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Managing Design Changes from the Field with Confidence


At nearly every jobsite, interim design changes are behind many project delivery inefficiencies. Typically, after receiving a change document from an architect, a field engineer or project manager will manually mark up the official full-size set of paper drawings maintained in the job trailer. The affected section of each drawing is highlighted and cross-referenced to the change document. Over the course of several weeks, any given sheet may contain 10-20 interim design changes.

At some point, the design team will issue revised drawings, which the field engineer must painstakingly compare to the handwritten markups to confirm that all changes have been resolved, before replacing the original trailer sheets. Afterwards, any unaddressed design changes are manually transferred to the new sheet.

Not surprisingly, this time-consuming process is typically applied only to the original drawings maintained in the trailer. The field engineer forwards design-change documents by email to all of the subcontractors, but these companies generally do not have the resources to maintain their own set of updated drawings. As a result, field workers typically lack ready access to the handwritten notes containing the most current design information.

This process is both tedious and rife with inefficiencies. Worse, it exposes the entire project to unnecessary risk. Teams may execute work based on what they understand to be the most recent documents, but are actually out-of-date. It is not unusual for work to be ripped out and reinstalled according to revised plans, which can negatively affect the project schedule and costs.

After specific challenges are identified, how do construction companies go about addressing the delays that occur between the trailer and the field? Not surprisingly, teams must turn to technology and determine how to best leverage mobile devices, apps, and the cloud.

Knowing change is constant in the construction world, teams are best served when they can distribute plans and change documents electronically instead of via hard copy. To eliminate the tedious, error-prone manual procedure for retrieving and updating plan documents, field engineers need easy, electronic access to the plans. A digital system allows the field engineer to quickly mark the affected area of a plan and link the new design or RFI response to that annotation, so that all subcontractors can easily cross-reference the new design change to the appropriate sheets.

Once a digital process has been adopted, distributing plans to an infinite number of people has zero incremental costs and allows for instantaneous communication. It also means that all field teams are notified in real time the moment a change comes through, ensuring everyone is working from the same set of documents.

Construction companies that rely on a file-sharing platform to publish documents to their subcontractors need to ensure that these platforms are fully integrated with whatever devices or apps are being used. Such integration eliminates delays by ensuring that all teams receive updated plans automatically and instantaneously on their devices regardless of their preferred file-sharing service.

Project plan sets have hundreds of large-scale sheets, and paper prints are bulky and difficult to flip through in the field. In many instances, those pages are scanned and accessed via tablets, but the small screen leads to other challenges. For instance, a subcontractor in the field may call up a floor plan that has a callout for a bank of three elevators. To see the elevation of those elevators, the subcontractor needs to access another drawing. Finding his or her way back to the original floor plan can be difficult.

The devices that people use are largely driven by role. Field workers, such as foremen and superintendents, are more than adequately served by a tablet. Within the job trailer, however, a more robust device can be beneficial. New generations of large, interactive touch screens enable project teams to gather in front of electronic full-size plans to work together. As a result, meetings take less time, decisions are made on-the-spot, and useful information about the project’s requirements can be immediately communicated to the entire team.

When members of the project team are not working with the same set of plans, they will inevitably encounter confusion and miscommunication. Construction companies urgently need to distribute, view and markup the current set of plans and documents, assuring that every team member is working with the current set of drawings.

A single, easily accessible, authoritative source for design documents offers practical capabilities for doing so – regardless of location or device – and goes a long way toward cultivating greater team confidence and reducing friction.

Dan Conery is vice president of business development for Newforma, a developer of cloud-based, mobile and enterprise apps for design and construction project information management. Follow Dan on Twitter @dconery, follow him on LinkedIn or for more information about Newforma, visit www.newforma.com.