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Best Practices for Benchmarking and Measuring Construction and Engineering Process Outcomes

Throughout my 20+ years of consulting, I’ve never seen the construction industry as ready for digital transformation as it is now.

However, despite the industry’s need, E&C professionals often resist adopting new technologies because digitalization is either too expensive, too time consuming, or may threaten their existing business processes.

This is where benchmarking comes in handy – both as a justification for change as well as a tool of measuring its impact. If we can leverage data to monitor trends, we can begin to predict how new technology can help save time or money over a project’s lifecycle. This is digital transformation in action.

Benchmarking should be used to fix processes

To be fair, many of the applications developed for E&C over the years were a big hassle. They were either expensive to implement, time consuming to configure, or hard to learn and use in the field. Industrial-strength mobile devices, smart phones, and tablets are now efficient tools of the trade. But owners, contractors—and even some software vendors—often wrongly assume that implementing a specific software or solution alone will fix a broken process.

The key to examining – and ultimately fixing – the process is benchmarking.

The E&C industry is poised to more accurately measure their progress by leveraging the power of benchmarking once they've adopted new technology.

Nine steps to benchmarking

A report titled ‘Benchmarking and Improving Construction Productivity’ suggests nine steps to benchmarking and continual process improvements:

  1. Determine what to benchmark
  2. Define what will be measured
  3. Develop data collection methodology
  4. Collect data
  5. Identify deficiencies in the use of best practices and project management performance
  6. Identify reasons for deficiencies
  7. Develop an action plan (select best practices to reduce deficiencies)
  8. Integrate best practices into the project delivery process
  9. Institutionalize benchmarking as part of a continuous improvement program

The Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) and its members still utilize many—or all—of these steps when they’re running large projects.

Benchmarketing fundamentals

The fundamentals of benchmarking begin by identifying how long any particular process should on average take to complete. Once this is determined, you can precisely measure that process against the expected time.

  • What is the most important focus area to our stakeholders?
    • Are there inconsistencies in our business processes, and if so, why? Does process tracking, and a baseline, even exist? Are there areas for improvement for each key process, whether that’s communication, review, or deliverables? Are they internal, external, or both?
  • How do we measure that?
    • Drawing, document, or contract review are typically time sensitive. However, consider using emerging technology—like a fully integrated construction project management solution—to track resources and inefficiencies. How are we performing against how we expected?
  • Where do we start?
    • Evaluate your organization’s level of benchmarking maturity. Do you have repeatable processes in place? If you’ve been collecting benchmarking data for analysis, what trends do you see? How long have you been measuring data, and on how many projects? How do you compare to your peers in similar industries?

Start small

Take the first step by defining, mapping, and implementing a repeatable, measurable process. Start with a project that requires the least amount of effort with the highest level of adoption. Track process efficiency with the goal of continual improvement.

For example, measure the percentage of a given workflow against the expected time to complete. Identify workflows that are struggling to become 75% efficient. Workflows that are 10-15% below efficiency are to be expected, but you should understand the root cause of the delay.

Creating a historical baseline is tough, but necessary

Establishing a historical baseline on any given process is one of the most difficult exercises with potential customers. Failure to achieve this may be because either: a) the data wasn’t available, or b) repeatable processes weren’t consistently followed from project to project across the organization. Benchmarking processes can improve once E&C professionals identify the root causes of their cost overruns and schedule delays.

Accurately measuring repeatable processes

Measuring accurately on an individual basis—as well as across the project—can be very difficult. We often consult with clients who should have established repeatable processes for deploying construction management software and solutions.

For example, I recently spoke with a program manager who worked on large airport projects. She consistently struggled with how to quickly locate materials. The employees often re-ordered the same parts (expedited, of course) rather than spending time locating the materials already on-site.

The company must return the extra materials for pennies on the dollar at the end of the project. How does one accurately measure time wasted with monetary loss on materials? Companies like Here Technologies and Jovix have realized that wayfinding is becoming a necessity for construction workers searching for materials . . . as well as for passengers searching for gates.

Three key areas: Communication, review, and deliverables

These benchmarking processes are based on a specific set of steps and approximate times. We categorize these common processes into three areas:

  1. Communication processes include such things as RFIs, change requests, and technical queries. These time-sensitive processes are commonly initiated, submitted, and tracked with a mail type or fillable form. They should also be easily monitored and reportable.
  2. Review processes include shop drawings and squad checks. They often require parallel steps and conditional routing. They are best handled by routing drawings and documents through a time-sensitive and reportable workflow. Rules for routing, rejecting, and approval should be applied, including ‘ball in court’ reporting and dashboards for one-click status updates.
  3. Deliverables include external processes like submittals, vendor documents, and progress claims. Deliverables can be more difficult to track once they leave the initiating organization unless all parties are working in a common, neutral environment. These should also include a tracking, status, and reporting method. Submittals are often used in conjunction with workflows and a system that supports these processes.

The new frontier: Lean construction and predictive analytics

We are on the threshhold of a new standard for Lean construction and predictive analytics. Oracle SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS technology is designed to help construction business processes. Our new Innovation Lab in Illinois was created to accomplish just that.

The owners and executors of tomorrow’s mega projects will have benchmarking and process insights they never imagined possible—all thanks to new benchmarking standards and measurables that we’re implementing in Oracle’s cloud today.

Read Construction Dive's Playbook, developed in association with Oracle Aconex, to learn more about the power of data in driving improvements across your project portfolio.

Discover how Oracle Construction and Engineering is helping power project success for asset-intensive industries.

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