Construction is a complex, dynamic environment where project managers face countless challenges in their pursuit to successfully deliver projects on time and within budget.
With numerous stakeholders, countless variables, and the ever-present risk of delays and cost overruns, effective project management is the key to success. One essential tool of efficient project management is tracking data, which empowers project managers to make informed decisions, mitigate risks, and optimize resources. By leveraging data tracking methods, project managers can improve decision-making, streamline communications, and deliver higher quality projects to their clients.
Whether you are a junior, first-time, or aspiring project manager, you should understand why data tracking is a vital skill in your arsenal and how you can best utilize it to achieve your project goals.
The Importance of Data Tracking in the Construction Industry
In today’s competitive construction landscape, data tracking is not just an option—it’s a necessity. It plays a pivotal role in enhancing project management efficiency and directly influences the overall success of a project.
I’ve met project managers who’ve told me they don’t see the value in data collection; that construction is too dynamic to benefit from historical information. Interestingly, those same project managers have praised me for my “record keeping”.
Let’s explore some of the key reasons why data tracking is so crucial in the construction industry:
Accurate, timely data enables project managers to make well-informed decisions at every stage of a project. Data tracking offers real-time insights into project performance, resource allocation, and potential bottlenecks.
By analyzing this data, project managers can make proactive adjustments to stay on track and ensure project milestones are met. This leads to reduced delays, improved risk management, and increased client satisfaction.
“…what gets measured, gets managed.”
Risk Identification and Mitigation
Construction projects are inherently risky, with numerous uncertainties and potential pitfalls. Data tracking allows project managers to identify risks early and develop mitigation strategies to address them.
By continuously monitoring project data, project managers can spot trends and patterns that may indicate potential issues or risks. Early risk identification enables teams to take preventive measures, minimizing negative impacts on project schedules, budgets, and quality.
Cost and Schedule Control
Effective data tracking is essential for maintaining control over project costs and schedules. By monitoring expenses, labor hours, and material usage in real-time, project managers can identify inefficiencies and address them promptly. Tracking progress against established schedules helps project managers detect and address delays, minimizing the likelihood of cost overruns and project timeline extensions.
By keeping a close eye on project data, project managers can make better resource allocation decisions and optimize their teams’ performance.
Delivering a high-quality end product is a top priority for construction project managers. Data tracking helps ensure that quality standards are met by providing insights into construction processes, materials, and workmanship.
By analyzing this data, project managers can identify quality issues early and implement corrective actions to maintain the desired level of quality throughout the project. This not only leads to improved client satisfaction but also reduces the likelihood of costly rework and warranty claims.
Stakeholder Communication and Reporting
Transparent, effective communication is critical to keeping stakeholders informed and engaged throughout a construction project. Data tracking enables project managers to generate accurate, up-to-date reports that keep stakeholders apprised of the project’s status, progress, and any potential issues.
With easy access to real-time data, project managers can provide stakeholders with the information they need to make informed decisions and maintain confidence in the project team’s ability to deliver the project as planned.
Methods of Data Tracking in Construction
With a clear understanding of the importance of data tracking in construction, let’s explore various methods that project managers can use to track data effectively:
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
KPIs are quantifiable measures used to evaluate the performance of a project against its objectives. Usually, it involves setting a benchmark and comparing actual progress against this benchmark.
The term is used across a lot of industries and it sometimes gets a bad reputation because KPIs are used to quantify employee performance. I don’t recommend using KPIs to reward or punish individuals for their performance, and I’ll get into why in a future post.
But KPIs can be used for overall project performance to help inform decisions.
Establishing and tracking KPIs allows project managers to monitor progress, identify areas for improvement, and make data-driven decisions.
Selecting the Right KPIs: Choosing the right KPIs is crucial for effective data tracking. Select KPIs that align with your project goals and provide meaningful insights into project performance. Common construction KPIs include schedule variance, cost variance, labor productivity, and safety incidents.
Your goal is to select
Monitoring KPIs Throughout the Project Lifecycle: Continuously monitor your chosen KPIs throughout the project lifecycle to ensure your project stays on track. Regularly review KPI data to identify trends and patterns, and take corrective action when necessary.
Adjusting and Updating KPIs as Needed: As your project progresses, you may need to adjust or update your KPIs to better reflect changing priorities or circumstances.
Be open to refining your KPIs to ensure they remain relevant and useful for tracking project performance.
