Let’s start with the bad news: in order to get you started on the right course you need to do some proper, boring, old-school work.
Now, the good news: right now, not enough contractors take the time to do it. As a result, most initiatives to start using construction software fail miserably, so there’s a lot of room for contractors that have the persistence to do it right.
Before we begin. Let me me tell you a story:
It almost seems like every day, I meet the same general contractor. They’re working hard trying to to cope with the increasing meetings, legal requirements, safety rules, and the constant pressure on their bottom lines. The issue is, contractors are trying to solve all these problems by themselves. Not enough contractors have realized that using software specially build for construction allows them to scale greater heights, saving them a ton of money and time!
Right, let’s jump straight in: here is the basic 5-part structure of this guide:
- HOW do we know if the business is ready for implementation?
- WHAT are our requirements?
- WHERE can we find out more information?
- HOW do we get our guys ready?
- HOW do we get started?
Let’s dig right into it:
1. How do we know if the business is ready for implementation?
Have you asked yourself any of these questions?
- “How can we win more work?”
- “How will we cope with ever-decreasing profit margins?”
- “How do we ensure our team makes fewer mistakes?”
- “How can we improve efficiency?”
- “How can we reduce our management needs on projects?”
- “How can we ensure fewer accidents on site?”
- “How can we reduce the administrative load on our field operatives?”
- “How do we win more of the ‘right’ projects?”
If the answer to any of the above questions was “NO,” then grab your coat and go for a walk with the dog.
If, on the other hand, the answer to any of the above was “YES,” I have one more question for you: could you benefit from the following?
- Connecting your office to the field,
- Increasing knowledge flow between projects, teams, and employees,
- Identifying the causes of delay sooner,
- Accelerating your projects,
- Getting off site before completion date,
- Reducing tender prices to get more contracts,
- Increasing profit margins on tenders won,
- Saving on overhead costs,
- Saving on costs overall,
- Getting more repeat contracts from your clients.
If, right now, you are saying, “Yes”, “Yes,” and “Yes” to all of these, construction management software will seriously help you.
Now back to the question of whether your business is ready for software implementation. To be honest, it’s more of a state of mind than anything else:
Are you willing to invest time, effort, and money into software that could help you scale your business to new heights?
If the answer to that question is “Yes,” then it does not matter about all the other granular questions to qualify your readiness. If you are willing, there are systems out there that will help you, while providing a return on investment that makes complete sense for your business (or better yet, return on information).
2. What are our requirements?
After deciding that construction software is the right move for your business, the first step is to understand what requirements you have. To put it another way: what jobs can software help you reduce or eliminate?
Think of it like recruiting a new employee. Once you have decided you need another person on the team, the first thing you do is to write down exactly what this employee will be doing. These responsibilities then form the structure of the job description that you send out to the market. Buying software is similar, in that you need to write down what you are “recruiting” this software to do for you.
The best way to get some meat on the bone here, is to ask, “What jobs do I want done?”
- Are you trying to connect the field team to the office?
- Are you trying to look good in front of your clients?
- Are you after getting daily reports and pictures from the construction sites?
- Are you wanting to create punchlists digitally?
- Are you trying to manage project costs digitally?
- Are you trying to manage your project schedule in the cloud so that everyone knows about changes quicker?
- Or, are you simply trying to get more control across your projects?
Be honest with yourself, and clearly write down what issues you want solved.
The best advice I can give you is to pick the top two or three (five at most) problems that, if they were resolved tomorrow, would make a world of difference.
If you focus on the actual problems you want solved, and not some vague requirements that you come up with, you end up with a great list that will serve you well when choosing which product to purchase.
And remember, Theodore Levitt got it right a few years ago, when he said…
Once you’ve got your list of requirements, the fun part starts!
3. Where can we find out more information?
Before you start down this rabbit hole, remember…
One key thing to ask, right now, before you start looking for more information, is who is going to carry out the research and test these platforms? Since you have identified the jobs, whoever it is has a much clearer idea of what the business is looking for.
My suggestion would partly depend on your budget. There are many companies out there specializing in consulting for contractors of all sizes to helping them find the right software. If you have the cash to do this, it could definitely be a viable option (a good option for US-based Contractors is http://conappguru.com/ and a good option for UK-based contractors is http://extranetevolution.com/).
Just google it…
Now that you have a good list of issues, things get easier because you know what success means to you and your business. The next step in the process is to start looking for software that can help you solve the problems you have identified.
An obvious place to start would be Google. Start by typing in a job followed by “construction software or construction app”. Spend some time reading what comes up and zero in one anything that sounds interesting.
Now if you want to be super-anal, be like me. I would have an Excel spreadsheet at the ready. All the jobs I want solved would be in one column and then every single time I find an interesting vendor I would add them to this list. When I believe I have enough I would start my analysis of how well each vendor solves the jobs we want solved. I would also further add more evaluating criteria and start scoring each against this until I end up with a clear winner for my business.
To save you some time, you can download this spreadsheet here.
Another good tip is simply to ask around. Have you noticed anyone else using something on in the field? Ask them what it is and how it’s working for them.
Well, review platforms like Capterra are also a great place to make a start. They structure vendors with the jobs that they solve for the customer. So, if you are looking for, say, scheduling software, all you need to do is navigate over to that section, read the reviews of the different vendors, choose one that suits your needs and then add it to the list on your spreadsheet.
