PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog
construction workflows to improve

5 Construction Workflows You’re Wasting Time On (And How to Fix)  

Tips to Improve Submittals, RFIs, BIM and More Workflows

Anyone who’s ever tackled a colossal to-do list knows that a scattershot approach doesn’t work very well. That’s why you clean house systematically from room to room. It’s why you plan errands in advance, to take the most efficient route and avoid traffic. And it’s why we prioritize tasks that build on one another, to minimize waiting and wasting resources.

It’s all about workflow–and if you’re not thinking about maximizing construction workflows, you’re missing out big time. So much so that you might find yourself falling behind competitors and missing major opportunities.

So, what separates a good workflow from a poor one? Why does it matter? And ultimately, how do you fix shortfalls? Let’s take a look at all of this, and more, below.

What Is a Construction Workflow?

Before we get into how to optimize workflows in construction, let’s take a step back and define what actually defines a workflow to begin with: “Workflow is the definition, execution and automation of business processes where tasks, information or documents are passed from one participant to another for action, according to a set of procedural rules,” says PNMSoft, adding that “Organizations use workflows to coordinate tasks between people and synchronize data between systems, with the ultimate goal of improving organizational efficiency, responsiveness and profitability.”

It’s obvious how this applies to construction, where tracking tasks and documents is a considerable part of the overall process, from preconstruction through to the punch list. Because it streamlines and clarifies each stage of the process, implementing strong procedures for each part of the construction process has significant benefits for any firm.

Why Work on Your Construction Workflows?

Need a reason why you should be focusing on construction workflow improvements? Here are a few critical reasons: 

  • Reduce inefficiencies: Optimizing construction workflows is a crucial method of reducing overall ineffectiveness step by step.
  • Streamline processes: In many firms, especially construction, there are countless redundant tasks. Some of them are irrelevant to the real work. By focusing on your workflows, you gain new insight into what is necessary–and what is not.
  • Improve the quality of work: Fine-tuning workflows also means you can provide better construction quality. That, in turn, means happier clients, less rework and more referrals.

Key Pillars of Construction Workflow Failure and Time Waste

While construction workflows can bring huge boons to your company, that’s only if they’re well thought out, understood by every member of the team, and relevant to all processes, methods and materials. Unfortunately, many construction workflows are not well organized and implemented, and that’s a problem. 

Typically, they break down in one of three areas:

  • Communication: Good workflows require straightforward communication between all workers and stakeholders. Too many touchpoints like endless email chains are just as much a problem as not enough and can damage the workflow. When this happens, communication is scattered and unclear. It leaves people out of the loop, creates communication gaps and hampers productivity.
  • Data Silos: Systems and data are often not connected, and they’re frequently stored in separate locations. This creates double-entry or a good deal of missing and incorrect information that can derail workflows and processes. Again, too many or too few touchpoints.
  • Lack of Transparency: Workflows are only successful if there is visibility into the process. Workers need to know where they are in the process, what’s next and the specific action items required. Without transparency, action items are likely to be missed, delaying the project or creating work done in error.

Luckily, failure isn’t set in stone. Now, let’s take a look at how construction professionals can start to improve workflows, step-by-step. 

5 Construction Workflows to Improve Today

Want to whip your construction workflows into shape? Here are five construction workflows to improve stat.

1. Preconstruction

Time is wasted in preconstruction workflows when various stakeholders feel disconnected from one another. Since there are so many teams involved in this stage, the problem is rampant in many projects. Everyone is trying to upload plans, models and estimates all at once. Documents can be disorganized, missing critical files or get buried in the inbox. Teams struggle to get their ducks in a row when it comes to organizing and collating all the necessary information to start a project off on the right foot. 

Here’s how to improve the preconstruction workflow:

  • Integrate Workflows: Create integrated workflows that others can review quickly. This means getting off a reliance on email and manual processes that are likely to leave key team members out of the loop. 
  • Streamline Data from Preconstruction to the Field: Find a system that allows teams to seamlessly push preconstruction data and documents like bid information, designs, estimations and more to the field. For instance, a new integration between bid management solution BuildingConnected and collaboration software PlanGrid streamlines construction workflows between preconstruction and construction.

2. BIM

Building information modeling (BIM) is generally touted as a time-saving construction strategy–but only if it’s used correctly. Poor BIM use can lead to even more wasted time, especially if there is the use of duplicate information or gaps in modeling. This can frequently happen when two different teams model the same set of elements.

Additionally, data is often lost when models are used in the field. Originally detail-rich property data, for instance, is flattened into PDFs when sent into the field, leading to lost information. The attempt to recover or make sense of incomplete data can lead to errors, rework and wasted resources.

Here’s how to improve the BIM workflow:

  • Use the Cloud: Use cloud-enabled BIM to create a common data platform to avoid duplicate or missing info. This type of technology will allow everyone to see what’s already been uploaded and what has not, and any duplicates can be easily identified and removed.
  • Enhance Accessibility: Make BIM easily accessible in the field to everyone, and let anyone conveniently and immediately access models in the field and operations. Note you might need the right software to execute this efficiently.

