Executive Corner: “I Know that E-mail’s Here Somewhere”
Understanding professional liability and managing risk is an important aspect of all A/E projects. For this installment of “Executive Corner,” Russ Ryan, principal at Rusk O’Brien Gido + Partners (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org), interviews Ian Howell, CEO of Newforma, a project information management (PIM) software company transforming building and infrastructure project delivery (e-mail: email@example.com).
Ryan: The design and construction industry continues to grow. As architecture and engineering companies manage heavier workloads, what are some ways they can reduce risks and ensure a project’s success?
Howell: Building and infrastructure projects begin and end with information. From e-mails to final plans, a project’s success relies on access to the most-current information. As more companies take on new projects and increase their workloads, the amount of information that needs to be organized, edited and shared with other team members increases. If this information isn’t being managed correctly, the risk of project failure increases.
To mitigate these risks, companies need to keep two things in mind: 1) accurate information avoids disputes, and 2) documenting decisions wins disputes. Whether an architect or engineer, involved at the beginning of a project or the end, you need to access proper information, maintain a full audit trail of decisions and manage documentation.
Ryan: We hear a lot about project delays leading to project failure. Does poor information management contribute to delays?
Howell: Project delays come in many forms: wasted time, rework due to working from outdated plans, scheduling confusion, and slow turnarounds of submittals and RFIs. Companies can avoid these delays by effectively collaborating with team members and keeping the project team on task. Project information management software can make it faster and easier to distribute and store the most up-to-date plans as well as ensure timely management of submittals and RFIs. When paired with lean design and construction methodologies, this software can significantly reduce project delays.
It’s so easy, especially in the A/E industry, to work in individual silos, but design and construction is highly collaborative, and collaboration works best when teams are sharing and managing project information successfully.
Ryan: What are some problems project teams face that hinder collaboration?
Howell: When working on a project, many agreements are made via e-mail, as it’s the most-common way to communicate with other team members. However, e-mails can be difficult to track down, since we all manage inboxes individually.
We’ve all had to dig through an inbox for hours trying to find that one e-mail that contains the needed information, which wastes time and money. Adopting a project information management solution liberates e-mails and decision trails from individual inboxes by filing the information to a project for access by the entire project team, fully indexed and searchable.
By utilizing a project information management platform, team members can quickly retrieve e-mails and other documents containing the most up-to-date information. This can be especially helpful when a company has to collect documentation for audits or undertake discovery as a result of a claim, but its greatest, day-to-day value comes when a principal or project manager can answer a question while the client or consultant is still on the phone.
Another challenge that project managers face is how to keep important tasks from slipping through the cracks. Find a project management tool that enables managers to log action items as well as set automated notifications and reminders for items such as file downloads and due dates.
Successful project managers need to be able to create action items from e-mails, assign items to team members, link items to e-mails and other documents that have issues or need action, set automatic reminders, and track progress as issues move to resolution. The beauty of using project management software is that it creates a virtual office: one place where all members of the team can locate information, collaborate with one another and clearly see what needs to be done.
Managing risk to deliver a project on time and within budget is not an easy task, especially when you’re part of a large team on a complex project. However, if you empower project team members to collaborate and arm them with easy access to the proper information, then you can significantly reduce the risk of miscommunication and disagreements as well as ensure project success. After all, that’s how we put a man on the moon and built the International Space Station