Real-time records prove value for Surat North project team

CPB Contractors’ work on the QCLNG Surat North Project involved the delivery of critical gas infrastructure by an experienced team with a long-standing history of supporting Shell QGC.

Envision was the primary reference for project data and progress information since the project’s inception in 2015.

On a daily basis, team members used Envision’s mobile and web platform to capture information, creating a real-time record of project data.

As the project’s single information source, leaders and managers referenced the same portal to drive decisions and client reporting, seeing benefits such as:

  • Fast-tracked weekly reports
  • A stronger foundation for forecasting
  • Improved project conversations
  • Clear line-of-sight regarding earned progress
  • Greater critical path visibility

While recording progress was the core desired function, over time, the team introduced features such as dockets for processing claims, roster and flight management, and monthly cost reconciliations – each time reducing administration burdens and streamlining project management.

Click here to read the full case study on the project that we’ve recently launched.

Digital construction technologies – what it takes to succeed

I was delighted to be invited by Aconex to share at the recent 2017 Construction Technology Summit as part of the panel on ‘Best practices in successfully introducing digital construction technologies’.

For a very well attended event, it was exciting to see the changes in play across the industry, and the desire from owners to contractors to consultants to software vendors around tackling the lagging digital technology adoption challenges of the sector. There’s no question that productivity gains are still hampered by a reluctance to change, as shown by McKinsey in one of their 2016 articles.

With these findings in mind, it’s no wonder I most connected with speakers who shared on how to best digitise the construction industry. While there is a lot of talk at the moment about AI, and how to leverage it to drive better outcomes on projects, as Andrew Newsome from Boston Consulting Group pointed out, without (digital) data, AI doesn’t work. The sector’s future is in better capturing digital and structured data, in part so it can leverage these other technologies.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, so here are three takeaways I particularly valued from Andrew Newsome, Kate Nelson (Head of Business Technology & Innovation, LendLease) and Ken Panitz (Principal Methods & Lean, EIC Activities).

1. Projects are good at avoiding new initiatives

Andrew talked about the fact that project and construction managers have numerous challenges on their to-do lists and are focused on delivering their projects. As he suggested, when you consider that a construction project may have a duration of as little as two years, it’s not long enough to generate a strong return on investment from new initiatives…certainly not on its own.

If you want a project to support new initiatives, Andrew’s advice was to:

  • Ensure the initiative is a priority at the highest levels of the company and project org charts
  • Allocate dedicated project resources to support and drive the new initiative

I touched on this in my panel session and discussion with Emma Shipley (CFO, Roberts Pizzarotti). In my experience, the best project outcomes for a new initiative come when there is engagement at both a corporate and project level – in contributing resources and guiding the direction of an initiative. It is critical to truly understand what’s going to make a difference at the coal face for a project when you’re setting up an initiative. At the other end, you need to ensure corporate goals are incorporated so value is generated not only at the project level, but also the corporate level.

2. The right people are essential to supporting change

Having the right people involved in a project can make the difference between success and failure. Kate Nelson summed it up when she spoke of the triple threat, below. These are definitely attributes I seek in the people I try to involve in digital initiatives on projects. As Kate put it, the triple threat is:

  1. Understanding how to use technology: this is self explanatory and essential to being able to evangelise and influence others to adopt new tech.
  2. Understanding engineering: if you’ve walked in the shoes of various key roles on engineering projects, and truly understand their pain and drivers, and can communicate and relate technology as it matters to them on a practical level, you’ve won half the battle. This is much more powerful than just taking someone a piece of tech and showing them how to use it. The value is in helping users know how to apply that tech to benefit their everyday work.
  3. Being an influencer (change agent) with strong IQ and EQ: we often refer to this as winning the hearts and minds of people on a project, meeting people where they are at and inspiring them to buy into the vision of the new initiative you’re introducing. That’s when they are more likely to champion it and become change agents themselves.

3. You need a strategy to speed up digitisation

Ken is championing digital disruption in construction through his role at EIC Activities. He made the point that there is no longer a single application that rules. The future is around flexibility, best of breed applications and the need for easy integration. He went as far as to say he won’t consider a solution without it first having an API. His message to software companies was, “build your API first…don’t have it as an item on your roadmap that’s coming soon”. Ken also shared how, at CIMIC, they are fostering innovation through a strategy of lowering requirements to trying new ideas; embracing that failure is okay; and limiting the investment and time to quickly show potential or fail fast. This is certainly a different approach to traditional big business cases and bureaucratic processes by being much more agile.

