Why You Should Ask Your Contractor What Project Management Tool They Use

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Software Advice Contributor

There are many different criteria you can use to vet a contractor for a project, such as asking for customer references and checking their history with the Better Business Bureau. However, there’s another (oft-overlooked) measure you can use: asking contractors what type of construction project management tool they use.

Why? Research suggests that construction-specific project management software helps contractors complete jobs on time more frequently than those who don’t use it.

According to Software Advice’s 2013 report on the effectiveness of different types of construction project software, 94 percent of contractors use some type of software—custom-built, general project management or construction-specific—to manage projects.

Of these contractors, those who use construction-specific project management software are 1.5 times more likely to report that they almost always complete projects ahead of schedule than those that use general project management software. They’re also five times more likely to report that they almost always finish projects early than those using custom-built project management software.

Construction-specific project management software offers a number of beneficial features to help contractors execute projects more efficiently. Here, we highlight the most helpful ones and identify how they help streamline the entire process and improve communication with clients and contractors so construction and remodeling projects proceed smoothly and on-time.

Budgeting and Estimating Tools Show Complete Financials

Erik Cofield, vice president of sales and marketing for Co-construct home builder software, says that many contractors do their budgeting and estimating using Excel. “But without a construction project management software tool, there’s no way to tie the budget into the rest of the project for the client,” he says. “All there is to show the client from a budget perspective is a constantly changing spreadsheet.”

With construction project management software, however, the budget is integrated with every other aspect of the project.

“Such a tool allows customers to see where the project stands financially at any given time,” says Dan Houghton, executive vice president of sales for BuilderTREND. “Contractors can load budgeting and estimating data from Excel directly into the software, which includes templates so they don’t have to continually reinvent the wheel.”

Selection Sheet Enables Collaboration to Stay on Budget

According to Cofield, managing all of the details of a project is one of the biggest challenges for clients and contractors working together on custom construction and remodeling jobs.

“There are so many nuances and details on custom jobs—from the styles of cabinet hardware and faucet handles to which way the doors leading into the kitchen swing,” he explains. “The selection sheet is a critical component in construction project management software for keeping all of these details straight.”

The selection sheet is more than just a laundry list. In many construction project management systems, the selection sheet feature lists all project items (such as countertops and fixtures) along with the specific size, color, texture, etc. of each and the price. Any changes made to these selection items or specifications that are added automatically updates the project budget.

Clients can use this tool to request and approve choices, and allowance overages can be tracked as they occur and assigned to change orders as needed. “It’s an interactive tool for collaboration between the contractor, suppliers, vendors and the client,” Cofield says. “This tool helps keep everyone on the same page, which helps keep the project on budget.”

In Co-construct, both the budget and selection sheet can be created simultaneously by copying the selections template to each project. “These are two huge tasks that can be accomplished with one simple step,” Cofield explains.

Co-construct’s selections summary and budget feature

Co-construct’s selections summary and budget feature

Change Orders and Expense Tracking Give Clients Cost Control

The process of handling change orders and tracking expenses can be extremely cumbersome when handled manually “and sometimes spins out of control,” says Houghton. “Construction project management software provides the most effective way for contractors to develop and deliver change orders to clients, and for clients to exert some control over how changes affect the final cost of the overall project.”

In Co-construct, clients can click on specific change orders to view them in detail and then approve or disapprove them. “Then the client will see a real-time, bottom-line tally, which helps ensure that there are no unpleasant surprises for them at the end of the job,” says Cofield.

Similarly, with BuilderTREND, the client receives a notification to review a change order and can either approve or decline it. “The running total cost of the project is then updated based on the change order,” explains Houghton.

BuilderTREND’s change orders feature

BuilderTREND’s change orders feature

Project Scheduling Calendar Keeps Clients Up-to-Date

Scheduling changes are an unfortunate reality for most projects and can prove extremely frustrating for clients. For this reason, a project scheduling calendar is a key component of most construction project management software systems. This component allows contractors to share the entire project schedule with clients so they can stay abreast of when specific aspects of the project should (and have been) completed and how schedule adjustments will affect the final completion date.

BuilderTREND, for example, includes color-coded project schedule templates that make it easy for clients to track the progress of a job in as much (or as little) detail as they like. “Clients can view the schedule in a variety of different ways: by calendar or list, for example, or in a Gantt chart,” says Houghton. A Gantt chart is a type of bar chart that illustrates the breakdown of the start and end times of different elements within a project.

BuilderTREND’s project scheduling tool

The Gantt chart view in BuilderTREND’s project scheduling tool

“Using the scheduling component of a construction project management tool greatly simplifies the entire scheduling process,” says Cofield. “It provides the client with accurate, up-to-the-minute information so that better decisions can be made on a real-time basis. For example, clients are automatically alerted to revised selection decision deadlines so this isn’t something that catches them off guard.”

Progress Photo Archive Provides Visual Documentation

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, the progress photos archive is one of the most popular features of construction project management software. Daniel Cohen, the director of marketing at Procore, says that three of the most critical features of a progress photo archive are the ability to store an unlimited number of digital photos, access them online and automatically back them up. This allows clients to keep up to date with the latest status of their project and see progress throughout the lifecycle of the project.

“Photo documentation is a critical part of construction management software—it’s not something that should be reduced to an arbitrary storage limit,” he explains. “And all project photos should be automatically backed up on multiple server hard drives.”

Procore keeps multiple copies of every photo on multiple servers, which are stored in different geographic locations. The software also enables photos to be uploaded into the system in several ways, including directly from a mobile device such as an iPhone or iPad.

Procore Photo Archive

Procore’s photo archive feature

With Co-construct, contractors can upload batches of photos from their phone without having to log into the software, which enables clients to see them sooner. “And, of course, clients can share project photos on their Facebook pages,” Cofield adds, “which is a very popular activity now.”

Project Document Storage Enables Access to Important Files

Having the ability to easily view important project documents is another beneficial aspect of construction project management software. All essential documents are safely filed away and can be quickly pulled if needed.

“Everything that’s in the physical project binder can be stored in one central location in the software so that it’s easily accessible by everyone,” says Houghton. “This includes contracts, spec sheets, blueprints and any other type of paper file or document associated with the project.”

“Important project documents shouldn't be kept on individual computers, laptops or other devices,” adds Cohen. “A software program’s document storage component provides robust and sophisticated document archiving and management capabilities to keep them safe and secure with multiple back-ups and SSL 128-bit security.”

Procore logs every action taken within the document management tool and features automatic revision control so that only the most current version of every document is opened, while also storing every past iteration of each document. “This enables you to see a complete history of every document in the archive at any time,” says Cohen.

Ask the Question

Selecting a contractor for your next project is no easy task. However, asking potential candidates what construction project management software they use can simplify this process considerably. Features such as a budgeting and estimating tool, selection sheet, expense tracking, scheduling component and photo and document storage help contractors manage projects from start to finish more effectively.

Choosing a contractor who uses construction specific project management software increases the likelihood that they’ll complete the project on time, within budget and to your satisfaction while keeping you in the loop throughout the entire process.

Thumbnail image provided by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

 
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