Analyzing GIS data using BigQuery and PowerBI

TLDR, live report here

Due to the COVID19 pandemic Google has made some public dataset free to query, one of them is openstreetmap, I thought it is an excellent opportunity to play with BigQuery GIS functions.

Using the existing documentation, I come up with this Query which return all the geometries in a radius of 100 Km from an arbitrary point ( for some reason I choose Microsoft office building in Brisbane as a reference) and with a tag =amenity

WITH
params AS (
SELECT
ST_GeogPoint(153.020749,
-27.467539) AS center,
100000 AS maxdist_m )
SELECT
ar.key,
ar.value,
feature_type,
osm_id,
osm_way_id,
geometry,
ST_CENTROID(geometry) AS center_location,
ST_Distance(ST_CENTROID(geometry),
params.center)/1000 AS distance
FROM
bigquery-public-data.geo_openstreetmap.planet_features,
params,
UNNEST(all_tags) AS ar
WHERE
('amenity') IN (
SELECT
(key)
FROM
UNNEST(all_tags))
AND ST_DWithin(ST_CENTROID(geometry),
params.center,
params.maxdist_m)

the query return

WARNING

the query processed 245 GB in 16 seconds !!!, and it did cost 0 $ at least till 14 Sept 2020, after that it will incur cost ( 1 TB/5 $)

you can explore the result using the built in Geoviz, but you can’t share the data.

PowerBI does not support custom queries when connecting to Bigquery , I had to save the query results in a view, then the connection to PowerBI is straightforward.

the query results is returned as a Key, Value

using PowerQuery pivot, it is trivial to denormalize the table ( I could not find how to do that in SQL), anyway the results looks much easier to analyze.

by the way just be careful , PowerBI support a maximum of  32766 characters , but there is an easy workaround, split the column by 32766 and then concatenate in a calculated column, yes it will increase the memory size, but it works.

and here is the final results using the beta version of icon Map, for example filtering all the data less than 4 Km, if you want print quality map you can always use R visual, see example here

the custom visual is still in beta, polygons and multipolygons render perfectly, point works but with a visual discrepancy, and I don’t think linestring is supported at all.

Icon map is a very versatile visual, I hope the author will release an official update and fix the rendering bugs and add an option for color per category.

Bigquery GIS is very powerful and easy to use, the documentation is excellent, I wished only they release a smaller public GIS dataset to play with.

SharePoint / PowerBI / Primavera P6 Integration – By Darrin Kinney

Which mix of applications will improve your construction progress reports? Understand simple steps, like adding comments to SharePoint and quickly publishing Primavera construction data through Excel, Access, and PowerBI.

I have dreamed about the ability to easily integrate many of my favorite applications. A few technological roadblocks had prevented me from pursuing this, but I am finally in a position to showcase what I view to be a quite seamless integration chain and management process.

Our key objective is to

  1. View our schedule activities
  2. Allow our area specific team to provide commentary on each activity (if we view the activity deviating from our plan or perhaps need to include notes about key interfaces)
  3. Allow our project wide team view our comments
  4. Provide a tool to present schedule and progress aspects of our area

Note that I still view JIRA as providing a tool that immediately makes this post redundant.  Although, in lieu of everyone jumping on JIRA, let’s dive right into an interesting use case of common applications.

Primavera

Primavera exported to Excel

For this example, I am using dummy schedule data. The ideas here are quite universal and can be used with any schedule. Care should be take to ensure proper filtering to avoid ever displaying too many activities.

The key objective here is to be able to export our activities to Excel and then upload the data into a SharePoint list. Tools, such as XER reader, provide the ability to quickly move activities into Excel.

SharePoint

Here, a lot of interesting hacks and strategy come into play.

Digital Strategy – Enter Data Once

SharePoint is a perfect tool for editing data in one location, and to source it in many different ways without having to reenter it.

The first thing we need to do is create a list.

so02_sharepointlistsetup

You can insert a few more columns to pull in Plan Dates, or prior updated dates. However, we are only looking at a comments functionality with this list. We can live with a very stripped down data set (and leave PowerBI to capture everything at a later point).