Our team’s recent work on the APLNG project with CPB Contractors underscores the importance of these considerations. The project team ultimately transitioned from having 600 paper dockets per day to 95% of those being electronically submitted. We worked with project leaders to address hurdles, like getting individuals to use a mobile device for project processes, getting subcontractors to let go of paper dockets, and getting engineers, supervisors and leading hands to adopt an unfamiliar digital process. We took learnings from a trial roll-out to streamline training and team engagement and it has ultimately been a huge success. Among a range of factors, I really saw the importance of:

  • Strong engagement from project leaders
  • Responsible champions with success linked to their KPIs
  • Consistent and ongoing communication with staff and subcontractors through the change.

In closing, there are learnings already available in the Australian construction sector when it comes to introducing new tech. For project leaders, seek software partners who have been there before and don’t be afraid to ask them for their learnings as well as successes to give you a running start.

Electronic docket solution supports project step-change

Origin’s APLNG Collaborative Well Delivery program is led by CPB Contractors. Their team of more than 1,000 gas gathering delivery experts are working across four gas fields to bring wells online faster than ever before.

The program features more than 20 individual jobs, ranging from $2 million to $90 million each and, after four successful years of program delivery, the team introduced Envision to help reach their next level of improvement.

Envision has been the central source of project data since 2016 and was the force behind the creation of an electronic timesheet feature that eliminated thousands of handwritten dockets. The solution ultimately fast-tracked timesheet entry by five days, creating unmatched currency in project records.

In the past 12 months alone, Envision has supported:

  • 13,600 photos and 4,800 user comments
  • 9,500 progress and 346,000 cost entries
  • 203,000 electronic subcontractor dockets

Other key advantages to date include:

  • Enabling real-time schedule management and remote monitoring linked to P6
  • Refocusing supervisor time for better in-field planning performance
  • Improving end-of-month reporting
  • Empowering fast visibility of potential issues

A full case study on the project has just been launched and is available here.

Three opportunities unlocked by real-time data

At the recent Project Controls Conference, held in Sydney, I spoke on advancing real-time field capture and reporting.

With the pervasiveness of smart-phone technology, now, more than ever, project leaders can better tackle productivity issues while improving cost and progress management. However, this relies on a project’s ability to gather information from, and disseminate information to, its workforce – rapidly and simply. When this happens, real-time reporting can be unlocked, providing continuous insight into the health of a project and empowering better decisions.

What’s interesting is that the construction industry globally has suffered from static or declining productivity in many areas and is one of the lowest technology adopters. For an industry that needs a step-change, the good news is the technology is available to make that possible.

Why real-time

The construction industry is no stranger to the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle. It’s fundamental to many process and business improvement approaches. However, with some exceptions, the construction industry hasn’t applied the PDCA cycle to improve reporting – certainly not to the extent possible.

If you look at the software industry, the technique of continuous delivery (their PDCA) focuses on reducing the time and risk of software releases. Amazon deploys new software changes every 11.6 seconds! The likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter release production changes at least on a hourly basis. Benefits include faster speed to market, lower risk (and stress) and faster customer feedback. It also drives a culture of small, incremental changes.

In contrast, the nature of project end-of-month reporting is such that the construction industry is doing the equivalent, in general, every four to six weeks!

Three areas of opportunity

There are three main areas of opportunity:

  • Mobile data capture
  • Data integration
  • Automated reporting

Benefits of mobile data capture

Key benefits of mobile data capture – for everything from attendance to site diaries to dockets to progress and quantity data to photos and comments to Events (delays) – include:

  • Capturing quality data at the source
  • Gaining geo-located and time-stamped data
  • Having information that’s linked to an author for better accountability and verifications

Benefits of data integration

When it comes to data integration, the value amplifies, creating value by:

  • Enabling the efficient reuse of data, without recreation from engineer to engineer
  • Building a single source of truth so project metrics are consistently applied
  • Providing continuous validation to ensure decisions are made on the most robust data
  • Limiting double-handling to free up team members so they can add value elsewhere

Benefits of automated reporting

When you’re capturing data via mobiles, and building that into an integrated, single-point system, you can position a project to achieve automated reporting. The value is fairly obvious but key benefits include:

  • Enabling fast feedback about the health of a project
  • Catching issues before they become costly
  • Confirming the effect of changes (positive and negative) on production rates.

