What does it take for an electrical project to run smoothly? Strong electrical project management skills are essential to reducing estimating mistakes and creating repeat relationships with your clients. If you’ve spent time in the industry, you’ll know that a lot of kudos comes with having well-executed project management – overseeing the big picture and drawing the team together to take care of the details. Without effective project management details get missed, budgets go over and deadlines sail by. Managing a project well not only builds a good reputation with clients, but also ensures business profit and success. So what does it take to keep electrical projects in line? Take a look at our tips for effective project management:
1. Consider a standardised approach
When you implement a standardised approach to your project management process there are plenty of benefits. As we all know, electrical projects can change fast and managing scope creep on projects means being able to react to growth or a change in requirements using a set format. Having a proper project management procedure allows you to deal with impacted schedules, short deadlines and any other issues that crop up. In short, having a nailed down approach means you can facilitate real-time updates while still ensuring long-term deadlines and budgets are met. How you facilitate a standardised project management approach may involve using software, internal processes, team training for your estimators and project managers, or a combination of all three, which we’ll discuss more below.
2.Adopt project management software
Using project management software, particularly cloud-based versions, can also help electrical estimators to easily access and manage client details, work - and pretty much anything else. Good software will be accessible instantly on mobile or tablet and help to ensure that everyone, whether in the field or in the office, is on the same page. How many times have your estimators been onsite, stuck not knowing the status of equipment orders? This can be particularly frustrating when the client is asking questions about project progress. Direct access to this sort of information helps your team to give reliable answers and build trust with the client.
BuilderTrend is an example of project management software that electrical projects may use. While project software costs money upfront, when used well, you can more than make up for it in the long-run. Some of the benefits of having project management software include:
- A central point of communication to speak with the entire team
- Easily track costs in real time and against budgets
- Template documents and easy project creation
- Storage and file access
View this guide for more examples of cloud-based software for electrical estimating teams.
3. Track your projects from start to finish
Poor project management often translates into missed details and a forgetting of key details. Some of the ways you can mitigate this and track your electrical project correctly include:
Keep a daily job journal
Keeping a daily job journal is one practice 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 software like a notes app to keep records. Within your daily job journal you can keep track of what was achieved each day, working towards the project milestones. This isn’t difficult to implement and gives you a strong record to refer back to after the project ends, and to help effectively estimate similar projects in the future.
Track project changes
Another common hiccup in electrical projects is when changes aren’t 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. Document any changes, including the client or project manager details, when the request was made and whether it was confirmed. It’s easy to try and rely on your memory alone, but the reality of an electrical project is that it gets so busy that “mental notes” are easy to forget.
Use a three-week schedule
A three-week schedule is often employed by electrical project teams as it can be used as a discussion point for forward-planning within project meetings. The foreman or superintendent of the site will often use a three-week schedule onsite to plan out the details of the next few weeks worth of work, going into more granular details than the project schedule. This includes resources needed, projects to complete and even task-specific information. The three-week schedule is then useful as a discussion point in your production meetings, so that everyone understands what’s happening. There are plenty of online calendars which offer three-week schedules which can be printed for free (example here), or you can use an online tool like Asana, Teamup or even the calendar associated with your email account.
This is useful for mirroring what’s happening on site and ensuring that everyone is aligned on the project milestones.
4. Improve your communication flow across the project
Good communication is an essential element across every phase of an electrical project. There has been a view in the past from electrical estimators that they just want to get their head down and get on with the job. However, soft skills like communication play a big role in creating a good reputation and being hired repeatedly to estimate for new projects. As reported by Ventura Consulting: “Communication, or how we express our positions, interpretations and requests is the key to success on construction projects. This is not theory. It has been proven. A Harvard Business Review article about a study at MIT’s Human Dynamics’ Laboratory showed that communication was not only the number one predictor for success above all other variables—more than education, experience, etc.—but that certain modes of communication were more effective and led to higher degrees of success than others.” You need to establish a communication flow with every stakeholder, supplier, subcontractor and team member on-site, preferably without spending hours playing phone tag or becoming lost in your email inbox. So what does good project communication involve?
Set a communication protocol
Creating lines of communication early on within the project is key. You will likely want to know and agree:
- The proper procedure for communicating issues, whether that’s by phone, email or within a project management tool
- Who the right points of contact are for any issues and how they prefer to be communicated with
- Which stakeholders need to be kept in the loop and how - not everyone will want to be cc’d into every email
Choose your communication tech stack
There are CWM (collaborative work management) tools out there such as Smartsheet which provide solutions targeted at facilities and construction. Otherwise, you could look at more simple, centralised communication tools. Slack is a good example – you could create a channel for the project to give everyone a central place for daily communications, although arguably this may be better for internal teams.
5. Manage the different stages and suppliers of your electrical project
As well as the fundamentals around communication and reducing electrical estimate risk, there are also methods you can use to project manage those outside of your own organisation.
Provide clear drawings
There’s often a big difference between the drawings that you use to complete the first stage of electrical estimating 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 routing. This can take extra time, which could have been spent getting on with the job. Preparing detailed drawings ahead of time can help the project timeline to stay intact.
Ensure a reliable supply chain
Good project management in electrical projects is not just about you and your own work standards, but those of any subcontractors and suppliers you use too. Your clients want to know that a reliable supply chain is working on their project and doing their best to provide high quality services in a timely manner.
Try to book contractors early on in the project so that you can have your pick of the best options available. Once your subcontractors are booked, communicate early and don’t just leave them to “get on with it”. Clearly stating project milestones and ensuring they can help meet those will keep your project running smoothly. After all, your clients will love it if they can get a “package deal” of quality contractors while working with you on an electrical project.
Mitigate procurement issues
One measure that can reduce project hold ups is ensuring that procurement is taken care of as early as possible. It’s incredibly frustrating when final work and payment for the job is held up due to small items that haven’t yet arrived. A solution is to sit down at the beginning of the project with your estimator and go through the specifications and original estimate for the project. Highlight any items that might be unusual, require special order, or are known to have long delivery times. These are the things to get onto immediately so that your final delivery of work isn’t held up.
6. Be a familiar face on the site of your project
It’s often the case that project management work can be heavy on the “management” side and less so on the project or “doing” side. Project managers can find themselves spending a lot of time in the office, removed from the construction site, besides updates from the foreman on-site. Whether you’re off the tools or not, it’s important to stay in touch with what goes on in the day-to-day onsite. Observe and ask questions – often the work in the field can drastically affect workflows and timelines.
Besides that, good project managers tend to be familiar with the site and the duties of every professional who is working under them. Site practices evolve, and educating yourself will help you to be a better project administrator overall.
7. Organise regular project management meetings
Most projects will involve some kind of weekly production meeting between the project manager and those in key roles. These are an important communication tool and help to hash out any issues and generally keep the project on-track. Well, they should be important. Unfortunately, not all meetings are created well and the “meeting for the sake of a meeting” has often been the bane of people in the industry. Particularly during the current climate, when most organisations are avoiding unnecessary face-to-face contact. The way to ensure that meetings are productive is to prepare a good agenda beforehand and to follow that up with clear notes and action items. This makes it easier to keep a good record (which forms part of the overall notes on the project) and to follow-up to ensure that all items were completed.
These are just a few tips which help to make for a more effectively managed electrical project. They may feel like largely common sense however, it’s surprising how many of these things fall by the wayside and hinder electrical projects. Strong communication managed well between all concerned parties will lay the foundation for a successful project. Plan well, stay in touch with the job site and consider a clear, standardised approach to project management. Your company will build on its professional image and your clients will provide you with repeat work.