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Author: Lucas Marshall

Lucas Marshall is a professional writer whose work has appeared in Geo Week News, IoT For All, Robotics Today, and Construction Business Owner, among others. At Milwaukee Tool, he is Content Marketing and SEO Manager, responsible for raising awareness and engagement to the company’s digital product, ONE-KEY™, through a variety of content vehicles such as the team’s connectivity blog.

The Construction Industry Needs More Software Project Managers

An article for the Human Resource Management Journal discusses how “project-based workplaces” are characterized by “short-term interaction and involvement,” making them “particularly challenging for the individuals charged with managing performance within them.”

They single out the construction industry, “inherently unique,” and an industry that tends to “be awarded at short notice, […] reliant on a transient workforce, and [it] exist[s] within a complex multidisciplinary team-oriented environment.”


As the construction industry faces a myriad of challenges—persistently rising materials costs, labor shortages topping half a million, and fierce competition that is complex for firms to grapple with—there is an exceeding need for empowered project managers equipped to confront them.

Thus, herein, I’ll contend the need for project managers (particularly, software project managers) to answer the construction industry’s needs, where the construction industry can source these operational experts, as well as the unique project management skillset owners should look for when hiring.


Big Tech’s Displaced Project Managers to Fill Construction’s Talent Gap

If the real-time tracker tells us anything, it’s that big tech, long known for astronomical salaries, may be reaching its plateau – a bubble popping it hasn’t seen since the dot com era.


Among those affected by these tech layoffs are project management teams—e.g., project managers at large SaaS companies like Red Hat were among the positions recently slashed, while program managers at the country’s biggest tech firms have also been handed pink slips (e.g., accounting for 5.8% of layoffs at Amazon, 7% at Microsoft, and 17.7% at Google).


I’ve previously made the argument about how big tech’s software engineers may use their technical skills to help solve the construction industry’s myriad problems by helping build automated, connected workflows.


Project managers, too, play an important role in this equation:

  • Scrum Masters Lassoing Available Resources: Software project managers and business analysts are skilled in scrum, a particularly useful framework for dividing resources and time-boxing work into manageable, two-week sprints. Arguably, this framework has a particularly useful application to construction, an industry whose projects are regularly disjointed in nature (requiring as many as 24 specialized subcontractors in addition to fierce competition for the skilled trades we earlier discussed). The practitioners coming from big tech’s displaced software development teams can help implement this framework that will allow companies to better manage resources with clear accountability (everybody knows what they’re working on), more consistently meet project milestones through manageable and measurable sprints (everybody knows when they’re working on what), and improved quality through clearer communication and continuous improvement.
  • Building Software Interoperability: Another area project managers from the software industry are adept tacticians in wrangling is a concept known as software interoperability, how multiple software programs operate together and seamlessly share information. Just as Apple has received flack for being slow to adopt the more universal USB-C standard, construction companies often rely on multiple teams who use specialized software (e.g., ERP systems, building information modeling, computer-aided design, project management, inventory management, etc.), and these programs need to properly communicate lest companies face information silos, data duplication, and ensuing productivity issues. Software project managers can help wrangle the necessary technical resources (whether in-house or through third-party integrators) to build the interoperability a construction company desperately needs between its various systems.




Harnessing Project Management’s Triangle

Another reason why project managers—software specialists or otherwise—are critical hires to the construction industry is that they are trained to understand quality that the project manager’s triangle makes up:


  • Quality = Cost + Scope + Time


The numbers don’t lie, either. Project managers at companies with a high maturity rate within the project management discipline have helped organizations outperform those with less maturity:

  • 77% of organizations with high maturity met goals/intent compared to 56% of organizations with low maturity.
  • 67% of organization with high maturity completed projects within budget compared to 46% of organizations with low maturity.
  • 63% of organizations with high maturity completed projects on time compared to 39% of organizations with low maturity.
  • Only 30% of organizations with high maturity experienced negative “scope creep” compared to 47% of organizations with low maturity.
  • Only 11% of organizations with high maturity experienced project failures compared to 21% of organizations with low maturity.


Furthermore, the same study found that 11.4% of investment is wasted due to poor project performance, while 67% more of these companies’ projects failed outright.


