Digital Strategy in Construction – The Videos

Within the project controls world – I have found the strategic approaches to digital strategy to perhaps be a bit lacking. They key is that nothing exists in isolation. You need a fully comprehensive approach Gaining awareness of what is out there, gaining clear understanding of the current capabilities of your staff and in general, being at the forefront of our technological world is what the future will bring

Specifically in the world of project controls, I have found the strategic approaches to digital strategy to perhaps be a bit lacking.  This was the key impetus for me to put together the presentation last year. For me, digital strategy is not about implementing PRISM or EcoSYS. It isn’t even about upskilling your staff. There are more holistic views that can enable users to operate smarter. Obviously, this goes hand and hand with systems and education. They key is that nothing exists in isolation. You need a fully comprehensive approach that touches everyone on your projects.

The genesis of the ideas were several posts on LinkedIn and a Blog Post on Digital Strategy

I have posted each of these separately, but nice to have them all together in once concise post that I can reference in the future. There is a similar post on Agile in Construction

Digital Strategy – Dealing with Excel Hell

Excel Hell is where we all live and the area of our business that has seldom been touched by digital strategies. Perhaps times we start to think what we can do about it and move to the next step

Digital Strategy – Enter Data Once

The next step is Entering Data Once. This term is tossed around a lot, but the way we view and deal with this is a dogs breakfast. I don’t necessarily understand all the possible solutions, but perhaps the framing of the problem and discussions about what we can do about will stimulate some discussions.

Once we have data stored digitally, we can move onto the next step: Be Visual

Something as simple as a daily report – can be insanely valuable when translated into a digital environment. Enter information once and allow the entire project access to it. Digital forms – using tools such as OpenText allows for your creativity to be the limiting factor in entering data once and using it everywhere. Tools such as NINTEX can also so easily be tailored to fit unique custom needs in your existing sharepoint platforms.

Digital Strategy – Be Visual

The future is all about digital dashboards. If you are not in this space now, you will be in the future. Now that we have our key data stored in a digital format, we can start to move our reporting into the 21st century: BE VISUAL!

Whats in the Future?

I think the sophistication of many of the commercial software packages can in some regards leave my beliefs redundant. Companies like Sablono, Procure and JIRA not to mention a myriad of other providers are implementing many of the concepts I try to follow related to digital strategy. While some of the tools are known in the construction world, I urge people to push the concepts of MASHUP. If you can use something from another field in a creative way inside construction – that is where innovation and disruption come from.

Gaining awareness of what is out there, gaining clear understanding of the current capabilities of your staff and in general, being at the forefront of our technological world is what the future will bring

Thus, perhaps the most important strategy I can recommend

Digital Strategy – Follow all the latest Trends and know all the software capabilities

This is perhaps at the core of my beliefs. Unless you at the forefront, vision alone is not sufficient.

Digital Strategy – IT by itself does not solve your problems – its how you use IT

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.

How to Keep Your Primavera P6 Clean?

This article addresses to all the schedulers and project professionals who import schedules into scrubbing P6 databases, remove undesired data, export the cleaned XER, and then import to a production database or share with third-parties such as contractors or sub-contractors.

If it happens to you to go through such a process, then you might want to read this article and see the better way to “clean” a XER file, prevent external data from corrupting your database thus maintain security and keep schedule integrity.

You can achieve this with a simple tool called ScheduleCleaner.

Now, I want to explain how the tool works and how you can benefit from it.

How to get started with ScheduleCleaner?

ScheduleCleaner is a desktop application for Windows operating system. It’s not connected to a database, and does not require internet connection to use it.

The “cleaning” process of an XER file can be achieved in 5 steps as explained below.

  1. Launch the software;
  2. Add an XER File;
  3. Select the output folder;
  4. Click on the categories of data you want to remove;
  5. Click “Clean” button.

As you can see, there is no manual work, no editing of a XER file in Notepad, and no scrubbing databases.

Steps to "clean" XER file with ScheduleCleaner

The software is intuitive, easy-to-use, and works offline as a standalone desktop application.

