What does it take for an electrical project to run smoothly?

If you’ve spent a bit of time in the industry, you’ll know that a lot of kudos needs to be given to 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, deadlines sail by and budgets get blown. Managing a project well not only builds your good reputation with clients, but helps your company to realise a profit.

What does it take to keep electrical projects in line? Take a look at our tips for effective project management:

What tasks should you check off before starting the project? Get our checklist here

#1. Consider a standardised approach

There are probably hundreds of arguments from electrical contractors as to why they don’t feel they need to take a highly structured approach to project management. Many aren’t using a standardised project management system in practice, although there are several software tools available that can help.

Why consider taking a standardised approach and using a good software? Here are a few reasons:

  • These systems facilitate real-time updates. You’ll appreciate how important this is, especially on larger projects with many different parties involved. You’re often dealing with impacted schedules, short deadlines, or issues that crop up, so a clear channel of communication is key. Good software will be accessible instantly (such as on mobile or tablet) and help to ensure that everyone, whether in the field or in the office, is on the same page.
  • You get better transparency. How many times have your people in the field been 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.
  • Cost and time efficiency. While project software costs money upfront, when used well, you can more than make up for it in the long-run. Having a central point of communication and a standard approach can help to prevent miscommunications and save your time from going back and forth trying to get hold of people. At the same time, you can easily track costs in real time and ensure that you’re remaining within budget. This tends to be much more efficient than old spreadsheet methods.
  • Efficient document creation. How much time have you spent just on creating documentation for projects? The best construction project tools offer consistent templates and easy access so that document creation is a simple task.

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#2. Create efficient communication flow

Good communication is an essential element across every phase of an electrical project. 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. 

Establishing a system which is highly transparent will make things run more smoothly and reduce any back and forth with phone calls or emails. Some project management tools such as those discussed in the previous section will have communication systems built in, but otherwise, consider what will work best for your company, project size and budget. Who needs to be kept in the loop and how?

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 and give everyone a central place for daily communications.

A promising early beta of a new communications tool we’ve seen called Siteloop looks to combine both the simplicity of Slack, with a strong focus on the construction industry.

#3. Make planning a habit

Planning is of course a key part of electrical projects too. You’ve got several phases involved with a project, from preconstruction to finishing final work. Anything can happen once a project is in progress, and it pays to take an approach of continuous planning so that you’re prepared to revise plans if necessary.

One suggestion we have from observing the things that can hold up projects is to ensure 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.

#4. Get involved

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 do still pick up the tools every now and then or if it’s been a while, 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, it tends to make for better project managers if they are prepared 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 administrator overall.

#5. Plan productive meeting agendas

Most projects will involve some kind of weekly production meeting between the project manager and those in key roles, such as foremen. 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.

It doesn’t have to be this way – every meeting should have a clear purpose and end with some kind of result. You want meeting participants to take them seriously – otherwise, it becomes difficult to achieve anything from them.

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 for follow-up to be done to ensure that items were completed.

Get our pre-construction checklist for electrical projects here

Final thoughts

These are just a few tips which help to make for a more effectively managed electrical project. They are 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. Find a method that works well for your company, project size and stakeholders, and ensure that everyone knows how the system works.

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 be kept happy.