Project managers, skilled in juggling these triangulated factors (cost, scope, and time), are just the professionals the talent-strapped construction industry needs to understand cost, project scope, and time (and with a hawk’s eye on those factors ensuring they don’t overrun). Equally, they’re the tacticians needed to skillfully lasso multifaceted teams, understand their capacities, and time-box those sprints we earlier discussed to meet project milestones and continuously iterate to ensure quality for customers.


Skilled Communicators

Communication is constantly cited in academia and by research bodies as a critical skillset of a successful project manager – e.g., see:

  • Procedia Technology journal entry
  • International Journal of Project Management study of IT project managers
  • Heliyon study of construction megaprojects in Iran
  • International Journal of Applied Industrial Engineering article
  • Journal of Physics conference talk
  • European Management Journal study
  • Project Management Institute study of communication competencies and their impact on team member satisfaction and productivity
  • USC Department of Communication and Journalism blogpost


In construction, a project manager can help maintain real-time communication between customers and important company and project stakeholders (e.g., onsite workers, tradespeople, engineers, architects, as well as subcontractors/suppliers) of important scope changes to ensure proper accommodations are made to limit construction overruns.


Bottom Line

Disjointed processes have long been a characterization of the construction industry which has required a certain degree of operational finesse—that said, the industry faces unprecedented labor shortages, materials price hikes, and fierce competition for projects. As another industry—big tech—faces a surplus of technical resources, among them software project managers, one might naturally deduce that each industry meets the other’s needs. Software project managers, skilled communicators with the subject matter expertise to coordinate technical solutions, may just be what the construction industry needs to deliver projects more efficiently.

Five Ways Construction Companies Can Avoid “Technical Debt”

This article was cowritten by Lucas Marshall and Robert LaCosse of Milwaukee Tool.


Construction companies know the importance of integrating their systems (e.g., 85.1% of owners viewed mobile integrations as a “very important” or “important” priority in the 2021 ConTech Report). Yet, full-system integration remains an industry challenge – a global KPMG study revealed that a measly 16% of executives surveyed reported their organizations have fully integrated systems and tools.


In early 2023, 40% of SMBs in the construction industry stated they’d be looking to upgrade their software in the next 12 months.

When deploying any software system, you run the risk of accruing technical debta term that commonly fits into the vernacular of software developers and represents the #1 biggest threats according to 69% of business leaders.


An academic study revealed that 75% of technical debt instances originate from clunky legacy software systems. Many construction companies on legacy software systems may find themselves in a catch-22: Addressing the technical debt of their legacy system or facing downtime to deploy and learn a more cloud-friendly, adaptable solution.

In this article, we define what tech debt might look like at a construction company and offer five ways to avoid it or put solutions toward it.


What Is Technical Debt?

In short, technical debt refers to the dependencies one introduces when deploying new software and hardware solutions.

A dependency may be one system not communicating with another, or perhaps an accumulation of software bugs that make a software interface sluggish and hard to use.

Technical debt, like financial debt that can lead a person to bankruptcy if left to accumulate, poses a significant business risk; growing technical debt, that is, refers to the cascading effect that happens when these dependencies, ignored, exponentially propagate and become insurmountable, involving massive operational costs to fully resolve.


Examples of a Construction Company’s Tech Debt

  • Mobile apps not integrating with construction ERPs
  • Single-application heritage systems running on outdated hardware
  • Time needed to learn new software
  • Discovery time needed to perform security risk assessments of new system


Five Ways to Avoid Tech Debt

Now that we’ve established what technical debt may mean to a construction company, here are five ways to avoid tech debt from accumulating:


1. Embrace a Culture of Collaboration over Isolation: Rituals, Governance, and Retrospectives

A retrospective is a classic practice in Agile software development where teams reflect on recently completed work and, through these rituals, the team gets more efficient and collaboration yields greater productivity over time.


Planning Poker

Planning poker is a conversational tool that exists online and physically – it’s a great tool for facilitating critical discussion. It centers on the reality that if you want to avoid technical debt – which can emerge from complexities not commonly understood by all stakeholders – you need to implement a process whereby all stakeholders, or more importantly all disciplines, have the ability to voice what they believe or know to be benefits and threats of any implementation.

