Interview with Todd McCall, Vice President of Operations for Rubicon General Contractors
Mobile technology is becoming more commonplace than not on jobsites around the world. In fact, today over 83% of construction professionals believe that mobile technology is important in construction. Knowing this and seeing firsthand the impact software has on project productivity, Todd McCall, Vice President of Operations for Rubicon General Contractors, has been a champion for embracing new tech on the jobsite.
“Without technology, you’re not going to be able to keep up with the information flow on a job especially when you’re trying to put together complex projects in a condensed amount of time,” he commented.
To move Rubicon beyond the status quo of traditional construction methods, the company has recently implemented a new super tablet on jobsites under Todd’s leadership.
The device acts as a central station that provides open access to all project stakeholders—even beyond just Rubicon employees—taking jobsite collaboration to the next level. In this edition of “Behind the Build,” we speak with Todd about the changes he’s seen over his nearly 30-year journey in the industry and how the new super tablet has the potential to be game-changing for jobsite communication.
What first got you into construction?
I was just always drawn to construction. I first started building through skateboarding to construct quarter pipes and skateboard ramps. My dad was also a part of the industry as the owner of Troix Epoxy, installing specialty pool deck surfaces and manufacturing cultured marble tops.
I was trained formally as a carpenter in Chicago and worked on high-end home remodeling projects along Chicago’s North Shore and suburbs. The projects were usually very complex, large renovations and additions to homes. I even had the experience to work in historical remodeling on some notable homes in the area.
One of the owners of a home I renovated, actually ended up needing renovations done in their office in the downtown area. I ended up working on the renovation, and that led me to work in commercial construction. I took to it and never turned back now after almost 30 years.
What do you love most about the industry?
I’m a people person, and I enjoy working with others to solve problems in that team environment. I thrive entirely in it. I like to build stuff for sure, and I like the angle of being creative. I’m drawn to complex projects that allow me to collaborate with an architect or other project stakeholders to get the job done.
That little bit of a gray area that allows my creativity to come out—that’s where my sweet spot lies.
How do you spend the majority of your time at work?
As the Operations Manager at Rubicon, I’m interacting with the office and field staff to coordinate many aspects of the business. The majority of my time is spent in the field where the actual product is being put down. We value both quality and production, so I ensure everything is operating and functioning the way it should.
Quality control is a substantial part of our success along with how we manage the construction process. Scheduling is critical for the interior construction sector, where we do the lion’s share of our work, and speed has become very important to project success. Rubicon mostly works inside of high-rise buildings constructing their high-end interior office spaces. They tend to get pretty complex and are usually driven by time, leases and constraints. Since these aspects are in our pre-bid qualifications, we have to address every project with quality and speed proactively in mind.
How has technology changed the way you work in construction?
I can remember when I had a beeper, and it was cutting edge technology when a small text message was added to it. It wasn’t just a telephone number to call, and you had to pull over to try to find a payphone to call back. Even if you wanted to know who called you, you actually had to pull out your Rolodex. Then, we transitioned from beepers to cell phones, then from cell phones to laptop computers. Once the laptop computer came out, email gained traction. Now we don’t fax documents; we email them.
From all of these examples, it’s clear how technology has completely changed things. What we consider to be fast-track now would’ve been lightning speed in the 90s. Now information flow is just instant. That’s probably what’s geared our company up to be at the top because we leverage both technology and the personnel behind it.
At the end of the day, it’s always got to be a person behind that phone or that device willing and ready to use it to make an impact.
One of the major things that I took away from the PlanGrid Summit was “Get on the bus or get left behind.” I use that quote all the time. Without technology, you’re not going to be able to keep up with the information flow on a job especially when you’re trying to put together complex projects in a condensed amount of time. One day is the equivalent of three or four business days on some of these accelerated schedules and if we don’t have an RFI back in the afternoon, then that sequence of tasks can’t proceed in time.
PlanGrid has just been absolutely huge for us because we’re able to look up anything we want from our phones. Whether I’m in the office or a coffee shop, I can pull up a full set of documents to find the information I need.
How did Rubicon first start using PlanGrid?
Our initial introduction to PlanGrid was through an architectural firm that emailed us a punch list. Once I opened it up and started working on it, it proved to be very simple and fast.
From that point on, I started digging into how to reduce the punch list throughout the project. For instance, when we begin our project, we already know the issues we will need to address. While we’re building a general contractor’s list, it’s the start of a punch list. As we build, we’re crossing off the action items we don’t want on our punch list at the end of our job. So this way, by the time we get to the punch list, it’s very minimal.
Many contractors are in such a big hurry to build; when it’s all done, it’s up to the architect to go ahead and issue the punch list. To us, that’s an opposite way of thinking. We’re already working in this punch list, and we want to make it as simple as we possibly can for the architect at closeout. PlanGrid has truly helped us streamline this process.
Tell us about your recent initiative with your “super tablet” designed to make PlanGrid available to the whole team.
We’ve created a new device on our projects to bring the whole team together—a portable and durable project team hub that any of our internal or external project teammates can use. The idea behind the device is to connect everyone on the team from the project engineers and the property manager to our superintendents and all of our subcontractors. In addition to accessing PlanGrid, it can access the current status of documents and inspections from the City of Tampa Permitting Department with ease. With the touch of a button, you can access other convenient functions such as a virtual sketch pad if you’re trying to illustrate something.
The Project Team HUB we have is made for three or four people to easily look at drawings together on PlanGrid. Even though the paper shuffle has been cut-off or severely reduced on jobsites thanks to mobile technology, sometimes we still want to see the drawings in an extra large format. With our portable kiosk, teams can easily open up a drawing and pour over its details together. It’s live and always up-to-date content because the engine behind it is PlanGrid’s software.
What was the motivation behind creating this device?
We had the idea to create this device after attending the PlanGrid Construction Summit back in June in San Francisco. The idea of it was to bridge the entire project team together even if they didn’t have their portable device on them at the time the issue came up. This alternative access point replaces the long walk back to the jobsite office, to a desk filled with “coffee stained” project drawings. It is organized, complete and always kept current. No more waiting on couriers to deliver the latest paper revisions from the office. If we don’t have our full team on the same page, it’s going to slow down construction, and it’s usually going to impact quality to some degree. Having that connection to keep all of the subcontractors on the same page is essential because it keeps the momentum moving forward. It also eliminates a good deal of rework that potentially could happen because the moment a change or revision occurs, it’s immediately reflected in PlanGrid. This was a big goal for us with the kiosk; to make sure those gaps get closed.
We want everyone, even down to the final cleaning company, to be able to come on to a jobsite with the tools to be as efficient as possible. So if the superintendent asks, “Hey, can you clean break room 109?” anyone can use the kiosk to access the drawings and find the information they need.
What advice would you share with the next generation of builders?
It’s not a bad thing to color outside the lines.
People are amazing with their ingenuity and trying to come up with different ideas and ways to solve tough problems. Isn’t that what the first tool was? It was designed to make life easier. That younger generation entering construction needs to have that relentless pursuit for something to change. It’s got to be in people to make and drive change itself. The only way you can do that is to take a bit of a risk and try something that nobody else has done.
Even just using existing tools for a new purpose can be powerful. The beeper wasn’t initially designed for construction. It was originally designed for a hospital for emergencies. However, the device opened up new opportunities for construction. Our project kiosk involves us repurposing existing technology in a new way. Our entire team needs one access point to drawings and project documents. PlanGrid is providing that required unity in our construction environment. Whatever tool we can leverage to make that happen, I hope that the up-and-coming generation will also embrace this same concept to continue to push us forward.