One risk with KPIs is that work will be prioritized to optimize KPIs, even if the work doesn’t actually benefit the project. Make sure you’re not incentivizing the wrong behaviors with your KPIs and accept that there will always be nuance to the interpretation of performance.
Construction Project Management Software
Construction project management (CPM) software is a powerful tool for tracking data and streamlining project workflows. These platforms help project managers organize, manage, and analyze project data with ease..
Overview and Benefits of CPM Software: Construction project management software offers numerous benefits, such as improved communication, streamlined processes, and real-time data access. These platforms centralize project information, making it easier for project managers to stay on top of project progress and make informed decisions.
In many cases, construction software will offer a central web portal with customizable permissions allowing team members, clients, and stakeholders to contribute and view project data.
Examples of Popular CPM Software: Popular construction project management software options include Procore, PlanGrid, Buildertrend, and CoConstruct. (This not an ad for any of these product, nor do I recommend any one over the others).
These platforms offer various features, such as document management, scheduling, and budget tracking, to support efficient project management.
Tools of this type are especially beneficial on very large projects with many contributors. They may not be cost effective on smaller projects, but you should use your best judgement when deciding whether to integrate a CPM on your project.
Integration with Other Tools and Systems: To maximize the benefits of construction project management software, integrate it with other tools and systems, such as accounting software, estimating tools, and BIM platforms.
This integration ensures seamless data exchange and provides a holistic view of project performance. Most of these software options permit exports to Excel or CSV, which can be useful for building your own tracking and reporting tools.
Building Information Modeling (BIM)
BIM is a digital representation of a construction project’s physical and functional characteristics. It plays a significant role in data tracking and project management by providing real-time access to project information.
The Role of BIM in Data Tracking: BIM supports data tracking by offering a centralized, data-rich model that can be accessed by all project stakeholders. This enables project managers to monitor project progress, track changes, and ensure that everyone is working from the most up-to-date information.
Collaboration and Real-time Data Exchange with BIM: BIM facilitates collaboration and real-time data exchange among project stakeholders. By providing a single source of truth for project data, BIM ensures that all team members have access to accurate, current information, reducing the risk of miscommunication and errors.
Leveraging BIM for Construction Project Management: Project managers can leverage BIM to improve project management processes, such as schedule tracking, cost management, and quality control. By integrating BIM with other project management tools, project managers can access a wealth of data to inform decision-making and drive project success.
Internet of Things (IoT) and Sensors
IoT technology and sensors are revolutionizing data tracking in the construction industry. These devices collect and transmit real-time data, providing project managers with valuable insights into project performance and progress.
IoT in the Construction Industry: IoT technology is becoming increasingly prevalent in the construction industry, with connected devices and sensors integrated into various aspects of the construction process. These devices monitor and collect data on metrics such as equipment utilization, environmental conditions, and worker safety, enabling project managers to make data-driven decisions.
Data Collection Through Sensors and Connected Devices: Sensors and connected devices collect data on a wide range of project variables, including equipment performance, materials usage, and worker productivity. This data can be used to identify inefficiencies, monitor project progress, and optimize resource allocation.
Analyzing and Utilizing IoT Data for Construction Project Management: By analyzing IoT data, project managers can gain insights into project performance and make informed decisions to enhance efficiency and reduce risks. For example, data collected from sensors can help project managers identify equipment malfunctions early, preventing costly downtime and delays.
Like CPM and BIM, IoT may be most useful on larger-scale projects. But there are opportunities to leverage IoT on smaller projects. Internet-capable weather stations, project cameras, and even equipment GPS can be used to get a better picture of site progress.
Mobile applications have become indispensable tools for construction project managers, providing convenient access to project data and facilitating real-time communication and collaboration.
Advantages of Mobile Applications in Construction Project Management: Mobile applications offer numerous benefits for construction project management, such as improved communication, real-time data access, and streamlined workflows. By providing project managers with instant access to critical project information, mobile apps enable faster, more informed decision-making.
Popular Mobile Applications for Data Tracking: Several mobile applications are specifically designed for data tracking in construction project management, such as Fieldwire, Raken, and Procore’s mobile app. These apps offer features like document management, progress reporting, and issue tracking, making it easy for project managers to stay on top of project data.
Tips for Integrating Mobile Applications in Your Construction Project Management Process: To effectively integrate mobile applications into your project management process, ensure that all team members are trained on how to use the app and have access to the necessary devices. Establish clear guidelines for using the app and regularly update the data to ensure that everyone is working from the most current information.