SP03_sharepointList

The above view is what you would see in the edit view on your SharePoint website. This functionality is fast and allows a team to provide a much more concise internal list of comments specific to each activity (or perhaps only key interface activities).

Where the above doesn’t work? It doesn’t work in situations where we might have a chain of comments. SharePoint allows effectively free text fields. We can enter multiple lines of data for each comment and include dates inside the comment for when the comment was made. There are more sophisticated data models that would allow for multiple comments to be actioned on each activity. However, this example is a lightweight solution — using easily available, off-the-shelf technology. From this point, we dive into your standard PowerBI template.

An URL with predefined filter criteria applied to the SharePoint list is simple. However, we need to use this with caution, because we may end up with 1000s of activities in SharePoint and it will be hard to update this in the future.

Microsoft Access

It is possible to directly edit a SharePoint list using MS Access. In this example, we get constant updates from our contractors on dates. Keep in mind, the SharePoint list is not the management tool for the dates or progress (however — looking at the above, it can be!).

To allow for the list to be bulk updated with new dates and progress figures, we can utilize a query in MS Access. I am a firm believer in the ability for MS Access to facilitate moving data between different systems.

PowerBI

In this example, I will be using an existing template I have previously discussed (follow this link to the Construction Progress Reporting post).

Construction02

Where reports in PowerBI fall over, is that users have a difficult time actually being engaged as managers of the data. We do not have an easy ability to provide context or comments to specific data elements.

Here, we can immediately see that we can interface this dashboard with our SharePoint list. In our PowerBI queries, we can link to the SharePoint list.

SP04_sharepointPBI

As our schedule data is unique per ScheduleID, and our SharePoint list is unique per ScheduleID, we can link these 2 tables together and pull the comments into our table.

SP05

The resulting comment can the efficiently placed on a custom tooltip.

Extensions

As with any comment, it is important to include an indication of criticality. In the above picture, we don’t have an indication if a comment exists, and if a comment does exist we do now know if its important. Therefore, in our SharePoint list, we can use an extension to insert a traffic light in the cell. Then on the PowerBI visual, a traffic light is displayed using a small, colored circle. This would allow for quickly glancing at all the activities and being able to quickly drill into a critical comment.

This is different from looking at Total Float or Variations. Typically on-site, various activities have issues for various reasons that may not have anything to do with float or variances. These may be risk-related issues we are trying to prevent, or perhaps gets others to understand. This approach to comments is exactly what can lend value to a project.

Normalize multiple progress files using PowerQuery

A typical situation in the construction industry the progress data is sourced from multiple system with different format, generally we get two type of reports.

  • Time stamp items

My preferred one, the data is tracked at a very low level (cable, spool, pre-commissioning and commissioning tracking), and you get a date when the item is completed something like this

This format is very convenient as you need to maintain only 1 file, the history is recorded in the data itself unfortunately, this kind of report is not always available for multiple reasons, the main one is, in some kind of work to finish one item it will take  longer period of time, for example completing 1 drawing will take 3 weeks, no manager will wait 3 weeks to claim a progress.

  • Cumulative Progress

This format reports the cumulative progress at a time period (daily, weekly, or whenever there is a progress) something like this

This is format is very common, it is very easy to update by the supervisor, and works with any level of details

the challenge of this format is

  1. To get the historical data you need to keep all the previous files.
  2. As it is cumulative data, calculating the progress per time period is a bit harder, and getting something like year to date is very awkward.

we need to normalize those files to be in the same format, one approach I use with PowerQuery is

  • Load the cumulative files.
  • Calculate the reverse total cumulative using self-join
  • Filter only the values where there is a progress
  • Append to the time stamp file.

 Now we have a normalize Actual Table, where quantity per period, year to date and all date calculations are very easy to calculate.

The pbix files and the source data is saved here

I know it is tempting to just load data and start making visual and do some complex DAX calculation, but it is not sustainable and it will make your life miserable, a simple data model will make further development much easier.

Construction Progress Report – PowerBI – by Darrin Kinney

A quick and easy construction progress and schedule dashboard.

