Issue Management for Owners: Why Issues are Opportunities
by Chris Bell | February 11, 2021
It happens on job sites all the time: contractors run into unexpected challenges.
Perhaps while cutting an opening for a new window, the crew finds pipes that weren’t indicated in the as-builts. With a few dozen people on the crew and rented equipment racking up expenses, the contractor quickly calls the owner to relay the problem—but there’s no time to go into formal budget changes or predictions. Instead, the contractor offers the assurance, “We’ll take care of it.”
In an industry that relies on many moving parts—rented equipment, contractors and subcontractors, and trade workers—managing clear and timely communication can be difficult to achieve.
A plumbing crew works furiously to reroute the pipes. Money is spent. Because this task wasn’t part of the original schedule, the project takes longer and goes over budget. The contractor feels they communicated well and resolved the problem, but the owner is left thinking, Wow, I just spent an extra $100,000 and I’m finding out after the fact. I didn’t get any written communication—and I didn’t know I was saying “yes” to additional cost and delay.
In an industry that relies on many moving parts—rented equipment, contractors and subcontractors, and trade workers—managing clear and timely communication can be difficult to achieve. But it’s critical to avoiding major misunderstandings like this one, which can erode relationships between owners and contractors.
Small Issues Add Up to Big Problems
While more expensive issues like the above can lead to claims or litigation, smaller concerns can also escalate over time. Project managers must constantly make on-the-fly decisions, juggle minor complaints and navigate unforeseen delays. If someone brings up a concern, the conversation often happens casually—a quick chat on the job site or a short phone call while both parties are multitasking. Those conversation topics aren’t big concerns (yet), but over time they could lead to problems. Project engineers exist to deal with immediate decisions and keep confusion to a minimum, but to ease this burden, everyone must be proactive about communicating well.
Complications are unavoidable in construction projects, but managing them well is possible—and it starts with moving from a reactive approach to proactive issue management.
Proactive Issue Management
“Success requires fast documentation and clearly defined levels of authority. When issues come up, you have to make sure the right people are made aware of any cost and schedule impacts—and that they’re authorized to make changes.”
- Chris Bell, VP of marketing at Trimble
To pursue a proactive approach to issue management, you need to pave the way for better communications between everyone on the wider team—project managers, contractors, subs, and owners. “You need to proactively manage small things that aren’t quite at the level of formal mechanisms such as change orders,” says Dan Conery, senior director of product strategy at Trimble. “That means keeping track of every conversation and mode of communication, including texts and emails.”
Tracking every communication manually is a formidable chore, but modern project management tools make the task a lot easier. “Success requires fast documentation and clearly defined levels of authority,” explains Chris Bell, VP of marketing at Trimble. “When issues come up, you have to make sure the right people are made aware of any cost and schedule impacts—and that they’re authorized to make changes.” A tool such as e-Builder Enterprise allows companies to move from reactive to proactive management by giving them more visibility and real-time insight into what’s going on with a project.
A Central Communication Hub
To achieve streamlined communication between all stakeholders at work on a project, it’s essential to have a central communication hub. When there’s a central place for all communication to take place, it keeps everyone organized and in the loop. When you use a solution that’s designed for construction management, the needed structures are already in place to manage issues coming in from different stakeholders. “Unlike phone or email conversations, you can organize that information so your project managers can see which issues have the biggest cost and schedule impact and make prioritization decisions,” Bell says. With that level of visibility, project managers have the power to deal with issues quickly—and the faster they can resolve an issue, the more likely the project will stay on time and budget.
When an issue grows into a significant modification, you can create the paperwork to file a change order within the software. The e-Builder Enterprise system can also flag escalating issues to make sure they get noticed—for example, you can set conditional routing logic in the workflow if a budget change goes over a certain dollar amount. The workflow is not allowed to proceed until the designated stakeholders with appropriate signing authority grant authorization. “E-Builder has change management capabilities that define who is authorized to make commitments on behalf of your organization,” Bell explains. “That ensures that well-intentioned people who don’t have the authority to commit $100,000 don’t do so.” Once a decision is made, e-Builder has the intelligence to alert stakeholders about the changes and demonstrate how the project will stay on schedule and within budget.
Issues and roadblocks will always come up in construction—but you don’t have to dread them. Every issue is a chance to practice good communication and innovative problem-solving. “Don’t think of an issue as a bad thing,” says Bell. “It’s a nugget of gold if you manage it well.”
Key Topics Covered: Approval Workflows, construction management software, Workflow Management in Construction