I’ve always been a proponent of the benefits of data collection in construction. I used to be surprised by how little data collection was occurring on even very large projects.
As a Field Supervisor, I remember a time when data collection in construction proved to be exceptionally useful. It was a large power generation project we were working on, with multiple contractors, subcontractors, and numerous moving parts. I was primarily responsible for overseeing management of the schedule, but I also had responsibilities in quality assurance as well.
We used to run a Plan of the Day (POD) meeting every morning where all subcontractors and superintendents would share their plans. It was helpful to know where everyone was going to be so we could catch and mitigate potential conflicts ahead of time.
If you’re familiar with Agile project management or LEAN Construction, this was effectively a daily standup.
I found it unusual that, despite the fact that all of our subcontractors were submitting a written form with their plans each day, the sheets weren’t being kept. Not only that, there was no verification that the work was getting done per the plan.
tracking for me
The meetings stared to feel repetitive, so I started collecting the daily work sheets and compiling them into a spreadsheet just for my own benefits.
It became clear that a lot of the subcontractors were just putting generic activities on their plans, and sometimes they’d keep the same activities for weeks.
Kind of defeats the purpose.
The goal of the POD was to make sure subcontractors weren’t planning to work in the same area on the same day, but it was also the best opportunity for us (the General Contractor) to identify possible barriers and help eliminate them.
If the process wasn’t being taken seriously, the value of the meeting was largely missing.
After a few weeks of collecting the data into a single spreadsheet, I brought my suspicions to the project manager with the following proposal:
- We implement an end of day meeting to discuss the plan for the next day
- At this meeting, we go over progress from the day compared to the morning plan
He was reluctant at first, but having the information to show him went a long way in making my point.
We agreed to start scheduling the end of day meeting (called Plan of the Next Day, or POND).
This meeting ended up being much more like a true daily standup.
The meeting was intended to be short, and each foreman was asked three questions:
- What did you accomplish today? (per the morning plan)
- What is your plan for tomorrow?
- Is there anything in your way?
I continued tracking daily activities with the added bonus that I could now get information on progress. I honestly only expected the updated process to slightly improve the quality of information we were receiving each day, but there were a number of additional benefits.
It became immediately clear which activities were sitting in limbo.
We had a record of progress over time which made schedule updating much easier (if you’ve ever been responsible for monthly schedule updates, you know what a blessing that can be.)
Subcontractors were encouraged to provide more accurate, day-by-day information and the time spent in meeting replaced the time spent drafting the next-day plan.
And this isn’t a data collection benefit, but holding the POND meeting meant subcontractors knew the night before who was going to be active in which areas of site. At the morning POD, it was often too late to change course if there was a location conflict.
In the end, the data collection effort not only helped us get the project back on track but also established a more transparent and efficient communication process. It made me realize just how crucial even modest data collection is in construction project management. Since then, I made it a priority to continuously collect, verify, and report data on all my projects, improving the quality of our decisions and minimizing risks.
Challenges and Best Practices
While data tracking offers numerous benefits for construction project management, it also presents challenges that must be addressed to maximize its effectiveness. In this section, we’ll discuss some common challenges and best practices for data tracking in construction projects.
Data Accuracy and Consistency
Ensuring data accuracy and consistency is critical for effective data tracking. Inaccurate or inconsistent data can lead to incorrect decisions, increased risks, and project delays. To maintain data accuracy and consistency, establish clear data collection and input protocols, use standardized data formats, and regularly validate and clean your data.
Data Security and Privacy
Data security and privacy are paramount concerns in construction project management. With sensitive information, such as financial data and project specifications, being shared and accessed by various stakeholders, it’s essential to have robust security measures in place to protect your data. Implement strong access controls, encryption, and data backup procedures to safeguard your project data.
Overcoming Resistance to Change
Adopting new data tracking methods and technologies can be met with resistance from team members who are accustomed to traditional methods. To overcome this resistance, communicate the benefits of data tracking and new technologies, provide thorough training and support, and involve team members in the decision-making process when selecting and implementing new tools.
Training and Ongoing Support
Effective data tracking requires team members to be proficient in using the tools and technologies that facilitate data collection and analysis. Provide comprehensive training and ongoing support to ensure that all team members are comfortable using these tools and are able to leverage them to their full potential.