I have previously outlined an approach that can be used for Engineering Progress.

This post is an extension to that which instead of looking at engineering model development, instead looks at construction development. I don’t want to delve too much into the details about exactly how this was built (again see the post above).

Some big differences is that I have used a resource assignment view. in addition to the date metrics This allows for resources histogram and progress curves to be quickly sorted down to an activity level. This approach also follows a prior post Resource Analysis Dashboard .

Construction02

The data

Construction01

The underlying data is very similar to our engineering progress example. We can use a flat file export direct from P6 with a standard set of columns. As I have mentioned before, you can achieve this in a SQL query as part of a larger data model, although with everything, a delicate balance is needed (balancing database formalism and easy excel solution)

We will also have the resource assignment data

Construction06data.JPG

The WBS Slicer and Area Selection

Construction03_wbs

This design element doesn’t work for project with too many WBS elements. For this example, each major area only has about 10 WBS elements, therefore I could pull this off with no drama. I really prefer this selection as opposed to drop downs where it is often difficult to quickly make  selection.

The Pie and Metrics

Construction04pies

Here we follow much of the look and feel I used with the engineering progress; however instead of just using activity count metrics, I have also inserted hour and percent complete metrics. There is nothing fancy about these.

The Data Table

Construction05table.JPG

I’ll sound like a broken record again, when you have a good design with one aspect of a project, you can likely take that and run with it for many other areas. In a following post I will detail this systems engineering aspect to nearly everything we touch.

Obviously the key inclusion into the table is the budget units and %’s. I still prefer these tables views vs the GANTT views. Having clear visibility into the last month dates, the prior month dates,  and variances is the purpose of this view.

The Future

Again, the extension of this are endless. At this stage, we are starting to see how pre filtered views provide more focused dashboard as compared to a one size fits all. Sitting in an EPCM world, most of the detailed activities and schedules are managed by our contractors. Thus, this construction view is more suited to using an export from a contractor Level 4 schedule.

At some point, we will need to begin to discuss an overarching design where a user can navigate to our various dashboard in a logic way.

Happy data wrangling!

Build asymmetrical Pivot table in PowerBI

I have been asked to produce a simple construction report, we need to show the last 4 weeks of actual progress data and 6 weeks of forecast and to make thing a little bit complex the average installation since the start of the project, nothing special three measures, average to date, install per week and forecast per week

Obviously, it is trivial to be done in Excel using named sets, if you don’t know what’s named set and cube formula is, you are missing the most powerful reporting paradigm in Excel, a good introduction is here, and there are plenty of resources here.

Unfortunately named set is not supported yet in PowerBI, you can vote here,

Just for demonstration purpose, if you try to add those three measures to a matrix visual, PowerBI just repeat them for every time period, obviously that’s not good at all,  the actual installation make sense only in the past and the forecast has to be in the future, there is no option to hide a measure if there is no value in a column and even if it was possible we need to show the average installation independently of the time period, anyway this the report when you add the three measures

and because I already learned a new trick on how to dynamically add measures to a matrix visual in PowerBI,  I was tempted to try and see if it works in this scenario.

 So, let’s see how it can be done using the disconnected table

  1. Create a disconnected table with two columns Order and status
  • Add a calculated column,

As  the cut-off date change at least three times a week, the week number change accordingly, we can’t simply hard code the dates, instead let’s add a new calculated column, which will just lookup the week date from a master calendar table based on the order, when the order is -4 it will return “average to date”, I added a dummy 0.5 order just to add an empty space between actual and forecast ( cosmetic is important)

Week_Num =
SWITCH (
    [order],
    -4, “Average to Date”,
    0.5, BLANK (),
    “WE “
        & FORMAT (
            LOOKUPVALUE ( MstDates[dynamic Week End], MstDates[week_number], [order] ),
            “dd/mm/yy”
        )
)

  • Add a new measure that show specific measures (Average,Install or forecast) based on the value of column

dynamic_Pivot =

SWITCH (

    SELECTEDVALUE(pivot[order],BLANK()),

    -4,[Install_qty_average_week],

-3,CALCULATE([Installed_qty],MstDates[week_number]=-3),

-2,CALCULATE([Installed_qty],MstDates[week_number]=-2),

-1,CALCULATE([Installed_qty],MstDates[week_number]=-1),

0,CALCULATE([Installed_qty],MstDates[week_number]=0),

1,CALCULATE([Forecast_Qty],MstDates[week_number]=1),

2,CALCULATE([Forecast_Qty],MstDates[week_number]=2),

3,CALCULATE([Forecast_Qty],MstDates[week_number]=3),

4,CALCULATE([Forecast_Qty],MstDates[week_number]=4),

5,CALCULATE([Forecast_Qty],MstDates[week_number]=5),

6,CALCULATE([Forecast_Qty],MstDates[week_number]=6),

7,CALCULATE([Forecast_Qty],MstDates[week_number]=7))

And voila an asymmetrical matrix visual in all its glory 😊

Edit 3-Sept-2019 : Maxim in the comment made an excellent suggestion to use variable to make the measure more manageable

dynamic_Pivot=
VAR _order =
    SELECTEDVALUE ( pivot[order], BLANK () )
RETURN
    IF (
        _order = -4,
        [Install_qty_average_week],
        IF (
            _order <= 0,
            CALCULATE ( [Installed_qty], MstDates[week_number] = _order ),
            IF ( _order > 0, CALCULATE ( [Forecast_Qty], MstDates[week_number] = _order ) )
        )
    )

Level 1 Reporting – Source Excel Data – By Darrin Kinney

Who doesn’t love the glossy Level 1 reports our project produce. But really, when you look into these beauties, really understand the difficulty that goes into them. What follows is first a description of what a typical Level 1 report is, and how we can structure our excel based data to be a bit smarter.

This is by no means a fully comprehensive guide on this subject. It is instead just a primer to get us thinking about how we feed data into our reports.

Who doesn’t love the glossy Level 1 reports our mega construction projects produce. But really, when you look into these beauties, do you really understand the difficulty that goes into them. What follows is first a description of what a typical Level 1 report is, and how we can structure our excel based data to be a bit smarter (which is the real message to this article).

Interspersed with hopefully be a few key strategy points which can guide your work.

I’ll then showcase how you can take what will now be structured data and upload into a powerBI visual (although the process to capture the data into any database and drive any visualization tool would be the same)

Strategy – Don’t be afraid to use excel (not everything needs to be automated)

Key Elements of a Level 1 Report

Cost and Progress

L1_01

Here we are presented with:

  • Overall progress curve
  • Financial Status
  • Cost & Commitment curves

Some may argue what to lead with – for me its always %. No bigger value highlights where your are more than what % are we. Not displayed on the image above is a data series reflecting how many people are have and comparison against planned. People achieve progress. Its impossible to talk progress without talking how many people we have. The graphs provide enough enough context to allow for discussions about productivity without having to muddy the waters

The cost sections should include visibility into what our final forecast costs will be (and comparison against baseline). Underneath that key metric are a few sub items such as how much contingency we have, a few cost curves associated with spend profiles and commitment profiles.

Schedule and Narrative

L1_02
Yes, my secondary critical path finishes after the first – gotta love random data!

The schedule aspects of a Level 1 report are always tricky. Do we need to only display the final project milestone? For me, on major projects no single DATE has any meaning. Thus even on a Level 1, I still prefer to include 10-15 dates that represent some key aspect of the project. All dates should be compared against what we said last month to highlight current month variances, and dates should be compared against our project baseline (or whatever current approved version thereof).

The narrative section of a Level 1 can nearly always be updated by simply reading the progress, cost and schedule tables. Just put words to the graphs. Key adders here are insights into RISKs. What may come in the future that will alter what we are saying today!

Safety

As always, safety metrics are also usually front and center. For me, this has always been a difficult aspect of our jobs. A political correctness that is forced into our reporting. Don’t get me wrong, safety is the most important aspect of a project. So, including a safety table somewhere on the Level 1 is always done. For this article, I want to instead focus on the key project control elements and data integration.

Level 1 Data Structures

So, we all know what a Level 1 report looks like, and I would fathom we can all mostly agree these are the elements included and can be rolled out as a standard for any major construction contractor. Most of our reports likely already report this information in some manner or another. The entire point of this article is that we should really focus on entering the data in a smart data centric way so that if you want to automate anything down the line, you have the foundations to do so.

At this stage, I don’t want to talk about the source data used to generate your summaries. We can leave that for a later discussion.

Key Data Domains

  • Progress
  • Cost
  • Schedule
  • Narrative

We are aiming towards consistency here and want to actually represent all the data required for our key Level 1 chart to be housed in a database. Therefore we need to have structure.

Strategy – Do not focus on systems, focus on DATA

A critical strategic element in my approach is that I do not care what systems you use. Our reporting is not a function of our systems (at least in this step 1 phase). We instead need a structure from which we can extract data and as easily as possible, move that data into a template or format in which we can drive our level 1.

If you go down the path to seamlessly integrate source systems with a Level 1, you unwittingly constrain yourself.

Progress Data

Typically our (time phased) progress data will be sourced from Primavera. There are other systems where the progress data may live, but again, that isn’t the focus of this article – I don’t care where it lives and neither will any seasoned project controls manager. We just need to know it exists and has a common structure

L1_03

Here, a few key notes, use a consistent data format. The above structure is how all your progress data should be housed, not just Level 1. All time phased data, all the way down to Level 5 detail items should be managed in a data structure, not a fancy formatted excel file. Trust me, updating a table such as the above will serve you in the long run. Even if your data is fully managed inside a system such as P6 or PRISM or ECOSYS or COBRA, you should be able to at least extract Level 1 into the format defined above.

Cost Data

You guessed, we can capture our Level 1 cost data in exactly the same format

L1_04

In the graphs we are building, there are only 11 specific datasets. Only 4 of these require update on a period basis. So again, we really boil this down to something simple.

Strategy – Do not over complicate anything in your Level 1 layer

The implementation of the specific data model I have outlined above fits the strategic approach to keep your level 1 simple. Any project can implement this data model for Level 1 with without any integration into source systems. Level 1 can be updated by the project controls team doing a few copy-pastes into excel to capture project wide data. Again, I would assume your teams already do this, but perhaps end up copying this data into various other corporate systems as well.

Schedule Data

Again, we are keeping a simple approach and only capture the required information.

Here, we are forced into a different structure. So whereas the cost and progress data can fit the same data model (as seen above), we will need a different template for schedule dates. We will typically be using Primavera, as such this model fits P6, but the idea is universal.

L1_05.JPG

I do not believe this information can ever be fully automated from our scheduling systems. These paths will continually be adjusted. The planning lead will always refine what activities are being tracked to be displayed on the Level 1. Behind the scenes, there are tricks upon tricks to pull the dates, however, again, we are talking about the data layer here, not necessarily HOW you get the data into this format.

It is entirely possible to have the assignments encoded into P6 activity codes. Therefore, it would be possible to integrate your Level 1 data directly into either the source P6 database, or an XER export. In my experience, any automation that is attempted in this arena (for Level 1 data), is futile. We are only talking 10-15 key activities. Let you lead planner sort out how they get the data into this format. Again, our strategy is to not over complicate this. If the data is provided to a digital team in the format about, you are for all intents done.

The model above only captures the finish dates. If added visuals with simplified GANTT charts are needed in your Level 1 (and will be discussed in my next Level 2 article), you would have to edit the above.

The nice value of the above structure is that we have effectively created an interface, an integration layer, between what will be P6 data and our dashboard. The list of what activities can easily be edited by way of a sharepoint list. Then, in your data model, you can link on scheduleID to pull the relevent date data (I suspect many do this).

Narrative

Too often, narrative comments are shuffled between parties via email, entered into several documents, edited, customized, etc. The project controls team is always struggling sourcing commentary from various sources, and in my experience, we end up entering in something ourselves.

Level 1 data structures have to fit into these complications. In this realm, sharepoint offers a canned solution by way of sharepoint lists.

Strategy – If Technology already exists, use it

Strategy – Technology can be used in innovative ways – use a mashup mindset to use existing technology in a new way

I find that sharepoint lists offer unparalleled capabilities for commentary. However, for lists to be really functional, they need to be embedded into FORMS or some routines that provide export functionality

In this example, I have mocked up a simple INFOPATH form that could represent our sharepoint fields.  The sky is the limit when it comes to existing technology that can automate the capture of this type of commentary.

The value adder here is that instead of allowing unstructured comments (via email or manually marking up a word , excel or power point file), we have structured comments that are housed in a database and that database can be updated in a distributed manner using WEB based technologies.

L1_06.JPG

The above would be a web based form which will be updated by the associated responsible parties. However, we can’t quite import a form into our data model. When the above form is filled out, the data will be stored in a data model (which we will have to design first before we can even build the form above). Thus, what we are looking for is something akin to the below

L1_07

The above is just a table in an excel file, but again, when we house data in this format, it can naturally flow into a database. That is what we need to focus on. Even in our excel reporting world, if you can capture commentary in this tabular data centric way, you can still link to it from your main dashboard tabs to be “smarter” in how information is managed.

Strategy – Focus on the DATA! (I can’t say this enough)

Everything we do can be captured in a data model. Every report we design should be able to pull direct data out of a data structure. Thus, before we add anything to reports, first consider the entire flow of data required.

 

Putting it all together

At no point in time in the above have I had to rely on a source system. However, I have been able to take a typical Level 1 report and extract everything from it. I have taken this data and outlined a data model (in simple form) that can drive not just 1 project, but an entire corporate endeavor in this space.

As with everything, nothing novel here. Many companies already have systems that capture some of this information. This is more just a thought experiment for those that perhaps do not have a clear data model that supports level 1 reporting. It also highlights the discussion topics of “what are the manual steps” – because there will be manual steps in getting the data into the right format.

For me, everything above has to be manual at some point up or down the food chain. Your projects and portfolios need to have the discussions about where this type of Level 1 data is housed. If all projects already have this data in consistent databases, all you need to do is query that source. Everything discussed here is system independent. You can easily generate these data tables by way of query a source system directly (if you can), but I have not limited or require that approach

Strategy – Whatever you do, allow for flexibility

A Dashboard?

Even though my data model is entirely excel based, the data structure is very powerful. I can, in quite automated steps, import and convert these datesets into a more database model and thus gain value from dashboards that wouldn’t be custom for your project, but could drive an entire portfolio (and when you see how this scales to Level 2 data and beyond, the worlds your oyster).

If you actually want to proceed with a dashboard, and if you have your data as outlined above, here is what you can do with it. In fact, I would recommend that your source tab in excel that is driving your dashboard looks like the below.

L1_08.JPG
Raw data captured

The above data isn’t “immediately” friendly for digital reporting. A few transformations are required. The key steps involved are (the below was done as just an example using PowerQuery)

  1. Unpivot the Timephase date columns
  2. Pivot the the “SeriesName” column to create a unique “Column” for each dataset (this is need to create unique lines on our dashboard graphs)

L1_09.JPG At this stage, we have a nicely formatted table and we can now import into PowerBI. The intent here is not to showcase a beautiful Level 1 dashboard in PowerBI. My intent is more to showcase the data structures need to drive a dashboard. With the above data, we get pull each data series into graphs, tables, cards, KPI metrics, etc.

Our model has tagged each record with a “As-Of” date. Thus you can utilize this structure to have your dashboard display ALL prior months by way of a slider or select. Given more advanced skills, you can also pull out metrics about current incremental values vs what we said last month. Although, I feel those metrics are best served in Level 2 report where more detail is available.

Apologies for the look and feel below, I just pulled in the data to showcase that indeed you can drive a dashboard with what is effectively just a few lines of data that every project already has. We can bring together cost, schedule, progress, and commentary quite easily and in a very data friendly way.

L1_10.JPG

CONCLUSION

For me, there is no substitute for an excel based dashboard. The value in this for me is ensuring that when I produce a Level 1 Dashboard (in Excel), I should give consideration to ensuring my data is structured appropriately. This gives us a fighting change to perhaps go down the path of creating a more digital world. It also allows for perhaps more flexibility in dealing with Level 2 data to maybe have some real automation of rolling up of data.

Whats Next?

Level 2 obviously. I hope to showcase how the same ideas and concepts here can also help you structure your raw excel based Level 2 data to perhaps be better utilized in a more digital world

 

Digital Strategy (the beginnings) – by Darrin Kinney

Project Controls is the heart of every major construction project. Our teams are the ones that typically wade through information that never stops and constantly changes. Although at the core, the fundamentals of our strategy are likely the same as what everyone who manages data will encounter.

Digital Strategy for project controls is a tricky beast. We are bombarded by systems that all promise nirvana (and many can deliver nirvana for some projects). However, at the core, before we even discuss systems, we need to understand what our strategy is, and what key concepts we want to push. Below are some ideals of mine. With everything, this is a straw-man discussion. Every project will have its own culture, its own focus, its own needs. Your strategic approach has to cater to what you want from your project. Not to mention that the major companies all have quite rigorous project control plans and detailed procedures. These are great documents that do spell out our scope of services.

Project Controls is the heart of every major construction project. Our teams are the ones that typically wade through information that never stops and constantly changes. Although at the core, the fundamentals of our strategy are likely the same as what everyone who manages data will encounter.

The issues are not related to our knowledge of project controls (and project management) fundamentals. We know how to build schedule, track progress, build baselines, budgets, and track costs parsed into 1000s of potentials contracts and POs. We know how to calculate and track Earned Value, CPI, and SPI. We know change management, trends, change orders, etc. We know how to compile all the information into weekly and monthly reporting. We have the procedures and management plans.

We are the technical experts of our discipline.

However, too often, we are not able to step back and understand that the way in which we work can change, needs to change – and more importantly – the technology that is available now can be utilized to seriously disrupt the way in which we apply our technical knowledge and skills.

Below are some ideas, some concepts we can consider in everything we do to perhaps bring a more digital and smart way of operating in the new world we live in. These are not innovative in themselves, we live with these ideas already. My intent is to try to capture these ideas and through the tactical implementation of these ideas bring real innovation.

Strategy – Strategy is not Keywords

Too often, we write our strategy or integration documents and load them up with keywords and slick powerpoint. We have to embrace that we touch real things. Don’t use stick figures and cartoons  – use real live examples, get your hands dirty using the systems on your job. Understand the details. Stop writing keywords on a white board and open the application!

Digital Strategy Keywords

The real idea is to be grounded in practical things, not abstract processes.

Open your schedule, look at the activity definition that exists. Open your material management system and see if the items can be tagged with schedule activities. Look into your progress measurement sheets and determine if you can insert scheduleID to smartly update the progress in your schedule (sound like a broken record!).

Strategy – Enter data once

This is talked about by everyone, although, we have all seen it – everyone has their own spreadsheet. Every group has their own systems: SAP, Contracts, Procurement, Engineering, Cost Control, Planning: I have illustrated in the past the issue with something as standard as “where is the master contract list”. Do we really have a strategy to enter data once? If so, really delve into the data people keep on their computers in their own spreadsheets. Try as best as we can to pull key reference data out of a source system

There exist systems that can facilitate this approach and allow for integration. Although be careful and understand that integration is not strategy. The implementations of strategy will likely require integration.

Data Integration vs Digital Strategy

Enter data once is integrated into the concept of data integration. Integration is not specifically the idea that “systems talk to each other”, integration is the ability to just smartly manage your job. Unless common keys exist between systems, you can’t hope to build that integration inside a black box your digital team will build.

A good example of this is the implementation of a web based cash flow

Web Based Cashflows – Sharepoint

Strategy – Be Visual

Project Controls teams are the masters of reporting. Being visual is not about (only) creating dashboards or complex databases the feed our dashboards. Being visual is doing exactly what we already do. Stay away from data tables – Long Live Death by S-Curves!

