Recently Envision was asked to address the Civil Engineering students at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) on the subject of driving Construction Project Efficiency with data from a Lean perspective.
The Envision co-founders, Dr Adrian Smith and Hugh Hofmeister with their collective experiences responded to a need in the market when they started out, back in 2010.
The analogy between oil and data is credited to Clive Humby in 2006. Clive is a British mathematician who established Tesco’s Clubcard loyalty program. Humby highlighted the fact that, although inherently valuable, data needs processing, just as oil needs refining before its true value can be unlocked.
Since then, the analogy has been widely used in marketing materials to bring attention to the value of data and the potential economic impacts the control and use of data can have.
An important aspect of the analogy that is often overlooked, is that data (like oil) needs refinement before it can be usefully interpreted. And that refinement (or processing) must occur quickly enough for the insights to be useful when acted upon.
It is much more important to know that your project is not achieving the target cost or production rates daily than monthly because there is time to react and change work practices. This is especially true if you are running a large construction project that is spending more than $1M per day – you want fast feedback.
Construction data – much more than drawings and documents
Construction data is far more than simply drawings and documents. While these are important and communicate intent, there are many other types of data.
Consider these examples which might occur on a daily or even hourly basis.
- Actuals (start and finish dates)
- Site attendance records
- Site supervisor diary
- Weather records
- Equipment engine run hours
- Weigh-bridge records
- Material delivery dockets
- Material test results
- Truck count sheets
- GPS and Telemetry from fixed and mobile plant
- Safety inspections
- Progress records (quantity, rule of credit, …)
- Unplanned project events (scope, site conditions, material defects, equipment breakdowns, …)
Simply converting paper data or documents into a scanned digital rendition will only solve some problems. What we need to do is capture the contained data in a structured form, that can be easily transmitted and interpreted.
Because of the wide variety of data formats, significant human effort is required to gather, enter and process the above data. Furthermore, the above data can represent conflicting information that requires human effort to resolve.
Unfortunately, the effort required to generate the information can be so large that we lose sight of the need to use the information to make better project decisions.
Using this data we routinely need to generate construction information such as:
- Daily cost and production rates
- Accrued costs
- Percentage complete
- Actuals (start and finish dates)
- Earned value and other metrics like CPI and SPI
- Progress claims
- Commercial notices and claims …
And furthermore, we combine the above data and information together to generate internal and external reports.
At Envision we are seeing new construction projects every week and are helping these project teams grapple with data and information challenges. Overwhelmingly we see paper dockets, paper timesheets, paper diaries and reporting spreadsheets as the standard tools that many teams are working with.
Paper has obvious limitations and in that the data must be transcribed into an electronic system. While this takes time, it also limits the speed in which this data can be used, reviewed and enriched for other purposes.
The humble site docket
The paper docket typically used on sites involving subcontract workforce might seem best captured as paper, then passed to a supervisor for approval, then passed to an admin person to enter into the cost control system and then passed to site engineers for entry into a progress spreadsheet.
However, a docket is actually the source of many other pieces of information and supports a wide range of downstream processes.
- Start time, End Time, Breaks
- Prestart checks
- Company, Date, Unique identifier, …
- But the humble docket supports a wide range of downstream processes including:
- Record of attendance on site, accrued cost, approval of work, material placement, …
- Safety exposure hours, completion of prestart checks, …
- Physical progress (load counts, amount of material moved, …)
So when a docket is captured electronically, it enables these processes to occur in almost real-time instead of waiting to be passed between teams. When accumulated, these inherent delays mean that the information being gathered is less valuable because it is less current.
Spreadsheets have been long understood as a huge risk for large businesses, but they have become ubiquitous for many industries, including construction.
Research shows that over 90% of spreadsheets contained errors and 23% contained serious errors. This is because it is very difficult to find and fix errors. Hence calculation errors are commonplace, but still, Engineers rely upon them for everyday work – even when alternatives exist.
Thedocuments these risks and details significant errors that have resulted. A couple of interesting examples include:
- Vote counting in a Malaysian election
- Financial reporting to London stock exchange
- Misinterpretation of human genome data
Information decay and decision delay
The combined effect of slow and unreliable information is that the time taken to make a decision is delayed. In isolation, a delay of 7 days may not be significant, but when this becomes the norm and is happening for the majority of data being captured from the site, it becomes a constant drag on decision making.