Real-time field capture is the foundation to real-time reporting. With the right technology, it’s made possible by building in smarter reporting cycles that use small daily updates, feeding into larger weekly updates, feeding into the industry stalwart of monthly updates.

The value is clear. The technology is available. Real-time data management and reporting is the way of the future.

Is the construction foreman’s paper diary dead?

Based on projects I’ve been involved with, I’d say the answer to whether the construction foreman’s paper diary is dead, is a resounding…no.

While we’re seeing a growing trend in the desire for electronic diaries and digital workflows, the default is still typically a paper-based system – unless a project’s leaders drive digital. Research conducted by McKinsey suggests the construction industry is second lowest only to agriculture and hunting when it comes to digital uptake.

What’s the purpose of the foreman’s diary?

In Australia alone, the value of avoidable waste from disputes in the construction industry tops $7 billion (see this CRCCI study). That’s an insane figure considering the massive push for efficiencies. One of the keys to avoiding disputes is early notification of issues that may lead to time and cost impacts (see this analysis).

Here enters the foreman’s diary. It’s a key source of what’s happening at the workface and a powerful communication tool for raising issues with project leaders via engineers and project managers who read these records daily.

The foreman’s diary is also a critical tool in the unfortunate circumstance a claim moves into a dispute. That’s because it’s a record of what has happened from the perspective of the client, contractor and subcontractor – recording key facts such as resources on site for the day, work performed, performance observations, key issues and delays, directions given, weather etc. These records support a court assessment regarding the amount that should be paid by one party to another for work delivered.

Why transition to digital?

1. Faster communication and easier search capability

Digital records are available and searchable as soon as they are created. Rather than wait to the end of a day, or the next shift, for a manual, paper report, everything from Events to photos to progress updates are available immediately. This improves communication between a team, enabling earlier identification of issues and faster mitigation…reducing time and cost impacts.

While digital records add immense value during the delivery of a project, if a dispute arises, they also support significant savings by avoiding the need for claims consultants to go through paper records and convert them to digital records. The records are captured as the work is done, meaning they are ready and available from the outset as an as-built record of the project.

2. Better recording consistency with earlier identification of missing records

With paper diaries, missing or poor quality records are not identified until they are actually required, which can be as late as a dispute situation. This is generally because those records are filed in a site office but not used by anyone downstream. This means they’re not that visible to a project team.

A digital foreman’s diary is easily built into the daily and weekly communication processes of a project and is highly visible to everyone, particularly project leaders. Just one benefit is that missing and poor quality record keeping are very quickly picked up.

3. Richer records

Paper diaries typically don’t include photos and GPS-tracked, time-stamped records. It’s true that a picture tells a thousand words. With today’s technology, including smart phones, there is no reason why diaries shouldn’t be supported by rich photos that are tagged to issues, Events, Activities, the work breakdown structure, team commentaries, GIS information and more.

Digital solutions

There are many digital solutions available in the market, from apps as simple as Evernote to specialised construction diary applications.

Naturally, I’m most familiar with Envision’s diary solution. We’ve developed and deployed this across major infrastructure and resources projects. Through this, I’ve seen the content of digital diaries being actively used during delivery – and by many more stakeholders than traditionally possible with paper diaries…in ways you would have never considered. Digital diaries are supporting the daily workflow of:

  • Project engineers
  • Superintendents
  • Construction managers
  • Project managers
  • Commercial managers
  • Contract administrators
  • Planners

To find out more about how Envision can help your site record keeping, check out this video:

Transforming the crazy end-of-month project controls reporting crescendo

The end-of-month reporting crescendo

In the 10 years I’ve been working with projects in the Australian construction industry, the default I’ve seen for project controls reporting has typically involved bringing together cost and progress data on a monthly basis to make decisions and keep projects on track. I’ve been one of those cost engineers, combining financial transaction data, schedule data and progress trackers into one massive spreadsheet to report on the end-of-month position. While the report may look pretty, once it’s published, costs are often at least six weeks out of date and validity is dependent on the quality of accruals. And, when an issue is identified, the opportunity to correct it and save time and money has long passed. Shorter timeframe reporting and performance analysis is rarely aggregated and reported holistically because of the sheer effort involved.

