Newforma, in conjunction with the Dodge Construction Network and the Construction Progress Coalition, conducted a new study, “Finding Common Ground: The Future of Project Information Management,” to gain deeper insights into how the flow of project information impacts the AEC industry and successful project relationships.
Communication and open sharing of project information is essential to building successful relationships across external teams. However, if the information shared is inaccurate, incomplete, or is not sent in a timely manner, relationships can quickly erode.
The Newforma study also included a closed-session roundtable discussion with representatives from leading architecture, engineering, and general contractor firms. Participants shared their insights on exchanges of information outside the firm.
The findings from this year’s Newforma research clearly indicate that the industry is ready for a change in basic assumptions required to achieve the common goal of improving collaboration. However, the question regarding who takes the first step may still be an obstacle to overcome.
The barriers to freely sharing information are not obvious. Both human and technology impediments are cited in this year’s findings.
Lack of visibility once information is shared outside the firm impacts team relationships.
When sharing information outside of their organization, more than half of all respondents (57%) cannot track the status once it is outside their organization. This lack of visibility when information is transferred to another party often results in communication issues that impact trust. In addition to status tracking, lack of transparency regarding how information will be used by another party can result in apprehension that hinders the open sharing of information. The risk associated with transparency on how information will be used can affect a firm’s willingness to share that information.
Setting expectations up front on how information will be used is key. An architect who participated in the roundtable discussion explains:
“It is not only trust, but it’s also expectations. If you know at the beginning of the job that I’m handing this over to the contractor and I’m handing it over to the owner, you know that there are certain aspects that have to be in alignment with their expectations of how they’re going to use it.”
Trusted relationships are built on trusted information.
Communication issues cited in this year’s findings indicate that information shared between parties cannot be trusted. The main issues related to communication include “receiving incomplete information,” “receiving unclear information,” and “not receiving information in a timely manner.”
Over half of architects and engineers say that one of the main challenges with communication between firms is receiving incomplete information. Almost as many also state that the information received is unclear or is not received in a timely manner.
We asked the same survey question to our general contractor panel and the responses were the same but somewhat magnified. Most contractors cited receiving incomplete information as a major challenge. In addition, information not sent in a timely manner ranked almost as high.
We examined some of the factors that impact effective communication between firms. Human error and delays in communication can be correlated to responses regarding inconsistent processes and different platforms used by external teams requiring the manual upload and download of information.
One of the most surprising findings from this year’s survey relates to the factors related to how project decisions are tracked. Most respondents (76%) track project decisions in meeting minutes. Almost as many respondents document project decisions in email (59%).
All parties cite that they have difficulty tracking project decisions due to the reliance on email communication. Email is an unstructured form of communication that relies on the sender to clearly communicate information and to send the information in a timely manner. In addition, communication breakdowns occur when the receipt does not respond in a timely manner.
During the construction phase, effective communication of project decisions is essential to building trust across the team. If information is unclear or not received in a timely manner, mistakes are bound to be made. Mistakes often result in rework, schedule delays, and increased costs. The bottom line is that it impacts all party’s profitability.
Manual workflow processes are riddled with human error that further erode trust.
When manual effort is required to share information across external parties, errors are bound to occur. Many respondents (47%) cite human error as the biggest challenge to effectively collaborating across project stakeholders. Errors commonly occur when data is manually entered across different platforms. In addition, information communicated primarily through email is also subject to human error through delays in forwarding, distribution list issues, and emails getting lost in personal inboxes. Over one quarter of survey respondents also say that collaboration challenges can be attributed to when project information is not synchronized across software systems.
Removing the obstacles to effective communication
Newforma asked an open-ended question to survey respondents: “What industry-wide paradigm shift would do the most to improve project collaboration between project stakeholders?”.
Almost half of respondents (47%) shared that more integration between software applications, consolidation of applications, and more real-time sharing of information through cloud technology would shift the industry to a more collaborative environment for all stakeholders.
Integrated software solutions can provide standardization and consistency in how information is shared between parties. It can also eliminate manual data-entry processes that are prone to errors and delays. Technology can play a major role in improving the quality and timeliness of information being shared.
However, the Newforma roundtable panel agrees that building trusted relationships also requires a conversation between parties at the start of a project. The benefits of bringing all parties together to agree on what information will be shared, how it will be shared, and when, will go a long way to improve communication and transparency to help build trust and improve team relationships.
As suggested by one general contractor roundtable participant:
“Having transparency and trust enables faster workflows, more transparency into the project, and frankly a level of trust that allows us to remove that minutia that constantly is just stringing us along on projects. So, whether it be costs, schedule delays, coordination delays, or just communication between stakeholders, it affects the entire life cycle of a project.”
By Peg Landry
Construct America Magazine | The Home of Construction Industry News
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