You are currently viewing Revolutionizing Construction: Empowering Change Through Process Improvement

Revolutionizing Construction: Empowering Change Through Process Improvement

Revolutionizing Construction: Empowering Change Through Process Improvement

By: Christian Burger | President and Founder

Note: This article first appeared as a guest byline on January 15, 2024 at Enterprise Viewpoint at

The appetite in Construction for better data, analytics and more controlled risk has never been stronger. Contractors have struggled over the last couple of decades trying to get timely and accurate information into the hands of those who need it, whether it be executives, project managers (PMs), or even supervision in the field. For a time, the problem was systems and technology not being able to meet expectations. For some organizations, the problem was compounded with adoption and compliance, people not filling out time sheets accurately or requesting material via a purchase order (PO). While technology has made tremendous advances in the last five years, organizations are still struggling with accessibility, timeliness, and accuracy of information.

The influx of new solutions, better technology (e.g., middleware), and the emergence of tech-savvy workers has alleviated many of these problems. However, the process standards and compliance problems persist. And while that obstacle is not easy to resolve, there is a solution available to all construction firms, both large and small…a focus on process improvement. 

At the end of the day, all contractors regardless of type and size have to do many of the same processes. They all must bill for their work, pay suppliers, budget work, record time, order materials, forecast cost at completion, etc. These processes, when properly automated and performed, yield a wealth of information from which important indicators are derived and valuable lessons are learned. This article will briefly focus on how to create a process-oriented culture and manage change within the organization.

To begin, a firm should establish the top ten (or so) key business processes; those that will either make the most difference to streamline, yield most valuable data, or inherently need to be controlled very carefully. Not all processes have the same basis for improvement; some carry more risk, while others are high-volume). Once the top ten are identified, a small team can be assigned to the task of process improvement. This is not an IT-led initiative, but rather led by the business. IT will certainly play a role in automation, yet it might not necessarily drive the identification of these changes.

For the remainder of this article, we’ll use the Procure-to-Pay process as an example. This process starts with estimating and the development of a bill of materials (BOM) or series of subcontractor quotes. It then progresses through contracting and issuance of POs, receiving, change orders, invoice and draw processing, and finally, payment. In order to do an effective job of process improvement, you need to examine the process from beginning to end, not just a siloed view which is artificially broken up due to departmental structure or systems involved.

Once the team has been created and assigned a process, they can begin the work of documenting the current workflow. This often involves a business process management (BPM) solution like Visio or Lucid Chart. The team should focus on documenting the current process(es) all the way through including roles, approvals, and systems involved. The Procure-to-Pay process could involve multiple sheets in order to capture the end-to-end state. Once complete, the team and management can carefully analyze the process and all of the various inefficiencies and risks such as spreadsheet use, double entry, lack of workflow, and control. Once there’s a consensus on the current process and where the issues reside, the team can initiate efforts to streamline. This would involve going back to the BPM solution and drafting the ideal to-be state. The following table presents some of the more common problems associated with a given process along with potential solutions.

Problem Solution
Lack of adoption of current systems Training is often the best solution, along with some encouragement from management and focus on why the process is important, not just how
Lack of data standards between solutions The deployment of middleware can help transform data from one system to another. But agreement between departments on things such as vendors or cost codes would be an easier approach
Multiple manual steps including spreadsheets Streamline by moving a process into a single solution or integrate multiple solutions via middleware to eliminate double entry
Handling of data multiple times in a given process Improve use of primary systems. Examine what standalone spreadsheets are being used in a process and, most importantly, why. Pay for customization or tailor existing systems to better meet needs of the process
Lack of visibility into the process and where various records are Develop and/or implement a dashboard solution that can read data from one or more solutions or from within a data warehouse. This should report not only report on the data of the process but compliance within the process itself, delays in approvals for example
Lack of visibility into the process itself with overall data and analytics being available to those that need it See note above. This can be provided if workflow software is used to monitor the process itself (e.g., how many invoices are in queue for approval and for how long)

If the company has many legacy systems in place, lacks middleware or other integration solutions, or does not possess all the necessary IT resources to keep pace, the company may realize the need to transition to a newer solution overall. This would not be an easy decision but one that would be made if a number of key business processes are hindered by older non-integrated solutions. Historically, firms were fond of putting many ‘Band-Aids’ in place, making small incremental fixes to a system rather than stepping back and looking for a more holistic approach.

Once a new solution or multiple improvements are identified and then implemented, the team can begin developing proper training materials for the new process. The training should be focused on which systems to use, how to use them, and why the process is so important. The team can then monitor the improvements and eventually close out the initiative. Another team can start work on the next process. Many organizations designate one person or perhaps a pair of people responsible for a given process (e.g., Process owner) and task them with monitoring the process’s health continuously. And don’t forget to celebrate the team’s accomplishment and use that result as a template for the next process.

Many organizations are saddled with processes that have ‘always been done this way,’ with little or no examination or desire for process improvement. Some people aren’t even aware that they have agency and can change things. Developing a strong culture that embraces change goes a long way toward more efficient, reliable processes and a high-performance organization.

Share this post: