Effective communication costs little yet the ROI can be huge.
Semi-automated equipment, prefabrication, lean construction and IPD contracts all contribute to increased productivity. But something much simpler can significantly move the needle, too: effective communication.
In a recent survey by Dodge Data & Analytics, 35 percent of respondents chose increased training on communication skills as a top method of improving labor productivity.
When teams fail to communicate effectively, missteps and delays can occur that end up costing time and money. A survey by PlanGrid and FMI of nearly 600 construction leaders found that time spent on “non-optimal” activities including fixing mistakes, looking for project data and managing conflict resolution cost the U.S. construction industry $177.5 billion in labor costs per year, and that most rework is a result of miscommunication or a lack of information and could cost the industry another $31 billion.
The study also found that each team member on every project spends nearly 14 hours per week managing conflict and managing work that had to be corrected due to miscommunication. That’s almost two full days per week that could be better spent if the teams communicated effectively.
So how do you make more effective communication happen?
Turn to technology
Project Uptime spoke with Jay Snyder, FMI’s technology practice leader, who noted that communicating the wrong information is common in construction. “Information being communicated needs to be accurate and timely. Clear, concise, complete communication of erroneous or late information is obviously of no value and in fact has detrimental effects,” said Snyder.
Technology, such as integrated project management software, BIM and reality capture, is an obvious solution to ensuring that the latest information is being used and shared.
“There are a plethora of software, devices and equipment to facilitate improved communication,” said Snyder. “But there isn’t a magical suite of technology that I can prescribe that will suit every company because each contractor is planning and executing work somewhat differently.” He recommended evaluating tech in light of the company’s strategic objectives and organizing a tech steering committee to find improvement opportunities and potential tech solutions.
“Don’t assume your message was properly heard or read. You must expect and ask for acknowledgment that the person on the other end understands the information, whether it’s through verbal confirmation or an email transmission.”
Set the tone at the top
Good communication is also a matter of company culture. Snyder said executives and managers should lead by example, keeping employees in the loop on communications with the clients when appropriate, providing positive feedback when an employee uses effective communication to solve a problem and being transparent with information.
While many companies use partnering sessions or debriefs with clients to identify lessons learned, company leaders can also hold debriefs among the internal team so employees can learn how their communication impacts the outcome of the project.
Snyder also recommended devoting time to analyzing a company’s current communication performance. “There are courses, books and entire careers that have been built trying to help us communicate better,” said Snyder. “But an effective exercise for a company to do is deliberately assess how effectively they manage and communicate information in order to understand how they are doing and what they want to improve.”
Practice makes perfect
In any communication, because stakeholders bring different priorities and levels of knowledge, it’s easy for information to be misconstrued or misunderstood.
“Don’t assume your message was properly heard or read,” advised Snyder. “You must expect and ask for acknowledgment that the person on the other end understands the information, whether it’s through verbal confirmation or an email transmission.”
Snyder suggests having teams practice their communication skills through role playing before communicating with the owner or outside partner. Such an exercise can also help teams feel more comfortable giving each other feedback and build trust among colleagues.
Keep up the efforts
“It’s worth noting that there is no end state to improving communication,” said Snyder. “Personalities, commitments, changing technology and ‘life’ cause distractions and pressure, which will continually create inefficiencies and opportunities to improve communication and collaboration in business.”
Donna Puglisi is a communications and marketing professional specializing in the construction industry.