before you buy just to make sure.
Another big question to consider when evaluating production tracking technologies is does it save you time? If a contractor currently spends about eight hours each week manually tracking production tasks, new technologies that automate processes can cut this time investment down substantially. Test products out first to see what kind of efficiency can be achieved. In doing so, it also will become crystal clear that applications need to be easy to use for benefits to be fully realized. If something is too complicated, even the best technology will fall flat and fail in the field.
I believe data has the capacity to drive construction forward in really exciting ways. Our industry has the potential to fix what’s broken by entering a new phase of digital transformation, one that can shift the velocity of building and the way we plan. I say: Let the Era of Intelligent Construction Management begin!