Tapping into tablets
BY ERIN WALGAMUTH
Many project managers are familiar with new technologies—in plenty of cases, they're a big part of developing them. As such, many embrace tablets as valuable project tools to decrease communication time, minimize risks and streamline their processes from design to inspection.
According to an April survey by Javelin Strategy & Research, tablet adoption is forecasted to grow by at least 40 percent by 2016. Project managers can leverage that boom to integrate tablets into everyday project processes.
It's not as simple as just giving everyone on the team an iPad. “You could add four or five people to a project and give them tablets, telling them to collect electronic data, but that won't necessarily add value to the project,” says Will Senner, assistant project manager at construction group Skanska USA in Parsippany, New Jersey, USA.
Here are five ways project managers can successfully incorporate tablets into project processes to deliver results:
1. VIRTUAL PROJECT REPOSITORIES
Sharing, storing, updating and converting different versions of documents, files and budget information among team members can be time-consuming. Using a tablet as a virtual project binder that can share those files with mobile devices and desktops can speed up the process.
“Tablets keep everything updated in the same place, making something that used to take hours take minutes because the information is on hand,” says Dave Prior, PMI-ACP, PMP, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA-based president of ProjectWizards Incorporated. “People will have access to a lot more information, making it faster and cheaper to do their jobs.”
2. QUALITY CHECKS AND RESOURCE TRACKING
During a project to build the James B. Hunt Library in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA, Mr. Senner and his 15-person team developed a supply-chain and quality-control management system using tablets.
That system proved valuable. Materials such as coverings for a building's exterior walls were “bar-coded, and at each stage of the process—shipping, receiving on site, installation—someone took their tablet to scan the barcode with a Bluetooth barcode scanner,” Mr. Senner says. “After that, they can go in and make the quality control checks, document it, and later we can go back to review the checks.”
This process not only improves schedule management, but also adds transparency around quality. “It shows we're not hiding things. We're tracking it, and everyone's engaged in this mission to deliver a higher-quality product,” he says.
Vivian Mandala, owner and designer at Garden Gate Landscape Design in Rhinebeck, New York, USA, says her design team conducts almost all its project work digitally. Team members use tablets to sketch and share design plans and portfolios with clients, as well as coordinate details from furniture to fabrics without in-person meetings.
“We want to make sure the client loves each piece, so a great deal of communication goes into each design,” she says. “If one of my designers finds something in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, she can look up the project on her tablet, see if it's something we still need, shoot me an image, and after client approval, I can have it shipped, letting my designer move onto the next thing she's got to do.”
4. MOBILE PLANNING STATIONS
One problem Mr. Senner and his team ran into when they added tablets to their projects was that anyone carrying a tablet was seen by subcontractors as a person with a ready resource for answers. As a result, the subcontractors barraged tablet users daily with questions.
“In that sense, having the tablet was actually preventing them from doing their jobs: managing quality, inspecting the work and driving the project,” Mr. Senner says. The solution: His team created mobile planning stations on each job site by connecting a tablet to a television.
“Whatever it is, subcontractors don't need to go to our superintendent or project manager with his tablet,” Mr. Senner says. “They can just go to the station and get the information they need, freeing up our superintendents to focus on other tasks.”
5. WORKING WITH WORKFLOW
Before downloading every application with a “project management” tag on it, project managers should take time to understand the technology and consider how to customize it to their workflows.
Mr. Senner urges use of a tablet only in areas where it will benefit the project by driving value or avoiding risks. He used early adopters on tablets to test and report on these benefits, which showed him where to implement tablets on future projects.
“We're lucky to have a company full of innovative people,” he says, “so when we're presented with challenges, we have folks who want to find a way to use technology to solve them, manage the risks and deliver a better product.” PM
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