How we used Digital Transformation to improve construction projects

Last year, I helped a construction company improve the efficiency of their projects, and their IT team become a true business partner. The company does a broad range of construction projects, from roadwork to office buildings, hospitals, museums, and much more. In this complex organisation, the IT team wanted to raise the value of their services. They asked me to help them achieve this.

To start, we invited two project managers to a workshop to identify ways IT could be more valuable to them. Our original intent had been to focus on the availability of IT information. But as the discussion continued, their greater challenge became visible. Construction projects have many contributing teams. They all used different systems, and communication usually happened via email. This fragmented way-of-working made needs and expectations unclear, and keeping track of things was very time-consuming. We saw an opportunity to improve this situation.

The company's onboarding process was already centralized in the central service platform (TOPDesk). When a new employee joins the company, HR fills in a single form with the necessary information. The system then sends the necessary tasks and information to the right people. This automated much of the process, and HR could see the status of each task at a glance. The same setup could be applied to the project initiation process. The different teams (health & safety, logistics, finance...) were interviewed about their information needs and dependencies. Based on these we build a comprehensive form, and set up the end-to-end flow. Moreover, our efforts revealed several more opportunities to further improve cross-team collaboration and efficiency. We also improved the lifecycle and format of IT information, making it easier to find and use. Some tweaking and training later, the teams enthusiastically adopted the new way-of-working. What were the results?

First of all, project startup became much more transparent and efficient. Communication became more structured, and information centralized. The needs and responsibilities of each team are clear, and it's much easier for PM's to track progress. Second, we improved the profile of the IT team as a value enabler and business partner. Third, we raised awareness of the practical value of dedicated process management and digital transformation. Once we identified the opportunity, the project was pretty straightforward. Yet the value it delivered was significant. And all because we took the time to step back and look at what we do, and how we do it. For many people, this feels like something that distracts from the real work. Even when they think they should, there never seems to be enough time for it.

But process management isn't about making charts and enforcing compliance. It's about making what's in people's heads visible and reusable. It's about identifying assumptions and useful experience. Simply bringing the two project managers together on a common topic yielded valuable insights and practical improvements. Lack of clarity is the biggest bottleneck of productivity and efficiency. It creates confusion and frustration, and prevents people from building on each other’s' experience. But a small effort and a few good practices can make all the difference.

23 December 2023

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