How Technology Is Rebuilding Communication in Construction
According to the Project Management Institute, approximately 1 out of every 5 projects fails due to ineffective communication, equating to about $75 million in risk for every $1 billion spent on projects in the US. These stats highlight two important facts:
1. Communication is critical to success.
2. Every industry struggles with communication.
If you can’t effectively convey ideas between individuals, you can’t realize your goals.
As an industry particularly vulnerable to communication failures, construction needs to understand its current communication standards and reassess how it leverages technology for success.
What's Wrong with Construction Communication?
Why is it that construction often misses the mark on communication? It’s not that the people in the industry are inherently bad communicators - in fact, they’re likely no better or worse than anyone in any other industry.
In their book "Construction Communication," Stephen Emmitt and Christopher Gorse note that the main problem rests in the complex network required for completing a construction project:
"The construction industry is not a homogenous industry, it is made up of many diverse and competing organizations and professional partnerships, the majority of whom are brought together for one, bespoke project, before transferring to the next. The industry is notorious for its adversarial behavior and litigious orientation and it is questionable as to whether there is ever a real ‘team effort’ when it comes to designing and producing a building."
When every construction contract requires a unique team for a unique build, new communication networks and norms must be established from scratch each time. If companies with a permanent staff and constant focus can’t get communication right, it’s no wonder construction battles with it.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only hurdle for construction; contractual obligations also require teams to meticulously document everything. So, not only do you have to constantly get new teams to communicate effectively, you have to record it all as well. These are unique challenges to construction, and the industry has had to figure out how to handle them completely independently.
Construction Communication, Technology, and Productivity
All things considered, construction has done a good job of overcoming the industry's communication challenges so far, but it shouldn’t have to be this way. If construction firms could focus on what they do best, building, and not have to worry about the nuances of communications, they could drastically increase productivity. Thankfully, technology has made this possible.
Tech has worked wonders for communication and productivity in terms of speed, accuracy, and ease. But, just because you use construction software, doesn’t mean you’re improving communication. In fact, the wrong software can actually hinder productivity. Software shouldn’t just digitize the paper processes of the past, it should simplify and evolve those processes to make them easier and faster. Filling out a digital form is just as tedious as filling out a paper one, and doesn’t do much to streamline communication.
Evolving communication with software
Think about the Rolodex. It’s a great way to physically organize and access your professional contacts, but it would be a terrible method of digital organization. Nobody would use or purchase software that forced you to manually enter contact information, only allowed you to search it alphabetically, and didn't provide web integrations. How should a digital Rolodex function? Like LinkedIn.
LinkedIn automatically imports your contacts, shows you your second and third-degree connections, lets you browse their entire network, and lets you advertise yourself, along with many other features. The core idea functions similar to the rolodex, but that’s where the likeness ends. Technology takes the processes of the past and multiples their ease and effectiveness by rethinking them, not replicating them.
You wouldn’t use a networking website that worked like a rolodex, so why use construction software that mimics equally outdated paper processes? In organizations with consistent teams and goals, it’s easy to work through through the bumps of new tech. In construction, you don’t have the time to deal with hiccups that might arise from new tech, so it’s easier to stick with what’s already been done.
Unfortunately, this situation heavily contributes to the industry’s current productivity decline. Today's mobile technology has become too pervasive and powerful to not fully embrace its capabilities. Those who fail to adopt new methods of communication and collaboration will be left behind.
Understanding Technology and Communication in Construction
Construction has unique technology needs. Equipment needs to be mobile, durable, replaceable, fast, and simple. Up until recently, technology was still focused on the office, it hadn’t become practical or useful for the field, which meant that a large part of the construction workforce wasn’t receiving these benefits.
Technology and software have now come far enough that field and office can use the same software on any device anywhere in the world. It’s time to take a deep look at communication in construction, how technology can change it, and how to bring about that change.
To do this, we've published a series of posts investigating the following topics:
We take a look at how software can improve or hinder large scale communication within construction, including the processes behind submittals, RFIs, task management, and site coordination.
Interpersonal communication can be a source of friction or an invaluable asset when running a construction project. We explore the often contentious PM and Superintendent dynamic to see how software can help eliminate rivalries throughout a project.
Field and office can't communicate if the field doesn't have the right equipment. This piece takes a look at the most popular mobile technology for the field, what works best, and how you can get the most use out of it.
The Internet of Things is creating incredible new opportunities for construction communication and reporting. We dive into some of the most exciting developments and how they're transforming old processes.
Quick dispute resolution might be the largest cost and time saving benefit of using construction collaboration software. This piece investigates how software and cloud storage make this possible, and the best practices to follow to make disputes a thing of the past.
And if you'd like a deeper dive, check out our industry reports:
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With $30 trillion in project spending by 2030, declining productivity, and low tech adoption - construction is due for a technology overhaul.
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