Words: Vanessa Salvia
Think back to your high-school jobs and the types of managers you had. Were any of them good examples of managers? Maybe, maybe not. If your manager was also a similar age as you, they might have thought they were being good managers by letting everyone take twice as long breaks and smoke behind the dumpsters. Or, maybe you had a manager who didn’t manage very well and everyone ended up working late most of the time. Or, maybe you got lucky and had a manager who actually understood that there were management techniques that worked and management techniques that didn’t. Today, we’re looking at different management techniques: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The construction manager’s job is to manage the work process to avoid delays, budget overages, and wasted material. They also have to manage the people, so that workers get the breaks they need, are working with safe, functional equipment, and know what they’re supposed to be doing. Workers that aren’t managed can result in delays (that cost money), poor material handling (that costs money), and higher insurance costs due to damaged material (that costs money in multiple ways). So even though a manager costs money, they have multiple ways to save the company money.
Bad & Ugly Management Techniques
Before we get into good construction management techniques, here are a few bad and ugly construction management techniques.
- Being critical but not offering solutions
- Not anticipating problems, or not planning for a solution to a problem when one comes up
- Poor time management
- Disorganized — can’t find papers, instructions, contact info, tools, etc.
- Introduces a lot of change orders
- Doesn’t track the project’s progress
- Poor time estimation
- Lack of safety training
- Lack of detailed project plans
- Doesn’t display empathy for their team
I’m sure we can all think back to managers we’ve had who displayed some, most, or even all of these poor management techniques. Think of a manager who barked “Get back to work” the last time they saw you taking an unscheduled break. A good manager would ask, “Is everything ok?” A project management school polled 425 participants who reported schedule delays, a demotivated team, a bad reputation, project cost overruns, and long-term risk to the company due to failing projects as the most common issues. Now, what are the good construction management techniques that can avoid these?
Good Construction Management Techniques
- Keep Planning
No plan is “one and done.” There needs to be room for adjustments at each step of the way. You have to plan for things you can’t plan for — employees being out sick (especially in this age of COVID), lack of material availability, weather, etc. Create a plan and a master schedule that suits the project, with built-in buffers for unexpected things along the way. If you end up ahead of schedule thanks to the buffers you built in not being needed, so much the better.
While good advance planning during the design and pre-construction stages of a construction project can help prevent extensive changes later on, there are still revisions that may need to take place. Even slight adjustments can have a big effect as the project goes on.
- Manage Resources
In construction, you’re not just managing the construction schedule. You’re also managing your team of people doing the actual work, the equipment, the materials, and the money. Come up with a plan or identify products (apps, spreadsheet program, whatever) to track equipment and materials. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of choosing a solution such as an app or a program is actually using it.
Communication is among the most important facets of good construction management techniques. Train your team so they have the skills and knowledge to own their tasks. Train them to communicate with you about anything that comes up — and when they do, help them come up with a solution. Come up with a plan to communicate effectively with the project’s stakeholders as well. When communication is proactive, you’ll be getting less phone calls and emails.
If it is important that you keep stakeholders informed, create a stakeholders group meeting schedule. Meet for coffee once a month or more, or set up a Zoom call so that no one has to leave their house, and discuss any relevant aspect of how the project is progressing.
- Embrace Cloud Systems
Construction projects come along with a massive mountain of paperwork. Dealing with all of it can take a lot of precious time. Construction software has been developed just to deal with this headache. You’ll need a documentation method like an app or some sort of construction software that supports cloud documentation so that you can have access to all documentation and resources that you need whenever someone asks. There are many tools available that track many aspects of construction in real time, which eliminates gaps in communication and makes collaboration easier. These tools can also allow you to pull custom progress reports on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
There’s no need to send out an email about every update, or make a phone call every time you have a question. If you’re using a real-time tool, then you can often track and predict issues before they occur. This makes your onsite time more effective. All of that makes your job easier and more dynamic — when tracking is done automatically, your management job can focus on what actually needs to be managed rather than spending your time tracking and following up.
- Find A Way To Motivate Your Team
A motivated team has an incentive to work harder, problem solve and support each other than an unmotivated team. Motivation comes in many forms. A recent talk at ConExpo-ConAgg discussed the concept of gamification in the construction industry. The most rewarding video games to play provide a constant stream of feedback, in the form of noise, lights, action, and causes and effects. Consider implementing something similar to motivate your team. The most rewarding video games are also competitive in some way.
Individual and team-based scorecards that people see at the start of each day, for instance, might be one way to introduce a competitive element to your crew. If you’re trying to introduce a new system or new process, update the scorecard each time someone accessed the new system or followed the new process. Reward employees when they successfully use a new feature on a new piece of equipment.
ConExpo-ConAgg gave the example of a company that gamified the results of their safe work practices and saw that safe work practices increased by 49% and workplace incidents were reduced by 31%. The ultimate goal is to provide a way for each individual on your team to compare themselves to others and be proud of what they see.
Good managers are good leaders. They spend time developing their team to be sure their team has the skills they need to succeed. Good construction managers build in success by using tools and planning to keep themselves and everyone on track. But beyond that, good managers are also honest, understand the emotions of others, and have integrity in their personal relationships. No matter how you approach managing your team or what planning process you use, the goal should be to work as a team, which requires communication, collaboration, and developing good relationships.