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10 Steps for Selecting & Implementing Technology in Construction

It was 6 am, and I was in Pittsburg, on my way to conduct a training session for a roofing company that was one of our early beta clients. I had spent the previous months writing code and incorporating their feedback on their pain points.
This was to be our first “real” deployment, and I felt confident that we had done everything possible to prepare. Boy was I wrong….

The first step in our training was to install the Harness web app on everyone’s smartphone or tablet. I had prepared a list of written instructions and also had slides projected on the wall.
The first instruction was “Open Your Web Browser.”

The response came almost immediately…

“What the f!$k is a web browser?”

I had to rethink my whole game plan.

Construction: The Last Frontier Of Technology

Construction workers are a special breed. I mean that in the best way possible. These are the guys that build the roofs over our heads and giant skyscrapers that define our cities; they are incredibly talented.

They’re great at taking ideas from drawings and blueprints and turning them into reality. But when it comes to technology that most of us view as commonplace – smartphones, apps, computers – these mighty workers often struggle.

Lawyers, doctors, truck drivers, and restaurant workers are all using apps to help them with their daily work. These apps solve critical operational problems, such as sharing documents, promoting communication, and billing customers, yet penetration rates of these solutions in construction, lag far behind.

Recent studies have shown that unlike other industries, productivity has not improved over time in construction. In fact, it may actually cost more and take longer to complete a project today than it did twenty years ago.

How Worker Age and Culture Sets Construction Behind

Age is certainly a factor. Older workers began their careers before cellphones were in everyone’s pockets. They didn’t grow up surfing the web and touching screens like Millennials and Gen Z do.

Plans, work orders, and schedules are printed out, and there is likely a clipboard for every foreman. They like it that way because “that’s the way they’ve always done it.”

These workers still dominate the industry, which means lots of processes that should have evolved have stayed the same to accommodate their resistance to change.

But that won’t last forever. In fact, as the baby boomers are now reaching retirement, they’re beginning to leave the workforce in droves. The construction industry is now facing a shortage of skilled workers, and companies don’t have the luxury of taking a wait-and-see stance.

This is especially true when you consider that it takes eight to twelve years for a worker to acquire the skills and knowledge of a trade professional.

Obviously, these workers need to be replaced with new, younger employees.

It’s become quite clear that the younger generations are looking for ways to work smarter, not harder, and therefore aren’t attracted to the construction trades’ paper-centric processes.

They’re expecting to use technology to perform their daily work. That’s a big problem for firms that don’t embrace change now, making it impossible for them to recruit and retain workers.

Employee Efficiency in Tools vs. Tech

As the materials, techniques, and tools they use on the job have advanced, construction workers have adjusted very well because they can see the benefits for themselves. Why use an old-fashioned hammer when you could use a sleek nail gun and get your work done faster?

Some companies have pushed back on the technology resistance and moved forward with new processes. They have found that even older workers are able to adapt to change if they understand why it’s necessary and how it can make their job easier.

Although, it is a tougher sell when it comes to technology like smartphones and tablets because they don’t appear to impact their actual work as much. But they can.

There are amazing apps in the marketplace that enable better daily production reporting, time tracking, safety, and material ordering.

10 Steps To Overcome Construction Industry Challenges

As we’ve discussed, technology is the key to addressing challenges in the construction industry. Labor shortages, more competition, and increasing costs for materials mean that companies MUST look for solutions in order to stay in business. Here is how to find the right ones for your company.

1) Set Your Priorities. Keep it Simple

When you start out, you may be tempted to dive in and try to tackle all the challenges your company faces, but that may be overwhelming, and you have a high chance of failure if you take on too much.

Instead, make a list of priorities and choose one or two items. Those could be the simplest issues to fix or the most impactful. It’s up to you.

2) Make a Map of the Status Quo

Whatever the process you’d like to change, you need to know where your current gaps are. Creating a visual map is a great way to do this.

Get together with your team and create a swimlane document. Make sure to thoroughly document what the current process is and who it affects.

3) Draw The Best Case Scenario

Use your process map and identify improvements that could be made. Do this WITHOUT considering a change in the method.

For example, if your time tracking process is done on paper but it’s touching more people than it needs to, consider removing those extra steps before changing the technology involved.

Often companies can find efficiency gains simply through this examination. Make a new map to reflect any changes made.

