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  • October 11, 2016

The 3 Keys to Construction Project Success: Standardize, Optimize, Visualize

As 21st century construction projects grow increasingly complex, you may find yourself collaborating with dozens of architects, designers, contractors, and other partners. So it's not surprising that the tools you need to manage these projects and partners must also grow more sophisticated. In our last post we traced the evolution of project collaboration. Our Collaboration Maturity Model started at stage 1, where most processes are performed manually, making them labor intensive, inefficient, and prone to error. We ended with stage 5, where every process from every partner is integrated into a single platform, producing a trove of actionable data that can be used to drive future business decisions. {C}In the most mature stage of collaboration, every stakeholder works together toward a common purpose, you gain visibility into every process, and the data you derive from this visibility helps drive future business decisions. But perhaps the most dramatic shifts occur during stage 4, when owners migrate every project in their portfolio and their entire network of collaborators onto a unified platform. In this post we'll dive a little deeper into the key benefits of advanced collaboration -- how to standardize best practices across your network, achieve process excellence, and gain insights into how closely you and your partners are meeting a project's objectives. To illustrate this, we'll take a common industry practice that is the bane of every project owner: the Request for Information (RFI).

Relieving the RFI pain point

Theoretically, an RFI is a way for contractors to seek clarification on design objectives or identify potential conflicts before they cause problems. In reality, RFIs can lead to project delays, rework, and cost overruns, especially when everyone in your network fails to handle them in a consistent way. A study of more than 1300 Aconex projects over a ten-year period revealed that projects produce nearly 800 RFIs on average. Most requests required between 7 and 10 working days to resolve, racking up more than $1000 in administrative and technical costs each time – or more than $850,000 per project. Roughly one in ten RFIs is unnecessary, and up to a third of them never receive a response. Worse, RFIs are used by some contractors to justify claims that a project has expanded in scope – and thus requires additional expenditures for change orders. They may use RFIs in an attempt to substitute cheaper but inferior materials or alternative construction methods. Others submit excessive numbers of RFIs to support allegations of faulty design or poor documentation in litigation later. RFIs are an unavoidable by-product of the modern construction industry. But you can minimize the pain by standardizing, optimizing, and visualizing your processes.

1. Standardize for process efficiency

In an immature collaboration model, contractors submit RFIs via email, which are tracked manually using spreadsheets or word documents. Some RFIs may have relevant drawings or models attached, others may not. There is usually no way to easily group related RFIs, identify duplicates, or prioritize requests that require resolution before a project phase can be completed. In a mature model, all RFIs are stored in a central repository, along with the relevant drawings and models. Using a single cloud-based platform allows multiple partners to review RFIs concurrently, potentially shaving days off the process. You can anticipate common problems in recurring design elements and mitigate them ahead of time. As you advance to the latter stages, you can begin to standardize how every partner organizes, tracks, and responds to RFIs.

2. Optimize for best practices

Once you've developed a consistent method for dealing with RFIs, you can create guidelines for best practices that all project partners must follow. For example, you can establish a uniform method for numbering and tagging RFIs, so that they can be easily grouped by type, priority, or source. You can mandate what information must be included in each request, such as which trades or disciplines might be affected, whether a change order is required, and whether it could impact the timing or cost of the project. RFIs should be closely tied to the construction schedule, and contractors should flag critical requests that must be resolved before other work can move forward and assign them a higher priority. You can also incentivize partners to be forward thinking. A study by Navigant found that RFIs submitted well in advance of scheduled construction activity were far less likely to cause delays or cost overruns. So another best practice would be to require contractors to provide RFIs at least 10 working days in advance of when a response is needed and build that into your contracts.

3. Visualize to gain insights

Standardizing processes and instilling best practices across your network will significantly enhance your ability to deliver on time and under budget. But you won't be able to achieve success in either of these things until you can easily visualize how closely you are meeting your key performance indicators. This is where a dashboard like the new Aconex Insights module can be a game changer. Insights show you at a glance how many RFIs are late or unresolved, as well as which ones are time sensitive and in need of an immediate response. You can compare your RFI activity across your entire portfolio of projects, or view a single process across all projects. And you can drill down into unresolved or overdue reviews to diagnose the cause of the delay. As a project-wide collaboration platform, Aconex gives you control over your processes and information. Take a look at this 2-minute video below or contact us if you’d like to know more about how we can help you better visually manage your processes with our reporting capability to turn insights into action.

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