As a result, decisions are made based on anecdotes or gut feel, instead of being informed by data. When we make decisions based on instinct and gut feel, we become more susceptible to cognitive bias. Some common examples that affect our decisions include:
- Confirmation bias – our tendency to search for and favour information that confirms our beliefs while simultaneously ignoring or devaluing information that contradicts our beliefs.
- Availability heuristic – a common mistake that our brains make by assuming that the examples which come to mind easily are also the most important or prevalent things.
- Anchoring – our tendency to stubbornly cling to a number once we hear it and evaluate all other offers based on that previous number, even if that isn’t the most relevant bit of information.
- Sunk cost fallacy – once we’ve invested time and/or money in something, we become vastly less likely to abandon it, even once it should be clear that the project will ultimately fail.
- Survivorship Bias – our tendency to focus on the winners and try to learn from them while completely forgetting about the losers who are employing the same strategy.
Data-driven decision making
Being informed by data help be objective about the decisions we make and minimises the effect of confirmation bias.
A great example of using data to inform decision making in demonstrated in the film “Moneyball” in which the process for selecting baseball players is challenged using a data-first approach instead of the traditional gut feel approach.
If you’re not familiar with, Michael Lewis details the surprising success of the small-market baseball team, the Oakland Athletics, which competes against large-market teams with much deeper pockets such as the New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox.
In order to maximize his player budget (a fifth of the size of larger teams’ budgets), Oakland A’s General Manager, Billy Beane, broke with tradition and applied an analytical approach to baseball’s flawed and subjective scouting system. His staff drafted young, inexpensive players and obtained unwanted, affordable veterans with high on-base percentages as well as unorthodox pitchers who generated a lot of ground outs. Using statistical analysis known as sabermetrics, the Oakland A’s were able to level the playing field and proceed to outsmart and outperform much richer teams. All of the MLB teams had access to the same data; however, the Oakland A’s identified inefficiencies in how the data was being used and capitalized on them.
Another fantastic example of a work practice that uses data to inform decisions is from the father of Lean Thinking – W. Edwards Deming.
Deming was an American Mathematician who pioneered the use of statistics in manufacturing process control and continuous improvement helped revolutionize the Japanese manufacturing industry post World War 2 using the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. Born from this work is the Toyota Production System and Lean.
The health care industry has tackled these issues over recent years and anyone who has visited the hospital may have noticed the transformation to digital medical records. The construction industry may be able to leverage some of these learnings.
Principles for improving data capture
Here are some guiding principles that can help improve your data maturity:
- Capture electronically close in person, place and time
- Plan the master/reference data to align with how the project performance is to be measured and align with the financial system.
- Use reference codes/identifiers/geolocation for resources (people, equipment, materials, companies) to allow easy cross-referencing
- Express data in self-describing formats where possible
- Exchange data in neutral file formats – avoid proprietary file formats
- Agree a “source of truth” for core data like budgets, people, equipment, …
- Organise and store for ease of accessibility
- Favour less high-quality data over more unreliable data
- Balance detail (granularity) against the cost of capture
- Convert data into information and drive decision making
Tackling the above challenges is not easy, especially in an environment where systems are fragmented and each party in the supply chain is not always incentivised to share information freely.
Projects that have converted the above process into a digital process by applying the above principles realise significant benefits. Not only in the administration effort saved, but also in having transparency of accrued costs available for performance analysis usually by the next day.
A project team that adopts a data-driven mindset and starts using that information to inform decisions will naturally improve project performance.
The data we collect (and the way we collected it) is an asset and can be used to improve the productivity of projects. We already have the capability and existing technology to collect and refine the data into useful information. What we need to is to challenge the old habits for data collection and processing and to get smarter about what we do.
Refining our construction data relies on being able to process and link with other information so that we can make informed decisions.
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:
- Understanding how to use technology: this is self explanatory and essential to being able to evangelise and influence others to adopt new tech.
- 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.
- 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.
Watch the session here
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.
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.
Envision is proudly one of the ‘industry solutions’ presenters at the upcoming Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads TMR MIXr on 28 March 2017, providing insights into the advantages available to projects through real-time field reporting.
