Zac Hays | Construction Executive
Construction is, and always has been, known as a relatively risky business. Whether it is dealing with factors that can be controlled or beyond control, proactively managing risk has proven to be of the most critical factors in delivering quality projects faster, more efficiently and with wider margins.
Many people assume on-site activities introduce the greatest amount of uncertainty and potential risk. But many mistakes in construction originate in the planning phase – meaning preconstruction is ripe with opportunity to be the most effective place for mitigating risk, saving money and ultimately broadening margins. There are many ways to mitigate risk before projects even start, but four key themes emerge to be clear, repeatable opportunities for success.
DIGITIZE THE PLANNING PHASE
Preconstruction is where ideas are brought to life by translating architectural designs into a real, constructible plan. Decisions made at this stage can determine the project’s success and profitability – but it’s far from straightforward. Estimating, scheduling and planning are highly complex activities that depend on constantly changing details and are all areas where missed information or miscommunication can lead to costly rework down the line.
Digitizing the planning phase of construction has quickly become a massive preconstruction opportunity, taking processes off paper and spreadsheets and putting automation, machine learning and digital collaboration to work. Firms can use digital project management and analytical tools to support and automate many challenging and overtly manual processes that are prone to cause collisions and result in information being lost. For example, firms can use Building Information Modelling data to automatically compare and dissect specifications, gather quantities and build budgets – saving an exponential amount of time. Workforce planning tools that integrate with construction project management solutions can help teams align resource planning throughout project phases. Bringing machine learning and digital collaboration into the equation can also reduce tedious manual entry and the risks of missed information that can lead to rework, cost overruns and delays.
HARNESS DATA TO LEARN FROM THE PAST
“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it” is a classic adage, but it’s particularly applicable in construction. Being able to draw on data from previous projects is critical in avoiding the same mistakes and make better decisions on future projects. But once a project enters the build phase, preconstruction teams often lose access to that data. Information that is siloed in separate systems can make it difficult to draw data-driven insights. For example, is there a particular design feature that often creates confusion during site construction and consistently impact schedule?
Connecting data throughout the building lifecycle in a common data environment is crucial for minimizing risk and delivering better project outcomes. As well as supporting ongoing projects, a common data environment enables construction businesses to analyze data and identify common pitfalls and patterns. Machine learning can also be applied in these instances to highlight and predict project outcomes based on data from previous projects. Armed with these insights, teams can easily learn from mistakes and make better decisions for their projects at hand.
FIND THE RIGHT TEAM FOR THE JOB
Construction is highly collaborative; no one completes a project by themselves. Choosing the right specialty contractors for the job can make or break a project. Preconstruction teams need to clear assessments of specialty contractors’ risk profiles and understanding the experience, safety record and even the financial solvency that factors into those risk profiles can be a tall order.
Bid management networks designed for the construction industry can help preconstruction teams find the right subcontractors for the project. Using digital platforms can help quickly parse information on large number of companies, reduce administrative work and support the qualification process. Today, qualification tools can also tap artificial intelligence and machine learning to quickly assess specialty contractors’ experience, structure and financial status to build risk profiles. Consequently, preconstruction teams can quickly and more accurately assess risk – and focus on creating a strong team that will deliver.
BUILD IN SAFETY FROM THE START
Physical safety during site construction is also, of course, an incredibly important risk to manage. Being on-site can present a number of risks for workers, especially now given the pandemic. Progress has been made with technology in recent years with the digitalization of mobile safety checklists in the field – but if a company is just beginning to review safety protocols on site, that’s already too late. Building onsite safety planning into the preconstruction phase can pay dividends across the board.
BIM is a powerful tool for reducing costly rework. Using clash detection and integrated building techniques with close designer, general contractor and specialty contractor collaboration from the start can help identify and course-correct for elements that will present risks to builders on-site. BIM models can also be used to hold virtual job walks before contractors even arrive on site. Using virtual reality to conduct immersive design reviews can provide more context than traditional design reviews. Since COVID-19, contractors have more heavily relied on virtual design reviews drive to projects forward while remaining compliant and ensuring a safe environment for everyone involved.
As time goes on, there will be broader adoption of tools and approaches like these to reduce the number of accidents occurring on job sites.
THE POWER OF PLANNING
At the end of the day, preconstruction is where contractors set their projects up for success. With access to the right tools such as data digitizing and automating challenging processes, preconstruction teams can make the best decisions for the project before a single shovel has hit the ground. Mitigating risks during preconstruction can help create a more predictable, safer and more successful construction industry.