One of the most common complaints on a construction project is poor communication. It is impossible to accurately calculate what poor communication costs because it usually cannot be isolated as the reason an accident occurred, installation mistakes were made or labor budgets were exceeded. 

The center of project communication is the project office—most likely a mobile unit with a small office space at each end and an open area with a plan table, copier, storage area and often a folding table with several chairs.

Three basic types of meetings are common on most projects:
  1. production planning and control meetings;
  2. issue or conflict resolution meetings; and
  3. one-on-one meetings for disciplinary discussions, proprietary matters and personal matters.
Quality meetings require a quality meeting space.

Production Planning and Control Meetings
Truly effective production planning requires concentration and reflection, as well as dialog and disagreements. It also requires pictures and video. Thinking, concentration and reflection require quiet and a lack of interruptions. Sketches, pictures and video require wall space, AV equipment, and room to spread out and view these items. Some meetings may involve 10 or 12 people, while others may involve just two or three.

The room in which high-quality production planning meetings are held should be dedicated to production planning and able to be used without interruption. In addition, they should have:
  • adequate ventilation and a comfortable air temperature;
  • plenty of light;
  • lots of white board space;  
  • comfortable chairs and a table to accommodate lots of papers and planning sheets; and 
  • AV projection equipment and a pull-down screen.
Anything less will nearly always result in less than effective use of everyone’s time and, quite likely, a rushed and ineffective planning process. With a quality planning meeting environment in place, the odds are much higher that quality production planning meetings can be held—leading to more open conversation, better communication and, ultimately, more meaningful collaboration.

Production planning spaces should feature low-tech items such as post-it notes, whiteboards and erasable markers to encourage participation. Normally meetings that require candid input, collaboration and alignment have a much better result than those in a high-tech environment (e.g., a computer projection of detailed and complex schedules). In production planning and control meetings, high-tech gear can be helpful at times, but should not be the main focus.

Issue or Conflict Resolution Meetings
Hundreds of issues typically arise on today’s projects that require information or resolution. It is not uncommon for team members to have conflicts regarding how the HVAC, plumbing, ceiling grid and fire protection piping come together. Resolution of these issues is often critical to avoid schedule impact and requires information from several individuals, nearly all of whom are not onsite.

In this case, a high-tech environment (e.g., video meetings, PDF file manipulating software, smartphones, tablets and Internet access) enables high participation and is the best means of communicating quickly and openly. Additionally, a projector capable of displaying pictures or details in the project meeting space may enable onsite crew supervisors to resolve many issues among themselves.

Overall, the right technology gives the project team the flexibility to resolve conflicts as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.

One-on-One Meetings
By their very nature, one-on-one meetings require privacy. Most project office trailers have extremely thin walls and hollow doors. In many cases, sensitive meeting have to be taken outside to ensure the required privacy. Having one-on-one meeting space created in which a small meeting can be held in an environment that is private, comfortable and conducive to two-way conversation is critical.

Creating the environment and the facilities for quality project meetings is quite simple and makes economic sense. Unfortunately, after all the work has gone into estimating a project and it’s “crunch time” just before finalizing a price, the general conditions budgets are always candidates for the chopping block, and project meeting space traditionally is given a relatively low priority. And yet, the monthly cost for a production planning space is often less than the monthly cost of one pickup truck, and it’s worth the highly positive impact on project communication.


Michael H. Casten is founder of Construction Concepts, Greensboro, N.C. For more information, email mcasten@constructionconcepts.org.