The tabular data presentation methods we use are antiquated. Looking at an engineering progress report with 50 rows and 20 columns of various EV metrics – too often that doesn’t answer me the question of whether or not I am on plan or not. That is what I meant to be visual. Look at the questions be want answers for, the core underlying questions and FOCUS. If the question is infact “I was to see the productivity factor for 50 different areas both weekly and cum”. Perhaps choose a dot-plot. Place the values all on a graph, perhaps scale the size of the dot on the budget hours, use a horizontal axis for % and the vertical axis to show the PF. That is what I mean to “Be Visual”.

Eng12

Strategy – Push processes and data ownership to the person actually responsible, not the “function” that is responsible

Payment certificates, progress measurement reports, monthly reports: the list is never ending. We have data that originates with contractors and a multitude of sources. However, too often, the sources of information do not have access to the real database  or word/excel file used by the project. If possible, structure your data sources such that owner can manage their data.

I will likely post a few case studies about this to get people thinking of possibilities.

 

Strategy – Use Agile management

  • Focus on Output not Documentation
  • Respond to Change as opposed to fixation on Original Plan
  • Focus on interactions between people, not underlying systems or tools

These topics can be very disruptive: Tell a company like Fluor or Bechtel to NOT focus on plans or procedures? Good luck. However, this is a disruptive day and age and we do need to take this approach. I have worked in this business for over 20 years and honestly, in general, project controls already (generally) follows these agile fundamentals. We have plans and systems and reams of documentation, but in the end, we do (informally) have to follow these simple strategic cultural elements

What is needed here is the firm support from the management team that a proactive view of the

“what is going to happen tomorrow”

is way more valuable that the concept of

“what was planned to happen tomorrow”

The concept that

“I need this new report now”

is more relevant than

“This is the report that is defined in the PPM”

AGILE management is not able sprints or standups. Its a culture to embrace a stance that while we have general goals and objectives, the focus needs to be on what are we doing today. The reason to have daily stand ups is to have clarity on what we are doing today. The reason to have sprints is to outline near term goals. The reason we have restrospectives is to analyze the difference between what we thought we were going to do, and what we did (and more importantly how to improve the next period). This is just good project management 101! The fact someone calls it AGILE, is not relevant.

JIRA in Construction

Strategy – Allow users to LINK to key fundamental data

This is aligned with “enter data once”. But, this is a core strategic ideal that needs to be championed. We will have data housed in source systems, but have we enabled the wider project team to access this information. That is the primary idea here.

Is information shared by way of excel exports that are distributed via email to various people at various times? Or, do we have a project where information is open and accessible. The latter is what our strategic approach to everything should be.

 

Strategy – Facilitate live real time data

Ultimately you will need some sort of approach to cadence and integration. Will we be using real time data, will we instead focus on cutoffs.

This can if we really delve deeper into what this really means, be very disruptive. With real time data, the need for monthly reporting is useless, the need for weekly reporting – is useless. Reporting is a natural output 24/7 from the way we operate. This cultural approach to construction management is where I think we need to go to be hyper reactive to change.

 

Strategy – Be Hyper Reactive

As I mention above, we want to have a core ideal that allows us to change course immediately when required. We have submitted the same schedule and cost reports every month – WHY? Do not be afraid to change things up, support a workplace where the team can be hyper reactive to respond to everything.

For schedule management, this requires the approach to insert activities into the schedule with daily vigor to reflect what is happening today.

For cost management this requires detailed ticket management approach to our tasks to allow visibility into everything we do 24/7

 

Conclusion – Do not be afraid to push boundaries

This list above is again just a beginning of a discussion. These are discussion topics that are occurring in every company around the world.

As we head into the future, we have an entire generation of new employees who are not afraid of technology. Quite the contrary, the newer generations of people will feel more comfortable updating a web form vs updating a word file. They will feel more comfortable posting progress updates to a social media site vs writing a daily report. They will be more comfortable making mistakes, and fixing them.

The dashboard craze is here to stay. The use of dashboards and the approach needed to create PowerBI or other application based analytics tick many of the strategic elements I have outlined here.

In the end – do not be afraid to push boundaries with your approach to construction management.