The Challenges Presented by Current Practices
And what the pundits think
“The scale, ambition and complexity of today’s engineering and construction projects are nothing short of breathtaking”
Geno Armstrong and Clay Gilge KPMG in the USA.
KPMG’s Global Construction Survey of 2016 (from which the above quotation is taken) is the construction industry’s most comprehensive and recent review. To paraphrase its message, the construction industry is constantly widening its vision and raising its game as buildings get taller, bridge spans get longer and ventures grow ever more complex. Yet, according to KPMG, despite substantial investments in innovation, the construction industry struggles to reap the full benefits of advanced data and analytical technology when compared to other large-scale industries.
The industry's reluctance to adopt and adapt to innovation brings with it its own issues, predominantly the very management of information itself. More specifically, the problem with the lack of information required for efficient and effective decision making.
The early detection of actual or potential 'as-planned' impacts on construction activities is key to detecting risk. To achieve this, project managers are obliged to adopt a systematic approach to progress monitoring, one that promptly identifies and communicates discrepancies between 'as-built' and ‘as-planned’ performances.
The key ingredients for the successful detection of discrepancies are:
• the systematic collection of accurate progress data
• the ability to rigorous compare the ‘as-planned’ activities to the ‘as-built’ progress
• the effective communication of deviations to decision makers
Armed with these, effective and impact-free project management should be achievable. That’s the theory anyway. In practice, many challenges remain to undermine management’s ability to achieve this goal, in particular one indefatigable issue ; progress monitoring has remained largely unchanged by technology and innovation.
So, why is this? Maybe the answer is is with the challenges presented by current practices and the industry's continued reluctance with innovation:
Current progress monitoring is time-consuming and labour-intensive.
Accurate reporting requires large teams of analysts; as a consequence, reports are often created as complex, time-consuming spreadsheets which are generally out of date before they are of real use. This makes the early detection of potential impacts difficult as there is no up-to-the-minute information available upon which to take timely remedial action.
Reports are often disparate.
Field auditors usually collect progress data at certain time intervals, which is delivered to project managers in different formats; spreadsheets, bar charts, CPM, weekly progress reports, progress graphs, even site photographs and videos. Disparate reporting of this nature does not herald potential problems in a timely manner, as a significant amount of time and effort is required to interpret and prioritize the data supplied to them.
Manually collected and extracted progress data may be of poor quality.
The quality of manually acquired field progress data is dependent upon what data the auditors are physically able to measure on the day. As this data may not be fit for purpose, reports may include manipulated numbers. It follows therefore, that report data can be fragmented, inaccurate or just downright wrong, coming from too many sources. As a consequence, data is required to fit the report not the other way around, thereby becoming standardized and not always showing what is required for effective decision making.
Existing methods of measuring progress are non-systematic and metrics are subjective.
Accurate measurement of progress performance usually poses the most difficult data gathering problem of all as there may be a tendency to let progress data serve as proxy measures for future decisions.
For example, a concrete subcontractor reports they have completed 45% of the required work. This could mean any of the following:
• 45% of the 'as planned' quantity of concrete is poured
• 45% of the 'as planned' concrete bulk has been consumed
• 45% of the 'as planned' labour hours have expired
• 45% of the 'as planned' activity complete
(Note: none of the above refers to 45% of 'as built', which is the de facto bought ledger position that only accurate progress monitoring can verify)
Progress monitoring reports are visually complex
Decisions for corrective actions and 'as planned' revisions happen in progress meetings. A range of individuals with differing areas of expertise and interests attend these meetings for face-to-face interactions. During these meetings, progress information needs to be easily and quickly communicated among the participants. However, due to the diversity of different data formats, an inordinate amount of valuable time needs to be invested to fully understanding the progress position rather than the time allocated to detecting and fixing the potential impacts.
Budget-based monitoring dilemma
Based on the percentage of the budget paid to contractors, according to schedule-based inspections, this method of monitoring creates risk by introducing a time-lag between initial progress estimations and final schedule updates. Add to this, judgments are often subjective and misleading. As a consequence, mistakes such as over paying and the overlooking of an expected delay are eventualities,
(Risk .vs. Technology)
Given these challenges, the construction industry continues to struggle with the introduction of innovative technology
“When it comes to adopting technologies, conservatism within the industry remains, with most companies happy to follow rather than lead. Many senior executives are worried about their organizations’ ability to integrate disparate technologies, along with the costs and the subsequent impact upon the bottom line.”
In the words of another engineering and construction leader (unnamed by KPMG)
“If we can see an immediate cost benefit to our clients, we’ll implement, and if not, it will remain on the shelf for someone else to experiment. We are all about proven solutions and quite frankly, don’t have the profit margins to experiment or be on the leading-edge.”
Another peer (also unnamed) voices a similar opinion:
“We know technology and innovation is important, and we require strict use of return on investment (ROI) for any related investment. To date, however, very few initiatives have an ROI or fulfill an immediate client need, and therefore don’t get funded.”