How to Manage Construction Conflicts to our Advantage

Everyone fears that something will go horribly wrong on a project. Construction conflicts are numerous. Whether it’s an accident where proper safety regulations were not adhered to or a subcontractor that says it never got its set of plans, or is missing a vital piece of project information and now is weeks behind schedule. It could be a heated debate about an unpaid invoice and work not done properly that stops a project in its tracks until it’s sorted out.

As contractors, these conflicts come with the territory. However, the fewer there are and the quicker they get resolved can make all the difference in a project’s overall success. So how can a company prepare for and defend against conflicts when they arise? Not that long ago, it meant keeping a paper audit trail of all project-related information and activities and hoping none of that paper was misplaced. More recently, a lot of this information was digitized and stored in software solutions.

Whether it’s paper and pen, keyboard and mouse or tablet and finger, no way of storing data and documentation matters if it cannot be retrieved when needed. Following are three technologies that help ensure a complete, accurate audit trail will always be there when needed.

Document Management – Digitized Documentation

When scanners were introduced, they revolutionized the digitization of documents. A paper document could be scanned and stored on a computer, documents organized in folders or emailed as an attachment. It didn’t take long for organizations to see the business sense in employing scanners in the workplace.

Whole file cabinets worth of documents could be digitized and saved. Document imaging allowed companies to retrieve files much quicker—so long as someone remembered which digital file they were stored in. However, as business management software advanced, there were new ways to incorporate those scanned documents into the software’s functionality.

Today, scanned images can be attached to software processes, directly influencing the data inputted, calculated or analyzed. In many cases data can be taken directly from documents scanned into the solutions, allowing for more automated data entry.

When a conflict arises, software users can drill into the data in their software—down to the deepest details, including specific dates and times. They can look at a transaction or action and, if it is accompanied by scanned documentation, they have a powerful audit trail to verify facts, approvals, prices, etc. For instance, if a materials vendor agreed to supply 100 planks of lumber for a project at $20 per plank, but sends a bill charging $25 per plank, it’s an easy matter to pull up that signed document at the original price and hold the vendor to his word.

Having the power of complete documentation gives more control over projects.

Mobile Devices – Real-time Field Access & Management

Of course, the best way to mitigate conflicts is to stop them before they start. Many conflicts arise due to a lack of accurate information. Misunderstandings, miscommunication or simply no information at all can be the tinder for the conflict fire.

Technology has come a long way for those in the office in recent years, providing more access to data and better ways to view and analyze that information. But for those working remotely in the field, accessing that data required a trip to the office.

Mobile computing advancements have helped connect the field and the office thanks to tablets and smartphones. Meanwhile, cloud computing is powering those devices in the field, allowing users to connect to their complete software applications, no matter where they are.

This means that project managers, foremen, subcontractors, vendors and others can see the same set of data that is seen in the office—in real time. For example, if a project manager realizes that plans call for an electrical box at the same spot a support beam was needed, that project manager could use his mobile device to access the construction software and create a change order on the fly. That change order could then be routed to the appropriate people for approval and the contract and/or subcontract could be updated immediately and sent out for approval. This can all be facilitated without the project manager having to leave the site to go back to the office or job trailer.

Better access to updated information means a much better chance that everyone on the team is working on the same page, with current data. Fewer disputes will happen due to a lack of information.  Finally, There’s Something for the Field.

Project Management Software – Working Smarter with Smart Workflows

Of course, better access to information still doesn’t mean anything if the information is not turned into action. With as complicated and demanding as today’s construction projects can be, just trying to input, organize and manage all of the data can be a full-time job.

How do you find the time to properly analyze the data, ensure the right business decisions are made while realizing the best profit margins and keeping your project moving—on time and on budget? The answer lies with automation and resource management.

Automation is nothing new; as technology has advanced, more and more things become automated. Think about the ease of use with online shopping or website creation. How about the convenience of self-tabulating spreadsheets or music storing and sharing programs? What about the emergence of advanced, yet simple to navigate, communication tools like social media sites? What all of these technologies have in common—aside from the fact most of us use these every day—is that while simple to use on the front end, there are a series of much more complicated steps occurring behind the scenes to make all of this functionality work. Those steps are tied together into quick, manageable processes or workflows.

Workflows have, for years, been a part of business (and construction) management software, allowing a number of once complicated, often tedious steps to be grouped into simple one- or two-click processes. Today, however, leading-edge software is putting the power of workflows into the users’ hands and letting them decide how they will shape their business.

These new workflows allow users to define and enforce specific rules and tasks, creating a streamlined flow of processes throughout their organization. These automated workflows ensure that processes are moving along as they should be and that data or decisions get routed to the right people automatically rather than through slower, traditional means such as email, FTP sites, paper or even word of mouth.

These workflows also work to mitigate conflicts by ensuring the data flows to where it needs to automatically. And alerts in the software prompt people when action is needed or decisions need to be approved. No longer will work stop due to someone not getting a memo or not receiving information.

With these three key technologies, conflict management becomes a much easier challenge. It may not always prevent someone on the team from doing the wrong thing, but can certainly help. And when the company is in the right, the proof is there in black and white.