A general contractor’s preconstruction team is their first line of defense in determining whether or not projects will succeed — but sometimes, that team finds themselves buried in mountains of paperwork, endless subcontractor follow-ups, and painstaking data entry. Given the circumstances, errors easily slip through the cracks, and projects get built on faulty foundations.

Careful preconstruction planning has always been vital to positive project outcomes, but it’s high time that this crucial phase is given the attention it deserves. When a preconstruction team is given the resources they need to optimize their process for both accuracy and efficiency, they quickly become a general contractor’s biggest asset and the linchpin of that organization’s success.

Here are five habits the top general contractors foster in their preconstruction teams to gain a competitive advantage and ensure every project starts off on the right foot.

1. Effective preconstruction teams go digital.

Today, construction remains the least digitized industry in the world. It’s why over the past 20 years, construction productivity has only grown 1% a year, lagging far behind manufacturing (3.6%) and the economic average (2.8%). It’s why from 2005-2015, fewer than 15% of E&C firms had double-digit growth or margins.

With such high stakes, it’s time for general contractors to stop relying on whiteboards, binders, and Rolodexes to facilitate preconstruction planning. Simply put, going digital means moving traditionally paper-based processes online to make work easier for everyone. And while making the case for technology isn’t always easy in the consntruction industry, it’s important that internal stakeholders understand the “way we’ve always done it” doesn’t necessarily mean the best way to get things done.

2. Effective preconstruction teams embrace automation.

If digitization is how the preconstruction phase becomes more streamlined and predictable, automation is how preconstruction teams start working smarter and faster. While some construction professionals hear the word “automation” and worry about the potential for job redundancy, highly effective preconstruction teams know that automation doesn’t replace human beings; it’s simply a tool that helps increase efficiency and minimize mistakes.

Even better, automating tedious, manual tasks allows preconstruction teams to take on more work and spend more time thinking strategically, not being bogged down in data entry.

3. Effective preconstruction teams centralize their data.

Preconstruction teams are notorious for storing their project data in a million different places, from file cabinets to endless Excel spreadsheets. However, with the right tool, it’s possible to for that data to all live in one continually updated source of truth. Storing all project information in a single place ensures consistency, strengthens communication, and simplifies workflows.

Similarly, using systems that integrate with one another ensures data stays up to date no matter which system a team uses or who’s accessing it. This helps teams stay on the same page and develop more cohesive project plans across the board.

4. Effective preconstruction teams collaborate.

Since the construction industry typically operates on single-digit margins, there’s little to no cushion to absorb unforeseen costs when something goes wrong. That means the risks a general contractor best avoids with thorough preconstruction planning (think subcontractor default, budget overruns, and schedule delays) will determine whether or not they make money.

One of the best ways to mitigate these risks is by getting all project stakeholders on the same page from the get-go. Highly effective preconstruction teams understand the importance of collaboration between departments and eliminating silos across offices. Successful collaboration strengthens relationships both internally and externally, allowing everyone to bring their expertise to the table to make the best decisions and avoid the most risk.

5. Effective preconstruction teams promote transparency.

Today, 45% of construction companies report that a lack of visibility across projects is a top challenge. At the end of the day, facilitating transparency between both internal teams and external teams (owners, general contractors, subcontractors, and suppliers) leads to better project outcomes for everyone.

As our friends at PlanGrid argued,

“Companies that leave obstructions in place will experience faultier communication, more contentious collaboration and less access to data—plus a reduced ability to make use of the data you do have. Today, projects cannot meet the increasing pressures of construction in environments that don’t foster transparency from the start.”

Wrap-up

In order to become a highly effective construction organization, general contractors must first become a highly effective preconstruction organization. Investing in preconstruction ensures projects go more smoothly, from choosing the right bidders — not just the lowest ones — to mitigating risk from the start.

Technology has reimagined every industry in the world, and ours is no exception. If general contractors want to both survive and thrive in the decades to come, the time to act is now, and it all starts with a more productive, more accurate, and more collaborative preconstruction process.

How does preconstruction planning affect project outcomes? We break it down by the numbers.