Make sure to read the reviews since these are pure gold. Follow the link and go directly to these software companies’ websites. Make sure that they are active on their blogs. Doing so should give you an idea of how focused they are on your industry and whether you can associate your business problems with what they are writing about. Remember, there is a lot of software out there: if you don’t pick construction specific software, you may run the risk that the platform won’t scale for you further down the line when you have more jobs you want solved and that it does not solve your specific construction workflows.
Remember the worst thing you can ever do is choose a vendor which has been around for the last 20 years, but have not updated their technology for the last 19 years! Always keep in mind that the reason Construction Management Software is so popular right now is because the cell phone and tablets have changed everything. That means if the Vendor doesn’t have an App you can pretty much rule them out straight away!
Try before you buy
Any vendor worth considering should have a trial or free version. Go in, have a play around, try the web version and the app versions. Create dummy accounts with your second email address and see how the interaction, collaborating with others on the platform works. Ask the vendor a few questions and maybe schedule a call with them to get more information. These guys do this every day; in 20 minutes they can explain what their platform CAN, and more importantly, CAN’T do so that you can evaluate it for your business.
Consult your team
Arrange a team talk and explain that you are trying to solve the following jobs and that you think by making use of construction software will make getting these jobs done quicker, easier and more cheaply. Ask them what their thoughts are; do they know of any good solutions? Have they got any preferences or other criteria we should consider when evaluating?
Don’t expect a silver bullet.
There are many construction management tools out there that promise the absolute world where, after a couple of weeks, you will be sitting at your desk being fed grapes to the tune of “Uptown Girl” while all your projects magically finish on time and to budget.
Of course this is far from reality and it is the main reason why I constantly mention that you should focus on the jobs you want solved. When you have 3 main jobs that the software must solve, then you have a much better chance of finding a good fit for your company. It’s ok to have a few ‘nice to have’ jobs that the software can also solve, but keep your eyes on the goal.
Don’t get tempted by enterprise solutions.
Unless you manage billion dollar projects, 99% of the time enterprise solutions will be an overkill for your business. One of the absolute worst things that can happen when you purchase software for your business is that your team don’t like to use it because it’s overkill. It will be too complex for them to use, so, after a few weeks of trying because you were holding the gun to their heads, they give up, preferring the bullet rather than having to use that mammoth of software again.
Focus on easy to use software! Construction is complex enough without making it even worse with complex software!
Do yourself and your team a favor. Don’t give them something that makes them feel like they are looking at the above all day!
Make the decision and go all in
CONGRATULATIONS. You have made it this far, I salute you! By now you have your Excel spreadsheet full up with vendors. You have scored them all against your criteria; you have tried them out and now you are ready to make a decision. Go for it! I would suggest you sign up for 1 year with the vendor since doing it on a monthly basis means you are not just dipping your toes into the water.
4. How do we get our guys ready?
Making the decision is the easy part. After making that decision, the most important thing you can do is to lead from the front with implementing this decision. Most construction software strategies fail because the leadership doesn’t make it clear why this is important to them. Employees just see implementation as extra work, fiddle with it for a few weeks and hope that you forget about it.
If you took my advice from earlier, you would have already consulted your team while you were evaluating options. Now it’s time to have a follow up with them where you explain what decision has been made; explain how this solution will help you solve these jobs; explain the benefits to you and the business and MORE IMPORTANTLY explain to them what the benefits to them are and what is expected from them.
In order to show them how important this is to the business, I would suggest when you talk to them about something related to the jobs you are solving with your software, always bring the question back to the context of the system. For example: “John, where can I find the field photos connected to this site in the system.”
PRO TIP: you need to be using the software more than anyone else
If your team see you slacking or going back to old ways, they will give up on it and drop it faster than a politician’s promise after election day!
Often contractors worry about how to convince their field team to move to software, or even if they will be able to use the software.
Well, let’s tackle their resistance first. Since you have already explained to them how they will benefit, try a different angle by telling them, as they already know, getting construction right is 90% communication. All this software will do is to make it easier to communicate. For example, when the cell phone was introduced in the 80’s on construction sites, no one complained about using them since it saved everyone hours of walking around the project site like headless chickens looking for each other! Construction mobile apps will have the same effect as that on the job site.
This is a bit of retrospective point, but make sure when you pick your software that it has enough depth for you and your project managers but is simple enough for the guys on site to pick up and use with no fuss on the go!
5. How do we get started?
When starting up with construction software, it’s important to understand this: you won’t be hitting 100% efficiency with software for a few months. Manage your expectations so that you start by crawling then walking, followed by running and finally sprinting!
Having this in mind will allow you (alongside your vendor if possible) to design out a roll-out plan across your teams and projects. A good place to start would be choosing one job first that you want solved, pick your most tech-friendly employees on a not-too-complex project and then put them to work with clear guidelines of what you expect. Then simply rinse and repeat, while each time being a little bit more ambitious and effective with the software.
What could CRAWLING look like?
Daily reports and photos from the field back to the office.
What could WALKING look like?
Sharing project documents and the latest plans, all available via web and mobile .
What could RUNNING look like?
Live schedule management in the cloud so that everyone is synced on changes and progress.
What could SPRINTING look like?
Getting actionable date across all projects feeding a live analytical dashboard of your project portfolio (the future as predicted by Capterra).
Everyone has their own approach to buying construction software. What tips did I miss? Was this guide useful to you? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!