3. Submittals

Submittals is one of the most important construction workflows to start off a project on the right foot, and one of the most commonly botched. 

Typically, the submittals review process is long and brutal. Stakeholders need to aggregate them from all engaged contractors, ensure they cover each aspect of the project and input them into a system–often manually, which introduces mistakes and omissions. This can take weeks or even months, and as the project grows in size and scope, so do the errors.

Here’s how to improve the submittals workflow:

  • Automate Submittal Logs: Automate creation of submittals with systems like PlanGrid’s Automatic Submittal Log (ASL), which enables you to create a downloadable spreadsheet with all submittal register items in a matter of minutes, all without mining data from the previous months or years of the project, or waiting on others to send it in. You easily save time and money, as well as dramatically reducing the chance of rework.
  • Digitally Track Submittals: Digitally manage and track in one system. Each stakeholder can upload submittals right to a cloud-based platform that organizes all of them, then sends them on to approving parties. This eliminates the need for contractors to manage them, and it neatly packages them all in one place to ensure nothing gets lost. Reviewers can access them through the system or right from email, with step-by-step instructions on the next stage of the submittals process. 

Be strategic and never miss an opportunity to think forward. Need more ways to accelerate submittals workflows? Check out some of the best strategies here.

4. RFIs

Requests for information are a painful but necessary part of any project, and without good construction workflows to account for them, your process will suffer without fail. RFIs are essential, of course, ensuring that the crew builds correctly, reducing rework and bad blood. But for all that they’re essential, RFIs are some of the roadblocking-est aspects of a project. Unanswered RFIs can lead to cost increases and time overruns on all types of construction, so it’s important to manage them with intelligent workflows.

Here’s how to improve the RFI workflow:

  • Go Digital with RFIs: Instead of relying on manual RFIs or managing on separate systems, use one digital system for all. Onboard everyone, from workers right on up to owners, so they know where to submit and answer RFIs.
  • Adopt Cloud-Based Solutions: Collaborate effectively, again using integrated and centralized cloud-based systems.
  • Think Carefully Before Submitting: For subcontractors, it’s necessary to think carefully before submitting RFIs and only when necessary. Instead, think them through and clearly define the problem, so that the person on the other end can answer the question completely and accurately.
  • Offer Solutions: Offer solutions, rather than leaving the recipient to think them up on their own.

For more ways on how to tighten up your RFI workflows, check out our recent blog: 10 No-Brainer Ways to Fast-Track and Improve RFIs

Further Reading:  6 Common Causes of Cost Overruns in Construction Projects

5. Punch Lists

Punch lists are essential to closing out a project, but they can be left to the last minute and can delay closeout further. Manually keeping track of punch lists can also waste time, as there is no transparent and accurate system to see the status of a task. In many projects, closeout is delayed because punch list items are not properly managed and handled. 

Here’s how to improve the punch list workflow:

  • Track Punch Lists as Tasks: Task-ify punch lists using cloud-based software. With digital technology to which everyone has access, you’ll have a much cleaner punch process.
  • Use Mobile Solutions: Implement punch lists for mobile, so you and your team can take the list everywhere you go.
  • Get Ahead of Punch Lists: Don’t wait until the end of the project. Instead, check tasks off as you complete them. This is further motivation to make sure you have a punch list system that can go with you, from the office to the field to environments lacking in wi-fi entirely.

Want to get your punch lists to zero in record time? Check out this post

4 Essential Traits of Successful Construction Workflows

No matter what your construction workflows are, certain traits equate to universal success. 

Four of the most critical construction workflow traits include:

  1. Standardized: Unified data platforms allow you to standardize workflows and processes in ways that reduce both redundancy and risk.
  2. Collaborative: Good communication allows all relevant stakeholders to easily get involved and provide feedback. To be truly collaborative, workflows cannot rely on the sole responsibility of one project team member, but rather includes and gives agency to everyone.
  3. Automated (when possible): When construction workflows are automated, it reduces significant administrative burdens and streamlines communications and tasks. Automation includes notifying the relevant person when action or approval is needed.
  4. Integrated: Integrating the software you are using for workflow is key to reduce errors and double data entries. Therefore, if you are using multiple technology platforms to manage one process, look to connect to maximize value. 

If that sounds like a good deal, it’s time to jump on the construction workflow train today.

Why Get Started with Construction Workflows Today?

Let’s be real: change doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t expect your team or your firm to finetune their workflows right off the bat. It will take time to implement them, work out the kinks and onboard everyone, from the highest stakeholder to the newest worker. 

Even if you start today, you can expect to go through a transition period of several months. For that reason, there’s no time to waste. Get started with optimizing these fundamental construction workflows today.

Grace Ellis

As a Content Marketing Manager at PlanGrid, Grace is the managing editor for the PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog. With over eight years of experience in marketing, communications and PR for technology companies, she is specialized in high-quality content creation across both traditional and digital media platforms.