If managing an electrical project were simple, every project would be completed on-time and within budget, right?
These two aims tend to be key goals, along with completing the work to a high standard. You will usually have some kind of project timeline with key milestone dates picked out, but meeting these is always the real challenge.
All sorts of roadblocks can come up which send electrical projects off-track, from miscommunications to missing parts. We’re looking at a few tips for keeping those projects on-schedule:
#1. Ensure smooth communication
One of the biggest hurdles on any type of project tends to be communication among team members and stakeholders. You could say that communication is one of the most vital elements for the successful completion of your electrical project.
What does smooth communication entail? A general definition is that messages are easily transmitted, received and understood by all who need to hear them. This sounds simple enough, but in reality often is not!
At the beginning of your project, it’s important to establish lines of communication and protocol for communicating. On some projects, you might be a subcontractor to a general contractor, so they may have preferred hierarchy of communication established already. If so, it’s important to communicate via the established channels. No one likes the old “I told someone in your office” line, when surprising them with a change.
On projects where you’re setting up lines of communication yourself, make sure these are communicated clearly with team members and subcontractors. Everyone should know the proper procedure for communicating and who the right points of contact are for any issues. This includes the client – if they have specific requests, who should they go to? How will these requests be recorded and communicated with the right people? Choosing the right channel of communication is important too.
One solution that many electrical contracting firms are now using is project management software. These SaaS platforms can help teams to communicate remotely and stay up-to-date at any time. Most of the software options are available for use on tablets or mobile, meaning people can use them on-site too.
On top of this, regular production meetings (usually at least weekly) are a good way to keep communication open with team members.
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#2. Track any changes
Another common hiccup in electrical projects is when changes are not tracked. This can create a snowball effect – someone doesn’t realise that this particular component was changed, and therefore these other parts need to be changed as well.
You need a documented method for the client or project manager to make change requests and to record these. Things tend to go sideways when a client calls the office or talks to a team member onsite, but nothing is recorded. People often think they will remember things, but the reality of an electrical project is that it gets so busy that “mental notes” are easy to forget.
This goes back to your lines of communication. That person at the office or team member should know who they’re meant to be talking to and where to record any details. It’s never a good feeling to find out that a change request was missed and perhaps now you need to do rework! This is a sure way to take your project timeline off-track.
#3. Keep a daily job journal
Keeping a daily job journal is one suggestion that has been used by many electrical contracting firms. These journals may take the form of a physical book, although in more recent times, people are often using a software tool to keep their records.
A daily job journal helps you to keep a record of what was achieved each day so that you can track it against project milestones. It can also be a useful tool to have once you’ve completed the project, so that your company can assess the timeline and results from your own point of view. Sometimes this can be very useful when you’re planning out milestones for a similar project in the future.
#4. Prepare detailed drawings
There’s often a big difference between the drawings that you get to base an electrical estimate off and drawings that are actually useful to your team in the field. For example, those early drawings you have often show a lot of diagrammatic information, often in the form of a riser diagram.
If you don’t have decent plan views for foremen and the contractor team, they may not be able to easily see actual device locations or conduit sizing or routing. Someone will have to count cables, plan cable grouping, size conduits, and plan routing. This can take extra time, which could have been spent getting on with the job.
Preparing detailed drawings ahead of time can be a good way of keeping an efficient process and helping the project timeline stay intact.
#5. Use a three-week schedule
A three-week schedule is a valuable planning tool that a lot of electrical contracting firms are starting to use. There are loads of little changes you may be managing on any given day, which may not be reflected in the overall project plan, unless they’re going to have a significant impact on the schedule.
The foreman or superintendent uses a three-week schedule onsite to plan out the details of the next few weeks worth of work in more detail than the project schedule. This includes manpower levels, work area details, and even task-specific information.
The three-week schedule is useful as a discussion point in your production meetings, so that everyone understands what’s happening.
#6. Consider a standardised system
When you look at your team overall, what mix of experience do you have? Often, there will be some “veterans” who have been in the trade for years, along with some who are much newer.
Anyone who has been around awhile tends to have their own preferences for how they do things. In many companies, it’s taken as a given that because these people are top performers, they should be left to operate to their own preferences. After all, they know the trade inside and out, and could probably teach the newbies while blindfolded! The thing is, while these people are the best at what they do, they often can’t articulate how it is that they do it so well.
When we talk about creating a standardised system, it’s not about improving the work of your top performers – doing so probably won’t improve company performance overall. A standardised system of processes is about bringing less-skilled or lower performers up to a higher level so that the gap is narrowed.
Sometimes there is resistance to a standardised project management system, because “we’ve always done it this way and it works,” or “there’s nothing wrong with my performance.” These sorts of attitudes have seen companies try and fail to implement a new system for project management. Sometimes those top performers can successfully argue that the standard system hurts their own performance. But overall, it might lift company performance if it brings up the lower performers.
This is something to keep in mind. If you could raise the output of lower performers through a standard project management system, would it improve your company’s overall outlook? This may be a case to hold firm for a new, standard system.
It’s always stressful for your company if an electrical project goes off-track. You can end up scrambling trying to make up for it, aware that any delay is not great for the client, for your team, or for that next project you have lined up!
Successful projects take a lot more than good skills on the tools. They require solid project management skills and a commitment to clear communication.
Overall team performance can be improved with a standardised approach to project management. This helps everyone to understand what’s happening and what they need to be doing at any given time. It may sound like a bit of a drag at first, but it can also be the secret to growth in your business.