Have you ever tried getting a meeting near the end of month with a project delivery team member? If you have, you will know you need to plan around the end-of-month cycle. One project manager described it to me as the project controls end-of-month crescendo: the two weeks leading up to month end involve getting data into the project controls system, the two weeks after month end involve cleaning data to finalise reports, and then the cycle starts again. What’s more, this never-ending cycle couldn’t possibly be delivered on a weekly basis.

Why this crazy cycle?

1. Lack of trust in data

Senior project engineers in Tier 1 contracting organisations often spend a significant amount of time (up to four days) each month determining their cost and progress positions. About 70% of that time is spent determining their cost position and accruals and only 30% on forecasting and developing strategies for correcting or optimising their position. The biggest driver is often cited as a lack of trust in project cost and progress data from spreadsheet to spreadsheet and system to system, so they develop their own spreadsheets – in some cases from first principles.

Achieving trust in a single data set delivers significant efficiency benefits among many others.

 

2. Different timeframes for progress and costs when calculating accruals

End-of-month progress is typically pretty accurate toward the end of a month. However, a true record of costs for that same period is not just the actual costs in the finance system, because there are often costs linked to earned progress that have not yet had invoices submitted. This compounds when work is spread across numerous subcontractors working off paper dockets.

To know a true cost position, dockets and associated costs need to be continually tracked – to validate subcontractor invoices and complete accruals (ie so that costs receipted on site but not yet entered in the finance system can be added as an accrual). The key to accurate accruals is:

  • Ensuring docket costs are recorded with the correct contract rates
  • Avoiding lost or non-recorded dockets (thereby missing those costs)
  • Avoiding duplication of docket costs across multiple tracking sheets when calculating end-of-month accruals
  • Accruing subcontractor schedule of rates/lump sum progress claims that are submitted, but not yet invoiced

 

3. Infrequent holistic reporting and validation of cost and progress metrics

When progress and cost data are split across multiple sources and only reported monthly, it can take months between finding a data problem, fixing it and then having confidence in the data again. With data sometimes two to three people removed from the source of capture, the message may not even get back to the source to correct the data and produce a robust record for informed decision-making.

Rapid data verification cycles are critical to risk and issues management and continual improvement.

 

“End of month project controls reporting is significantly enhanced with integrated daily and weekly field updates”

 

The ideal reporting cycle

The ideal reporting cycle comprises a layered approach involving different members of a project delivery team at daily, weekly and monthly intervals. This generates the highest quality metrics with the least effort on those daily, weekly and monthly cycles.

 

Daily

Progress and cost data are captured daily by frontline workers:

  • Progress
    • Plant counts – eg truck loads moving cut to fill x production capacity
    • Quantities of work complete – eg m2 of topsoil stripped
    • Rules of credit gates past – eg pipe spools welded or erected
  • Costs
    • Timesheets for labour and plant
    • Material supplier dockets
    • Subcontractor plant and labour dockets

Daily performance metrics, such as daily costing unit rates and daily quantity installation productivity metrics, should be generated by relevant engineers and foremen to drive field production and quickly identify when targets are not being met. This daily practice should identify missing data or other issues for weekly reporting and, on a bigger scale, empower corrective actions to be taken, faster, to keep scope on track.

 

Weekly

Progress and cost data that are not available daily, should be recorded ahead of the weekly report. Weekly reporting metrics, such as s-curves and earned value tables, should be presented to project leaders so that trends, improvement opportunities and learnings can be identified and informed decisions made regarding corrections to keep a project on track. From a data perspective, anomalies identified can be corrected ahead of the next reporting cycle.

