Work software exists to make work easier. It’s like any other tool that provides mechanical leverage, but in a digital context rather than a physical one.
It can be easy to lose sight of this, though, especially in a field like the construction trades, where small teams of contractors often get roped into using software designed for enterprise-level general contractors.
Good construction management software needs to be right-sized for the job, usable for everyone, and above all else cannot make a trade contractor’s job more difficult.
Here’s how usability and integrations help turn digital tools into good software.
Table of Contents
Why Software Usability Matters
Usability is obvious when it comes to physical tools. If a wrench doesn’t fit the fastener you need to turn, then that wrench isn’t usable. If a tape measure only has metric measurements but you’re working in inches and yards, then that tape measure isn’t usable.
The same goes for digital tools. If a piece of software doesn’t help someone perform the task they need to get done, then that software isn’t usable.
Software developers understand this. That’s why usability testing is such a big part of software development. As developer and consultant Jillian Koskie notes, software developers have several ways to measure the usability of the tool they’re building:
- Number of user actions. How many steps does a user have to take to complete a task? In general, more steps makes a user less likely to use that software again.
- Time spent on tasks. How long does a user spend completing a task? As above, the longer it takes someone to get something done, the less likely they are to use that software again.
- Learnability. How easy is it to learn the sequence of actions you need to perform to complete a task?
- Satisfaction. This one’s more subjective, but important. How satisfied are users with the way the task was completed?
Software developers measure these aspects of usability several times before they release a new digital tool. And as the team at Microsoft points out, usability testing is not the same as assessing the likability of a tool.
“Usability is about whether a person can use the product to perform the tasks that they need to perform,” they write. “Usability testing primarily measures performance, not preference.”
But in the context of getting work done, usability tends to drive likability. People like tools that help them work faster or more efficiently.
Consider the example of Geauga Mechanical in Ohio. They’ve been a longtime eSUB client. A few years ago, Geauga CEO Craig Berman told us about a couple of workflow issues our construction management software helped his company solve:
- Timesheets. Before, employees would call into the head office weekly to give their hours, or they would hand in written timesheets. It was all manual, and the accounting team had to spend four hours each week inputting that data. Now, it takes just a few minutes.
- Task codes. Before, when employees weren’t sure what task code to use, they would report their time under broad categories like duct installation. That skewed the project manager’s data for how long it would take a field crew to install 100 feet of ductwork. Now, task codes are easy to align with timesheets, and Geagua’s team can see at a glance how long it takes their teams to perform specific tasks.
That’s usability in a nutshell. When a digital tool can demonstrate with precision how long it takes a team to, say, install 100 feet of ductwork, that makes the larger tasks of estimating and planning work much easier.
Useful Software Integrates Seamlessly With Other Tools
Integrations are an important aspect of the usability of software, and this is something that’s unique to digital tools.
Physical tools don’t usually integrate. Your mitre saw and your bandsaw don’t need to connect. But your digital tools do because they share important data.
Each construction project generates lots of data. If individual people are recording bits of data separately on a spreadsheet or in writing, then that information cannot move from one person to the next very easily. But when you digitize your timesheets, as Geagua did, then you can pass timesheet data along to your accounting software easily.
Your construction management tools and your accounting software will be working with the same numbers, giving you a wider view of your entire business.
Even at the day-to-day operations level, software integrations are important for worker productivity. As product marketer Monika Ambrozowicz notes, the average person spends about one-fifth of their workdays looking for documents, logging in and out of different tools, shuffling data from one piece of software to the next, or just generally doing unnecessary admin work.
“That’s why we need integrations that significantly reduce the time spent on juggling separate tools and still allow us to use our favorite or affordable ones,” Ambrozowicz writes.
As a software company, we are always thinking about the usability and usefulness of eSUB.
One point that comes up over and over again in those reviews: How simple eSUB is to use. “The greatest benefit I see in eSub is the way it takes tasks that are moderately complicated and simplifies them, making the work we do much more efficient,” one review at Software Advice says.
If you arrived at our blog because you’re looking for construction management software that’s built for trade contractors, schedule a demo to see whether eSUB is the right fit for your team.
Images used under license from Shutterstock.com.