What’s more important, the software does not modify the original project plan. Instead it creates a copy and modifications are saved in the new file. The original project plan remain untouched.

Now, let’s see what you can accomplish with this tool in more specifics.

Removing POBS

If it takes a lot of time to import XER file intro Primavera P6 database, POBS data might be the reason for that.

Overall, the POBS defect affect the performance of the application and users lose valuable during the import operation. According Oracle, the POBS data is not used yet:

“We do not utilize the POBS table yet we export/import the data from this table when completing XER Export/Import. The XER export/import should be written to exclude this data with XER export/import operations of P6 Professional.”

The removal of POBS data can be done manually, but the process is prone to errors and can be time consuming.

The impact of all these errors when managing global data in an enterprise, will ultimately result in a polluted database and unconscious mistakes on a project level.

So using a tool for removing POBS data is desirable.

You can see a significant difference of the file size before and after cleaning POBS which greatly affects the time needed to import XER file into a Primavera P6 database.

Imagine the time that can be saved for larger XER files.

Remove Units, Rates, Cost, Pricing, Progress

As the purpose of exporting data files in XER format is to transmit project data to another database, in many cases data should be kept private. For example, a general contractor wants to send the project to a sub-contractors, but without the cost of resources.

Another examples is related with the GDPR regulation. Namely project schedulers and managers share files that contain sensitive information such as resource names that can disrupt the guidelines of the GDPR.

To be GDPR compliant, companies need to hide/anonymize confidential information, and ScheduleCleaner is the perfect tool to easily and securely protect sensitive information.

Just by clicking checkboxes, users who want to share the XER schedule can pick certain categories of data that want to be removed from the schedule before sending to third-parties or upload to a Primavera P6 database.

Before “cleaning” prices
After “cleaning” prices

Mask Project Data

Similar as removing certain categories of data, you can also mask project data.

The only difference is that with masking, you can add custom codes, labels or text for the specific categories.

Add Prefix/Suffix

Inserting prefix or suffix to different categories in the project plan, can give additional information to the person who reads the information and acts according them.

To add Prefix/Suffix, you need to select the template that will contain Prefix/Suffix, select the appropriate category, and add the terms that will be words’ prefix or suffix.

Then, you go to “Clean” ribbon and click on the “Batch” button. The end result when adding prefix/suffix are given in the image below.

Converting Data

The software features an option to convert Global and EPS activity codes to Project Activity codes and EPS to Global Activity Codes. The activity codes are important to schedulers and planning engineers when creating different types of work performance reports.

So here are the type of categories that can be converted with ScheduleCleaner:

  • Convert Global/EPS to Project Activity Codes.
  • Convert EPS to Global Activity Codes

Moreover, you can convert Global calendars that are used in the project plan into project and shared resource calendar. In this way, you will avoid errors when importing the XER file into P6 database.

Save time with process automation

Who doesn’t want automation? Automation saves time and gives a sense of comfort and security.

Here, it’s not actually a full automation because you still need to click on a button in order to perform an action or combination of actions. But this is quite useful when you have a set of actions that need to done on a daily basis such as sending a daily progress report to top management or uploading recent progress into a database.

Automation is ScheduleCleaner is viable through creating Templates, save them and apply to imported XER files.

Batch Clean

“Batch Clean” is a feature that works with templates. User must create at least one template and assign it to a file in order to use the batch file cleaning.

“Quick Clean” on the other side is more suitable when user wants to modify very small number of project files, while “Batch Clean” is useful when large number of data files, usually located in different folders, need to be modified.

Final Words

ScheduleCleaner enables you to quickly remove or anonymize confidential data in XER data files exported from Primavera P6, while keeping the schedule integrity.

It replaces the many work when “cleaning” XER file prior to sharing the file or import to a production database.

As the manual process of removing or anonymizing project data is time-consuming and unreliable, performing Batch Clean in combination with Templates can speed up the process.

Organizations can significantly improve their productivity, communication and security by integrating ScheduleCleaner in their working environment.

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!