The one struggle of data collection is that by the time you need the data, it’s often too late. Some data can be found after the fact (i.e. weather data), or can be compiled (total hours worked from timecards/payroll), but sometimes data are just lost if not collected.
I like to keep records of hours worked by all employees, total equipment/material usage, quality documentation planned/completed, submittal progress, and many other things.
Most of this takes only a couple of minutes per day to stay on top of, and can have outsized benefits in the long-run.
One simple yet effective method to track data is using a spreadsheet-based system, such as Microsoft Excel or Google Sheets.
Spreadsheets are versatile tools that can be easily customized to track various data points relevant to your construction project. As you get to know me, you’ll learn what an Excel nerd I am. There are a lot of great software options out there, but nothing beats Excel for quick and customizable data trackers/analyzers.
This week, try and identify regularly occurring activities on your project that you’re doing but not actively tracking.
Create a record for it and make a commitment to tracking it.
Identify the key data points:
Begin by determining the essential data points you want to track. These could include project tasks, deadlines, budgets, resources, labor hours, material usage, and progress updates. Start with things you’re directly in control of.
E.g.: my first construction job was as a quality assurance supervisor, so tracking quality checklist completion is a good place to start
Create a template:
Open a new spreadsheet and set up a template that includes columns for each data point you want to track.
You’ll fine-tune the template over time, so don’t worry too much about getting it perfect.
You might create columns for task name, start date, end date, scope of work, assigned team member, etc.
Input your data:
Start entering your project data into the spreadsheet, ensuring that each data point is recorded in the appropriate column. Be as accurate and thorough as possible when entering the data.
You want to strike a balance between recording accurate data and not over-recording. Focus on recording only the information you couldn’t infer from other data or collect after the fact.
E.g. if you have a start and end date, you don’t need to record duration. You can calculate this later if needed (or have Excel calculate it automatically).
NOTE: If you’re using Excel, turn on version control.
I prefer to use one main spreadsheet that I update regularly, rather than making copies each day/week/month. But if your data get corrupted (or edited, or deleted) you’ll want to be able to roll back to the last accurate version. Microsoft SharePoint and some other cloud storage platforms will do this automatically, but make sure you’re backing up your data.
Update the spreadsheet regularly:
To keep your data up-to-date and relevant, make it a habit to update the spreadsheet regularly, ideally on a daily or weekly basis.
Encourage your team members to report any changes or updates promptly to ensure accurate data tracking.
I have an alarm set every weekday at 4:45 that reminds me to update my data collectors. If you have any other regularly scheduled tasks, try making it a habit to update before/after your other task.
Analyze and act on the data:
Regularly review and analyze the data in your spreadsheet to identify trends, monitor progress, and make data-driven decisions.
Use filters, sorting, or conditional formatting to highlight specific data points or identify areas that require attention.
Sometimes you won’t know what you’ll use the data for until much later. But just having the data stored in a central location will allow you to make inferences as situations arise.
Share the data with stakeholders:
Share the spreadsheet with relevant stakeholders, such as project managers, team members, or clients, to keep them informed and engaged. You can use cloud-based platforms like Google Sheets or Microsoft OneDrive to enable real-time collaboration and data access.
This may not be necessary for all data. I do a lot of data collection for my own personal benefit. But in many cases, granting read-only access to your team or client can demonstrate that you have your finger on the pulse of the project.
Data tracking is an essential aspect of construction project management, allowing project managers to make informed decisions, optimize resources, and deliver successful projects.
While a project can get by without tracking data, I’ve never seen a project that didn’t benefit from it. The small amount of time invested up-front will pay off.
By understanding the importance of data tracking and employing various methods, such as Key Performance Indicators, construction project management software, Building Information Modeling, IoT, and mobile applications, project managers can streamline their workflows and improve overall project performance.
Overcoming challenges related to data accuracy, consistency, security, and resistance to change, while embracing best practices, ensures that project managers can make the most of the data available to them. Furthermore, staying informed about emerging trends and technologies in data tracking, such as AI, machine learning will keep construction project managers ahead of the curve and well-prepared for the future.
Whether you are a junior, first-time, or aspiring project manager, or you’ve been in the industry for years, it’s never too late to start implementing data tracking in your construction projects.
By taking small steps, like using spreadsheet-based systems, you can begin to experience the benefits of data tracking and gradually explore more advanced tools and techniques. Embracing data tracking will not only contribute to your professional growth but also lead to greater success in your construction projects.