Standardization Key to Harkins Construction’s Digital Journey

By A. Vincent Vasquez
February 10, 2021

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One could say Harkins Construction’s transformational journey to become a digital contractor—including standardizing processes to capture data from the field in order to better inform decision making—began in 2013 when the company first started using project management software.

That said, for the first three years or so, Harkins only used the platform for its drawing, RFI and submittal tools; the many other tools available remained unused. The general feeling was that the tried-and-true ways of doing things were working—so why change? In addition, the company’s culture values autonomy. For instance, if a project manager had a preferred method of processing change orders, great; if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.

However, this status quo approach meant there could be more than 10 different methodologies being used across the company’s many jobsites to accomplish the same objectives. As a consequence, this lack of standardization resulted in an inability to mine data insights directly from the field.

Improving Safety

In 2017, Russell Tipton, projects controls executive, and his team decided to focus on how to improve safety across Harkins’ jobsites. Among other things, Tipton wanted to understand the most common inspection issues, the most common safety violations and to understand subcontractor safety performance records.

Unfortunately, all inspection data was captured on paper stuffed away in filing cabinets. Only the safety team on each project was aware of safety issues and scores.

In an attempt to modernize, Harkins decided to move paper inspections from to their project management software. More importantly, the company worked with its safety team to standardize inspections. Then, site teams were instructed to conduct weekly safety inspections via the new digital function.

Over a six-to-nine-month period, Harkins was able to get all of its safety information into the project management system. Now, the company has one source of truth for all of its safety records. Tipton and his team have also created a safety dashboard, so they can instantly see safety issues, common violations and trends. This information helps to inform training programs, as well as which subcontractors may need to improve performance.

Ironically, for Harkins, the teams that logged the most safety violations in their daily reports were actually getting the best inspection scores from the safety department random audits. This is because those teams that were more engaged in documenting violations became more focused on identifying violations when walking the jobsites. Safety became an increased priority and they were able to correct more violations as they were occurring.

Beyond Safety

Tipton and his team quickly realized they could leverage the project management software to standardize other functions from quality control to scheduling to change order management to financials.

They have modified each aspect of business—ones that lived on separate platforms—to merge them together in the platform. By standardizing processes and educating the team, the data can live in one place and assist the future of the business.

Utilizing different tools in the online system has now become paramount, providing real-time insights into the status of various projects, as well as for the company as a whole. Now various stakeholders, from executives to project managers and supervisors, can identify high-risk flags and trends in a variety of areas such as safety, schedule, quality control and financial performance.

This has been tremendously useful for Harkins executives. For instance, every morning, the dashboards indicate workforce statistics for the previous day and how averages are trending so that potential issues can be discovered early. Executives are able to more effectively manage the business, accessing information in a matter of minutes that previously would have taken hours to manually figure out.

Step By Step

Tipton would be the first person to tell you that the journey to becoming a digital contractor takes time and can’t be done all at once. There’s no easy button. Contractors have to take it step-by-step, focusing one area at a time. In addition, it can take nine months or more to get everyone using the same standardized processes. Then, it can take a few years of using the new processes before meaningful trends can emerge.

But the results have been outstanding. Harkins has seen a 3-4% improvement in its scheduling to contracts. And there’s a lot more where that came from.

by A. Vincent Vasquez

Vince Vasquez has more than 30 years of experience in enterprise sales, marketing and engineering. Working with 20 industry leaders, he is the co-author of Precision Construction, which teaches the fundamentals of IoT with a focus on the construction industry. He is also the co-founder and CEO of PrecisionStory, which brings Precision Storytelling—a new and innovative approach to enterprise storytelling—to market. Vince has an MBA from Stanford University, an MS in Computer Engineering from Carnegie-Mellon University and a BS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the University of California, Berkeley. 

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