Tell me you haven’t heard this one before: “Our teams need to collaborate!”
And then everyone in the room nods their heads in approval.
But what does collaboration really mean on the construction project, and how do companies structure their personnel, teams, vendors and clients into a truly collaborative project working environment? It’s a question that bears a lot of consideration since the roles and disciplines that are at play on any project are diverse and highly specialized – each with its own dialect, toolset, and key deliverables. Each sees the world in their own way; but are nevertheless completely dependent on each other to achieve a successful project outcome. Project management must do more than simply coexist with procurement and project controls – and vice versa. They all have a vital role to play. They have key information inputs and outputs that can make or break a construction project. They need a very high bandwidth of collaboration to get things done.
Some organizations opt for grouping specializations together in their own silos; thinking that like-minds will work effectively together. Project Schedulers can be in an entirely different building than the procurement team or the cost engineers. The communication mechanisms used between them will be emails and spreadsheets passed back and forth with an expectation that the other side will understand the significance of the details contained. Although this is not ideal, this isn’t that uncommon since projects can be global, teams can be virtual, and the knowledgebase so specialized in each discipline. It would be nice if all disciplines of a construction project team could sit in the same room and live & breathe each other’s world – but that’s just not realistic.
Faced with these constraints, organizations are looking more and more to systems that support a more collaborative environment within the project. These systems provide the information flow and workflow that connects the project together in a single place. Rather than taking on single-point solutions that solve the software needs of one group at a time, they’re looking at technology that bridges the teams together so that the efforts of one person (or group) are immediately visible to all the others on the team. This embedded information flow can make a huge difference in how projects are run. Collaboration is intrinsically entrenched in every activity of every person on every day. It takes away the need for anyone to remember to collaborate and share their work: “Oh ya, I guess I should have sent that report to the project controls guys last week – whoops!”
The other advantage to construction project management software that embeds collaboration; is that reports can easily draw from multiple points and deliver a broader view of a project’s status, health and progress. Thus eliminating a person from having to manually stitch together input reports that make-up the bigger-view reports.
Now having said all that, it’s been said that Collaboration is a “Social Activity” rather than something that’s embedded into the software that you use. While this is true – and nothing beats being together in the same room to share knowledge, experience and perspective – the complexities of our organizations and global projects limits the in-person collaboration that we desire. If you’re lucky enough to have both the interpersonal collaboration along with the system-support project collaboration, you’re likely on the best track of all.