Off the back of the inaugural event last year, TMR has opened up the one-day event to a wider range of stakeholders – in TMR’s words, ‘connecting government and industry to opportunities for collaboration, partnerships and problem-solving’.
With web and mobile technology enabling massive improvements in field data capture, transport and other construction projects have the opportunity to dramatically improve the way a project’s schedule, progress, changes and costs are managed.
Yet, the majority of large construction projects in Australia are not realising the full benefits of real-time electronic capture of field-based data.
Readily available technology like Envision is a significant untapped resource and, in our presentation, we will showcase how real-time data management can transform delivery decision-making.
As a Queensland-based innovation and the only software of its kind in Australia, Envision features the latest advancements in change (unplanned event) management, field-based collaboration (comments, photos etc) and real-time reporting.
Our session will show how clients have gained better insight into the real-time health and status of their projects to improve decision-making and performance while achieving savings.
It will also look at:
- End-to-end capture and reporting of field data
- Significant advantages available when the common reporting ‘blackout’ (the lag between data inputs and reporting) is removed from projects
- Gains possible through multi-system integration with BIM, GIS and other platforms.
One of the exciting opportunities through events such as TMR MIXr is collaboration. Envision is live and proven on several projects but is based on continual improvement and ‘fast feedback’, meaning it advances through the insights of clients and their involvement in shaping the evolution of the platform.
We see Envision as a true step change in the delivery phase for transport and other infrastructure projects, with benefits for government, industry and community stakeholders, and look forward to participating in the event.
For more information, visit https://www.ivvy.com/event/MIXr17/home.html
With Simon Anthonisz, Managing Director, iCURO
Envision teamed up with workforce management software leader, iCURO, at the 14th PNG Mining and Petroleum Investment Conference in Sydney this month to showcase the latest in project management software for remote projects.
While this multi-billion sector in PNG continues to expand, with several major projects set to come online in the near future, delivery teams are still faced with the demand to achieve more with less.
From managing remote, disparate project teams to commodity price fluctuations to weather and much more, it’s clear that lean principles are the way forward.
Conference presentations featured major mining and oil and gas companies providing updates on existing operations and the progress of upcoming projects.
The mining side was more upbeat, with steady increases in the gold price leading to several existing mines increasing their production this year, and some gearing up for expansion.
A couple of mines that had stalled shared about how they are bringing new projects online in 2017 now that companies and investors are confident their long-term viability is secure.
In the oil and gas space, the success of the PNG LNG project was a major highlight. The 300th export left the port shortly before the conference began, which is a great achievement by co-venture partners ExxonMobil, Oil Search Limited (OSL), Kumul Petroleum Holdings Limited, Santos Limited, JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration and Mineral Resources Development Company Limited (MRDC).
The other big news came from the Total presentation, giving more detail to the recently-announced Papua LNG project, expected to start in late 2017. This will be the second large-scale project for PNG – a great boost for the economy and communities there.
With the drive toward increasingly lean operations, attendees were particularly attracted to iCURO’s automated workflows for managing on-boarding, mobilisation and worksite attendance, alongside Envision’s features that simplify the creation of daily diaries, management of daily costings and capture of unplanned events.
Ennova partnered with industry leading construction companies to present productivity findings from recent projects at the annual Lean Construction Conference. Ennova showcased results from the recent QCLNG project that demonstrated significant reductions in schedule (timescale) and cost, and an overall improvement of around 30% in labour productivity.
The results were discussed at two sessions:
- Robert Turner – Group Manager, Controls and Planning, Leighton Contractors
- Hugh Hofmeister – Head of Projects, Ennova
- Robert Turner – Group Manager, Controls and Planning, Leighton Contractors
- Hugh Hofmeister – Head of Projects, Ennova;
- Grant Puttergill – Project Controls Manager, QGC
- Mark Leader – Project Cost Manager, QGC
- Chris Barber – Project Services Manager, QGC
Tech23 celebrates innovation through an exciting collision of great minds, great ideas, and great purpose. Tech23 is dedicated to offering entrepreneurs opportunities.
Ennova presented Envision at the 2013 Tech23 conference. We were fortunate to be recognised with awards from Amazon and Cloudstaff. The video below features Adrian Smith, Director and Head of Technology, giving our 5 minute pitch.