 

Monthly

Progress and costs that are only available on a monthly basis get addressed at this point. For example, subcontractor progress claims for lump sum and schedule of rates contracts can be submitted and assessed by the contractor, and subcontractor invoices submitted for services delivered during that month. Services receipted during the month but not invoiced can also be entered into the finance system as accruals so the cost and progress positions at month end are aligned. This ensures cost performance can be accurately assessed.

Ideal monthly reporting metrics should provide a complete picture of all works and confirm trends seen during the previous weekly reports. The three weekly reporting cycles leading into the end of month should provide leaders with confidence in their position and allow informed decision-making and forecasting.

Envision can help

Envision is the leading project delivery platform for energy, resources and civil infrastructure projects when it comes to supporting the challenges of monthly reporting. Features that drive easy daily and weekly reporting help keep projects on track while reducing the administrative staff required to support project reporting.

 

“This is the greatest access we’ve had to real-time, accurate performance information to enable quality, value-adding decision-making. We’ve seen significant, measurable improvements in efficiency and productivity, which has led to cost and schedule benefits on our project.”

-Grant Puttergill, QGC

 

End of month project controls reporting is significantly enhanced with integrated daily and weekly field updates. Achieving that integration between daily, weekly and monthly reporting, based on a single source of project data, builds greater confidence and trust between project parties and enables project management teams to drive significant cost and schedule savings.

7 years in review: A fireside chat with Envision’s CEO

What first prompted you to launch Envision?

Adrian and I had worked together in the aerospace industry developing software to automate engineering and design processes in commercial and military aircraft applications. After a job change to a fly-in-fly-out construction project in the coal seam gas industry, I was shocked by the manual processes used to control projects and exchange data to track performance and progress. I reconnected with Adrian and we launched Envision – first around a simple BIM construction model to visualise a construction plan and progress, using mobiles to check a project’s status from the field. After signing our first project, we learnt that what projects really needed was much simpler than a 3D BIM model environment. We quickly changed course and made Envision a fast, easy way to capture site information and workforce timesheets to track productivity.

What features did Envision start with?

Event logging and timesheets were the two key features, with the focus being on transparency when justifying variations or delays to a client or subcontractor.

How is the Envision of today different to your launch platform?

Our original intent was a system for contractors and delivering benefits to them. We’ve since seen that far greater value can be generated by facilitating the use of Envision between contractors and their clients, and contractors and their subcontractors, to better share cost and progress information. When everyone works off the same single source of data, you save a lot of administration and, more importantly, get access to real-time data.

What most influenced the development of Envision over the past five years?

It’s always been about making life easier for frontline supervisors, engineers and other users who are short on time and need simplicity and speed as they are capturing data daily. We develop workflows and usability improvements with that in mind because frontline users drive downstream performance management and project tracking. The other key influencer has been working across different industries and contracting/commercial models and seeing how they change the way project participants engage with Envision.

Have you seen a change in the way projects are managed?

The desire to better manage digital data across the project lifecycle has become a priority. A lot of contractors now have roles like digital engineering managers and innovation managers – roles that rarely existed five years ago. The other change is a stronger drive to leverage mobility and, wherever possible, capture data digitally at the source.

What are your top three learnings in relation to impacts on project performance?

The first is absolutely around creating trust in data and the data capture process. If project stakeholders don’t trust the main management system, they will work outside of it, offline, and that dilutes the value of the main system. Building trust is linked to people actively using the system and to achieve that you need to keep processes as simple as possible.

The second is maintaining relevance and creating the right conversations. That’s means having the right reporting structure, key metrics, analytics, reporting timeframes and so on for each project. One size definitely doesn’t fit all. We do a lot of listening and learning to understand what matters most to project managers and other stakeholders and tailor Envision so they are armed with what they need to drive performance.

The third is prioritising continuous planning. I’m impressed when I see projects that take the master schedule, continually break it down into three-week look aheads and then maintain a link to the master schedule. It keeps the schedule relevant to frontline teams while ensuring they are working within the master plan.

What has the Envision team done to keep pace with that change?

We are always pushing to make data capture as quick and easy as possible. The flexibility of our mobile application is particularly important to end users. We’ve strongly invested in improving our mobile offering and working with clients to keep it relevant – improving workflows and removing administration burden. For our contractor clients, we’ve also sought to ensure the workflows their clients and subcontractors interface with are relevant for those stakeholders. Getting all parties collaborating efficiently is key to projects harnessing the full value of Envision.

