Workforce

Building TeamBuilder

After experiencing chronic problems with workforce planning, Harkins needed an easy-to-use solution that would support not just staffing but training and development. So the general contractor designed and developed one itself.
By Patrick Hennessy
February 14, 2024
Topics
Workforce

In an industry where people are the primary assets of the organizations that perform the work, one of the toughest and most important challenges is effective workforce planning. For Harkins, a general contractor headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, with offices throughout the mid-Atlantic United States, this became a significant challenge.

A lack of visibility into workforce planning and future hiring needs not only hindered staffing efficiency but also stunted workforce development.

Operational silos within the company further complicated matters, impeding resource sharing and hindering cross-functional development—a vital component for fostering a well-rounded team. These impacts directly tied back to the bottom line in the form of extra hiring costs, inefficient staffing meetings and less-effective staffing plans. More importantly, they didn’t foster an optimal environment for building and developing the strongest teams possible.

In an industry where people are our primary assets, setting them up for success needs to be priority number one. At Harkins, that meant designing, developing and launching a customized solution.

WHAT WASN’T WORKING

Harkins’ primary problems around workforce planning could be categorized into three buckets:

Limited visibility: Without a solution that provided the executive team with access to real-time information, it became increasingly difficult to easily understand the current staffing plan in place for all project personnel.

Staffing silos: As a result of the lack of visibility into the full organizational plan, Harkins employees tended to become siloed within a particular team or division. Resource sharing throughout the company became rare. This further hindered transparency in hiring needs and the development of individuals as a result of limited exposure to different leaders, products and skills.

Inefficient staffing meetings: Regular staffing meetings among the executive team produced limited outcomes and took longer than needed.

This was directly attributable to the lack of a tool that would allow them to globally look at the Harkins’ resources and develop a plan to bring to the table prior to a meeting—and that would facilitate advance meeting preparation.

TRYING TO FIX IT

As Harkins grew as an organization, these problems scaled with that growth, and a solution was needed. The company’s two-person Project Controls team and its HR director partnered on developing a solution, with the executive team providing input and feedback along the way.

The first attempt at a solution was moving from a dated Excel spreadsheet to off-the-shelf desktop software used for construction task scheduling.

This provided better visibility and quicker access to information but created a new problem. It took one gatekeeper of the schedule master plan four to eight hours of follow-up work after each staffing meeting to update depending on the extent of the changes, yet another inefficiency in the process. Plus, on a related note, due to the complexity of the software, only one person in the company even understood how to change and modify the plan.

Harkins’ second attempt at a solution involved evaluating current market products to solve the problem. This ultimately led to creating a semi-custom workforce-planning solution within Harkins’ CRM software. While this made it easier to access the data and make necessary modifications to the plan, the reporting from the CRM software was lacking what it previously was with scheduling software, making it harder to understand the plan in place when reviewing.

After trial and error and multiple attempts to solve the problem with out-of-the-box solutions, the downside of those solutions became clear:

High cost
Lack of simplicity
Focus on a single user managing the plan rather than comprehensive team use/executive engagement

ACTUALLY FIXING IT

This led to the third and final attempt to solve the problem: a new workforce-planning product, custom-built by a development team led by Harkins’ Project Control group. The work—which led to a web application called TeamBuilder—was funded through the company’s innovative capital reinvestment program, a “Shark Tank”–style initiative through which employees pitch ideas to a board of peers.

Developed and implemented over a two-year period, TeamBuilder provides an easy-to-use, drag-and-drop, draft-board-like interface. It offers a clear picture of assignment needs across Harkins’ entire portfolio of projects and allows operations personnel to easily match available resources to those needs. It also features ways to convey the organization’s entire staffing plan to all stakeholders and can forecast the company’s staffing needs well into the future while accounting for multiple pipeline scenarios.

TeamBuilder has facilitated a new and improved way for Harkins to create teams, shifting the focus of workforce planning to communication, collaboration, simplicity and team development. Like any new idea, the group dedicated to creating this solution started with the problem, evaluated the current options on the market, identified the value gaps and developed a plan to bridge those gaps. When drafting the prototype, working with the software developers and testing the results, the focus always remained on that strategy.

Since the implementation of TeamBuilder by Harkins’ executive team, HR department and general superintendents, workforce planning has improved dramatically. Team leaders are consistently using and building plans within the product through scenario planning, while maintaining the overall master plan for the organization. This encourages communication about differences of opinion among those who are making staffing decisions—the project-executive and vice-president groups, as well as the executive team—and generates discussion around the best path forward.

Detailed forecasts of hiring needs provide a clear direction and path to execution for the recruiting team. Training and development needs are now apparent and a priority. Simple searches and filters based on things like technical skills and proximity to project location ensure that the plans developed are optimized based on the needs of the organization and also its workforce.

OUR ROI ≠ YOUR ROI

Was the staff time, money and other resources that Harkins invested in the development of TeamBuilder worth it? In considering the return on investment, four key benefits have become clear:

Time savings for everyone involved in the staffing process
Effective resource utilization
Minimized gap days or downtime between projects
Strengths-based development

When evaluating your own workforce-planning problems and needs, there are multiple paths to take and solutions to implement. The important thing to consider throughout this journey is that no two organizations are the same. Evaluate your own current processes, bring in the required stakeholders and constantly ask for feedback on how things are going.

Ensure to identify early on the wants and needs of your organization and develop a roadmap to achieve those needs. Stay true to that roadmap and change, if necessary, based on the feedback being received.

While a custom software solution worked for Harkins, it may not work for every company—and certainly it comes with its own set of challenges. It’s key that you identify champions on staff who will be able to drive the development process to a successful outcome. Evaluate everything on the market, and make the best-informed decision for your organization. When it comes to workforce planning, don’t underestimate the value it has on your people. Remember, they’re the most important assets that our industry possesses.

by Patrick Hennessy
Patrick Hennessy - Director of Scheduling and Analytics, Harkins

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