Video Could Change Project Management for Good
Communication is the most undervalued aspect of a project manager’s role. Nearly every task on their todo list involves communicating clearly and efficiently with someone. Not only are project managers expected to juggle multiple projects at a time, keep everything organized, and put out fires along the way, they’re also held responsible for maintaining a project’s original schedule.
“All of that requires great communication,” says Michael Swan, a Project Manager for Cloud9Smart. “The simplest of miscommunications can definitely slow down a production. You have multiple trades all relying on one another to be able to do their part. You can’t do phase three before phase two. If you are not ready-to-go once the phase before yours is complete, you just become the weak link.”
And yet, becoming the weak link is all too easy when the role requires so much collaborative multitasking and remote communication. And while many PMs manage to perform well under this kind of pressure, better tools could provide much needed support, increase team morale, reduce project costs, and speed up delivery. In particular, project management needs better tools for improving communication. If there’s one aspect of the role that could make the biggest improvement in construction and architectural projects, especially, communication appears to be the key.
The key is visual communication
In depth analyses of the project management skills that are most crucial for success revolve around clear, constructive communication. That might sound simple with qualified professionals but miscommunications are known to cost the average construction project about 5% extra. After all, most project managers are involved in every step from initial planning through the building phase. They need to work with nearly everyone involved in the project, from proposal to construction site.
Swan says this is where project management could use some help. “One of the most common miscommunications happens over the phone, when you think you are talking about the same thing but find out later that you are not.” Continuing to rely on phone calls and in person visits, when live and pre-recorded video is available is inviting senseless waste.
“Visual representation is key,” Swan goes on to say. “Especially when you have multiple, but similar, projects within a project.”
In fact, communication is so important for project management that study after study have found it’s the cornerstone to not only how well the project manager performs, but how well the entire project comes out in the end.
One study found that architecture and construction project managers are responsible for 34–47% of each project’s success. That’s a large responsibility, with plenty of inherent challenges. This isn’t news to anyone in these industries, of course. Large projects take an immense amount of collaboration to come together, and PMs are always at the heart of that process. That’s why even in cases where communication doesn’t seem to be the obvious problem, the easiest solution is almost always to improve team communication.
Imagine this scenario: You’re a project manager who works in architecture or construction. You’ve got multiple projects to juggle or one very large, unwieldy project that demands more of your time than exists in a working day. Among the most time consuming aspects is travel. You check in with your general contractor twice a week, but often don’t get a timely response. In addition you frequently get urgent phone calls that send you to the site immediately. Now traveling to build sites and seeing the progress in person is an important part of great project management, but the hurry-up-and-wait pace creates inefficiencies and drives up the costs of projects.
One 2005 study found that 23% of working time on a construction site is waiting around. That’s nearly a quarter of the time. Oftentimes this waiting is because materials are not ready or some other logistical problem got in the way, but other times it’s simply because the team has to wait for the project manager to come out to the site and check on something. Either something breaks, or the team needs the PM to make a decision before they can proceed. In some of these cases, a site visit isn’t actually necessary if you have the right tools.
Getting eyes on the problem
Video allows for richer communication, but more importantly, it allows for clearer communication. Any PM will tell you, they spend plenty of time communicating with sites to solve problems as they arise. But many of them would eagerly confess there isn’t enough hours in a day to talk through or rush back to a site every time something goes wrong. Video can help with that. And getting a clear view has the added benefit of being an objective viewer too.
While phone conversations about a project’s progress require a single person to interpret what’s important to convey, and what should be left out of the discussion, video presents the whole scene. Swan says the former can easily delay production. “One trade will often assume that what they are altering doesn’t affect the other trades on the project. They don’t communicate the change until it’s already been implemented, and then you have to reinvent the wheel each time.”
And time is money, the construction site can’t be waiting around for a visit from the project manager, taking a more proactive approach, team members could be capturing mobile videos to document what is happening in real time. This way the team can keep their PM up to date throughout the day, increasing the quality of communication and reducing the frequency of site visits.
The applications extend beyond that, too. Project managers could empower employees in new ways, creating workflows with checklists or other instructions so that those on site have a list to work from and can get the necessary video coverage the PM needs to make sure the job is getting done.
That’s not to say that the site would never need a visit from the project manager, they absolutely would. However, it’s easy to see how many visits wouldn’t be necessary once the team shared the video and discussed the options.
Because the project manager has such a massive effect over the success of a project, the tools they use are also going to be critical. Investing in the right software with the right features will eliminate that 5% miscommunication tax, reduce that 23% waiting time, and enable faster projects with happier team members.