7 Habits of Highly Effective Projects – Habit 3 “Automate to Operate”

October 2, 2018

Habit 3 of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Projects is probably one of my favorites. It is centered in the age old truth that no one has enough time in their day to get everything done. The habit that best-in-class owners of capital projects have figured out is to automate as much of the things that steal their time as possible so they can reapply their time to the things that directly improve program performance. There are 2 dirty little secrets that tend to steal much more of our time than we care to admit.
 
Dirty little secret number 1. According to several studies including one conducted by the Project Management Institute, as much as 80% of a project manager’s time is spent communicating project status. When speaking with your design team, you need to discuss the latest cost and schedule status on their work. When speaking with the general contractor, they want to discuss contract status. When speaking with internal management, they need to hear the latest overall status. It’s all related but requires different information.
 
To have productive meetings, we pour a ton of time into crunching numbers, putting them into different Excel spreadsheets, developing a bunch of charts and then pasting them into PowerPoint slides. I don’t have to tell you about those annoying “#NAME?”, “#VALUE!”, “#REF!” and “#DIV/0!” errors that inevitably show themselves after the 3rd version of your work is saved. It is enough to make your hair turn grey – like it did mine.
 
Dirty little secret number 2. I think we can all agree that we spend too much time chasing people down for things. How many times have you personally walked an emergency change order request all around the office, even climbing flights of stairs to get everyone to sign it an approve it? How about a late application for payment that a contractor desperately needs today or they will walk off the job site?
 
When you put it all together, those two things are way more than all the hours in a day. Even if you get it all done, it leaves very little time to for being out on the job site, working on value engineering alternatives, motivating and encouraging teams and getting home in time to have dinner with your family.
 
Leading owners of capital programs that exhibit the “Automate to Operate” habit have a relentless focus on driving non-value activities out of the process for the sole purpose of stealing time back for the things that matter. They accomplish this through cycle time reduction - and I have to tell you, they are tenacious at it. 
 
Let’s go back to the reporting and status secret. Leading owners use construction program management software for capital projects designed specifically for owners. This centralizes all information related to program performance and eliminates the need to pull data from multiple systems and organizations. The second thing they do is use integrated business intelligence to automate graphically rich reporting and analysis so any slice of program performance reporting is just a click away. These two, simple steps eliminates all the headaches of reporting and gives them more time back in their day.
 
To eliminate the constant need to chase people down, best-in-class owners leverage business process automation found only in the best program management solutions. Business process automation is a fancy way to say "automated workflow system". The best project management information systems (PMIS) offer a way to automate processes like change order requests, request for information, funding approvals and other work processes through a configurable workflow engine that automatically alerts stakeholders to action items and tracks status. This capability slashes cycle times. In fact, some owners have seen 30:1 cycle time reductions in processes such as application for payment. World-class organizations even integrate this process with their accounting systems so no time is wasted.
 
Bottom line is that no organization has to be resigned to the fact that they have to muscle their way through these challenges. You can take simple steps that lead to getting more time back in your day and apply those hours to project leadership, stakeholder integration and perhaps getting home for dinner on time.

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