What if your job site had a pipe leaking so badly that it’s literally sending millions of dollars of water down the drain? You’d fix it, right? While this is just an analogy, that’s exactly what’s happening across the construction industry and that leak is caused by poor job site communication and lack of access to coherent and current project data. According to FMI’s 2020 Annual Report, miscommunication and inaccurate or inaccessible information account for 48 percent of all rework costs on US job sites, to the tune of $31 billion each year.
When you also factor in the cost of searching for project data and managing conflict resolution, the labor cost soars to $177.5 billion, not to mention the added expense of new materials and the four hours of weekly work each contractor and construction worker wastes on planning for rework. The study estimates that for a mid-sized construction company, these costs could total around $2 billion annually. So what exactly is going wrong with how contractors, project managers, subcontractors, and other stakeholders communicate, and what can be done to combat such challenges?
Saying This, Doing That
At the heart of the immensely costly communication issue across both commercial and residential jobsites is the old problem of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. Siloes exist in every industry of course, but in construction, divisions between crews and specialties (like plumbing, electrical, framing, roofing, and so on) are particularly problematic. While in some other fields miscommunication might only result in theoretical misunderstandings, in construction the results have highly practical ramifications.
For example, let’s imagine that you’re overseeing the building of a new hospital wing. You could be supervising hundreds or maybe even thousands of workers divided into dozens of teams, each of which is (or at least should be) in charge of a certain crucial element of the project. One day, the architect on a large hotel project makes a change to the door spec on the second floor rooms. He makes a change in the model, but maybe the sub isn’t using the same software and didn’t see it so the cut sheets weren’t updated. The field crew is still using the old cut sheets and goes ahead with the work using the old spec.
Now you have a real issue on your hands. The crew will have to reinstall every single one of those doors and frames. Sure, they might be able to reuse some of the materials, but others will inevitably be damaged or destroyed during the removal process, requiring the purchase of new lumber, handles, screws, and so on. Then the walls where the original doors were located will have to be repaired, necessitating a drywall crew to come back out. You can see where we’re going with this.
Now the entire project timeline has shifted, milestone dates will have to be pushed out, and the overall project completion date extended. In summary, one simple communication slipup has given you and everyone on the site a giant headache, which has also had a considerable impact on the bottom line. Over budget and behind schedule is never a good combination, but that’s the reality you’re now facing. And all two vital pieces of the communication chain weren’t on the same page. I’m sure you’ve seen those same communication snafus occur with wiring, plumbing, and roofing. It doesn’t take many more unread messages or unopened emails to cause problems that amount to months of delays and millions of dollars in rework.
Consolidating Job Site Communication and Data Access
The fictional scenario we just explored is all too real in the construction industry, as shown by the billions of dollars lost each year in redoing work that should’ve been done right in the first place. According to the authors of the FMI study mentioned earlier, one of the primary causes of poor job site communication is that project information resides in so many different places, and communicating it is accomplished via too many channels that don’t talk to each other. Add in the fact that many subcontractors are reluctant to use new technology platforms that they see as overly complicated, and you end up with information being broadcast but not received or acted upon.
A simple remedy would be to consolidate pertinent jobsite information on a single mobile platform that’s simple to implement and easy to use. If such data was automatically distributed to the people who need it in real time, then rework like the door debacle we just described would be unnecessary. Rather than having to constantly check email, read and reply to texts, and search through multiple databases, everything a crew needed to know for the upcoming day should be displayed at a glance.
As a result, it’d be easier to keep projects on budget, stick to original timelines, and limit the cost of change orders to the alterations that are being proposed. It’s high time for a change in how communication works and information is shared in construction. And it all starts with plugging that leaky pipe.