New feature improves productivity insight

Small adjustments can make important improvements, is the learning behind Envision’s continued rollout of new features geared for civil infrastructure projects.

One of the latest is a simple method for monitoring production performance. Civil teams can now capture production quantities in one unit of measure (such as a truck load), and then convert that to a different production unit of measure (such as m3) (watch the video below).

A key discipline benefitting from this capability is bulk earthmoving, where plant-based tracking, using pre-set equipment profiles, is helping teams more easily monitor productivity.

Because civil teams can use plant types to drive calculations, they can tag progress down to an individual plant item. This is generating plant-by-plant productivities, in turn helping them manage cost performance with faster turnaround.

For production-driven operations, like bulk earthmoving, this micro-level productivity analysis is an important complement to Envision’s long-standing macro-level production monitoring.

The plant-by-plant analysis means teams can review everything from subcontractor performance to truck configuration to haul length, if using the right cost code setup.

Teams can also gain more dynamic insight from the cost analytics reports as they have more flexible analysis options for unit rates, production quantities and costs.

This new feature extends the advantages projects gain from Envision’s earned value and performance monitoring metrics, which have been key capabilities for many projects.

Equipment type record where production capacity factors are set


Recording loads on dockets for calculating production


Alternative areas where production amounts can be entered


Production analytics in action

Mobile dockets drive real-time cost and productivity reporting

Envision has launched a range of new features that are already proving their value in helping contractors better engage with, and manage, subcontractors – in turn improving real-time cost and productivity reporting accuracy.

With a focus on resource management, one of the key features is a mobile docket solution that has unlocked greater access to users without compromising approval workflows (watch the video below).

The solution is the result of six months of collaboration with several project teams. It allows any individual to complete and submit dockets electronically, rather than solely by supervisors on behalf of their crews.

It removes the need for paper dockets, in turn eliminating administrative double-handling and wasted time waiting for paper dockets to come from the field for data entry by back office staff.

The mobile dockets feature embeds an assurance-based workflow as entries appear in a supervisor’s ‘docket inbox’ for approval and allocation to cost codes.

A key gain is the access it creates for any authorised individual. Because it can be used by subcontractors, it increases their responsibility for getting people and plant dockets submitted to supervisors daily for approval, ensuring project records are as close to real-time as practical.

From a project oversight perspective, engineers are benefiting from enhanced cost and performance analysis because they now have access to a more comprehensive daily data set.

It is also ideal for subcontractors when it comes to running their own payroll and driving their monthly invoicing cycle via the subcontractor portal within Envision.

The Envision team will continue to enhance this capability, working closely with contractor and subcontractor users to reduce project administration and increase real-time project insight to drive greater performance.

Docket inbox

 

Cost analytics

 

Mobile dockets feature in action

Queensland Government puts a spotlight on BIM

Envision was recently a guest industry presenter at the Queensland Government’s Talk IT Up – BIM Mini Expo – part of the Government’s spotlight on Building Information Modelling (BIM) in the delivery and management of infrastructure assets.

The networking session came off the back of the Queensland Government’s commitment to implementing BIM on all major state infrastructure projects by 2023.

Public consultation on the ‘Building Information Modelling – draft policy and principles for Queensland’ wrapped up last week, with the goal of ensuring the effective use of BIM across infrastructure delivery agencies.

The final policy and principles are set for release later in 2017.

BIM is known to offer vast benefits from design to construction to ongoing operations and maintenance and yet its potential is often unrealised on infrastructure projects.

Talk IT Up gave industry and government stakeholders the opportunity to share challenges, learnings and emerging solutions in relation to BIM.

With Envision having effectively integrated data from BIM software platforms such as iConstruct, there are strong case studies showing the value of further advancements in collaborative, integrated project management solutions.

Growing recognition of the whole-of-life cost of infrastructure makes this all the more critical – enabling safer designs, more innovative and efficient delivery, and greater value-for-money for stakeholders.

The Queensland Government’s focus on using BIM right across the lifecycle of infrastructure is a positive step forward and Envision is set to be at the forefront of project management software that supports its wider adoption.