4) List Your Requirements

This is an important step and when companies don’t spend an appropriate amount of time to do it, they can run into problems later on when evaluating or implementing solutions.

An example of a requirement could be “The ability to show us a dashboard of safety issues by type and crew.”

The goal here is to be able to clearly identify if a particular solution will work for you. Breaking this list into ‘Must Haves’ and ‘Wish List’ can help determine the best solution down the road.

Obviously, we want to choose the solution that satisfies all our must-have requirements and as many from the wish list as possible.

5) Know How to Measure Success

Imagine where you’d like to be a year after implementing a new solution. What are the metrics you can use to determine if you’ve been successful? Is it hours saved, costs reduced, people hired?

Make some goals for these items. If possible, collect your existing data / averages, to generate a baseline of where you are now. This will come in handy a year from now as a reminder of how far you have come.

6) Evaluate Your Options. Also called “Due Diligence”

This is the fun part. Look for companies that are providing solutions for your particular issue. You can Google search, talk to other contractors, or make some time to attend industry events like trade shows and conferences.

Arrange demos of various solutions and ask yourself, “Does this solution satisfy my requirements?” You might even create an evaluation checklist so that you don’t forget anything.

You’ll also want to assess the company providing the solution by getting satisfactory answers to questions such as:

  • “Do you provide implementation support along with your solution?”
  • “How much customization are we able to make? Is there any cost to that?”
  • “Do you have any successful case studies in our industry? Can you provide client references?”
  • “What level of ongoing support do you provide?”

Remember to check those references and ask about the experience of working with the company and its solution.

7) Get Your Team Involved Early

When looking at solutions that affect field workers, having some of them participate in all of these phases is a necessity. Too often, field workers are the last to be included in the process and you run a risk of pushback and failure if they’re not engaged early.

No one wants to be simply told they must do something a certain way. By including field staff in the process, and giving them a say in the outcome, your project is more likely to succeed.

8) Implement In Stages

Changing how things are done is hard. Especially when it comes to long-standing processes and the nature of the construction workforce as we discussed earlier. So make things a little easier and use a phased approach when implementing your new solutions.

Rather than have workers immediately adopt every feature of a particular solution, have them begin with the easiest or most impactful. Once everyone is comfortable, introduce the next feature and so on.

9) Don’t Just Train. Explain

At Harness, we spend the first few minutes of every onsite training session explaining why the company has chosen our solution and what they hope to gain.

We also highlight how the field workers’ lives are going to get easier/better with this new solution in place. We acknowledge the difficulties of doing something new but stress that learning to use software is just like learning to use a new tool; it just takes a little time and practice.

You’ll almost always have a few doubters in the room, but that’s where engaging your team early is helpful. You’ll likely already have a few people convinced it works, and they can help address any concerns from their doubting colleagues.

10) Monitor Your Company’s Progress

Maintain regular contact with field staff during the implementation phase, and use their feedback to make any changes or address any issues that you didn’t foresee.

Once things are chugging along nicely, use those metrics that you identified previously to see how your company is doing.

Share the results with the rest of your team and celebrate any successes, no matter how small. Doing this tends to open peoples’ eyes to the power of change and will help you on future projects.

Technology Can Help Your Company If You Embrace It Properly

There’s a lot of urgent business issues that can be solved with technology. Your company will be leaner, more efficient, safer, and in many cases enjoy increased profits and retention.

But not following best practices when implementing solutions can be perilous. The good news is, now you know how to plan for change, search for the right solution, and launch it successfully!

The experience I gained in some of those initial training sessions really opened my eyes in terms of how our potential users viewed technology.

I started to examine my assumptions about how “easy” I thought I’d made things. We actually rewrote all our training materials to include illustrations, and video explanations so that even guys that would ask “What the F!$k is a web browser?” could follow them.

You should be convinced by now that technology is the way to go, which means the next challenge you’ll likely face is making your case to upper management.

Luckily for you, we have an article that covers exactly how to do that. Click the button below to learn four ways to make your technology implementation pitch rock solid.

By Tom Whitaker

Tom Whitaker is the Founder & CEO of Harness Software. He is passionate about the convergence of construction and technology. Particularly when it comes to safety on the job site. Tom is a father of three boys and lives near Toronto, Canada.