“Collaboration” Apps and Systems

A joint-Autodesk/FMI study revealed that construction has some work to do in terms of collaboration:

  • 60% of general contractors see problems with coordination and communication between project team members and issues with the quality of contract documents as the key contributors to decreased labor productivity.
  • 68% of trades point to poor schedule management as the key contributors to decreased labor productivity.
  • 9% of construction industry professionals say that the top reason for miscommunication is unresponsiveness to questions/requests.


Construction companies can address these collaboration pitfalls by: Adopting cloud-based productivity apps and encouraging company-wide usage. Conveniently accessible communication apps like Slack can empower back-office workers as well as those in the field to communicate with each other more seamlessly, while powerful project management apps like Procore can help construction managers oversee full-lifecycle projects onsite. We’ve built our tool management app with workflows in mind – allowing, for example, tool managers to text or email team members from their smartphone contacts list without leaving the app. It’s of course important to stress, though, a collaboration platform, no matter how powerful, can’t empower its users unless they actually commit to using it together! Our advice: Pick an app and integrate it with other teams’ apps and systems (see in our next section about integrations) to avoid information silos.


2. Hire a Dedicated Software Engineer, Technologist, or CTO

A construction technologist is an important, emerging role within an organization that oversees a company’s construction technology program—responsible for researching and piloting advanced technology (see in next section).


True, labor shortages in the construction industry are staggering, though the US construction market is expected to continue to grow. Mass layoffs in the tech industry present a unique opportunity to absorb the tech industry’s displaced software engineering talent to help address the industry’s productivity challenges:


  • Addressing Technical Debt – In lieu of three months downtime to fully port over one system for another, software engineering expertise can guide a company in taking a portion of a larger software ecosystem offline at a time and replacing it with a part, but there are complexities and hairiness to that, which will require nuanced expertise.
  • Integrations – Building connectors between project management and an ERP, connecting specialty design to prefab, BIM and asset management, etc., to limit manual reentry of project information, remove data silos, and better connect the flow of project data between your teams’ various software systems and apps.
  • Open APIs – Open APIs allow software providers to empower your company’s technical team; in the event an integration doesn’t exist, technologists have the tools to build a custom solution in the short-term.




3. Embrace Technology

It may sound counterintuitive—to attack technical obstacles by introducing more technology, especially when 42% didn’t have a budget for IT (according to the same ConTech report). But successful pilot programs and onboarding can empower contractors and business owners to deploy technology in a meaningful, outcomes-driven way:


  • BIM – Building information modeling, the digital tools of trade that architects, engineers, and contractors use to create unified, collaborative, multi-dimensional representations of built environments and infrastructure can mitigate risk and shorten project timelines by 50%, according to a scientific case study.
  • Industrialized Construction is not so much a technology as a complete redefinition of construction processes in favor of “productization” over one-off projects that improves quality, consistency, and value for customers. It takes advantage of multiple approaches, such as:
    • Offsite construction – both prefabrication and modular prefabrication – which moves preassembly of certain components to an offsite, manufacturing-style facility, and which has proven to increase project timeliness by 50% while reducing waste by 20%.
    • 3D Printing – 3D printing (aka: additive manufacturing) offer rapid design freedom and speed of delivery, delivering a 10-house community in China in a single day, for example. Respondents surveyed about their use of 3D printers reported the following benefits they viewed as most important: Ability to create complex geometrical objects, 69%; Value of quick iteration of products, 52%; Mass customization abilities, 41%.
  • Drones – Drones can be used ahead of breaking ground on projects in land surveying just as they can be used to provide real-time project reality capture.
  • Robots – Robots can be used to automate procedural tasks to free skilled trades to tend to tasks that require a higher degree of human intelligence; they can also keep workers out of harm’s way by automating dangerous tasks.
  • Smart Tools – Smart power tools can deliver installations faster and safer, using advanced technology like machine learning to protect operators against dangerous kickback events. Advanced software/hardware interaction can be used to dial in precision settings for application-specific repeatability, utilization data from events performed on tools in the field can be packaged up in a fully customizable reporting suite to provide proof-of-work documentation to customers, building inspectors, and stakeholders.
  • Generative AI – It may be a faux pas in certain circles, but exploring realistic ways in which generative AI may fit into construction workflows (e.g., assisting project managers, inventory managers, construction safety trainers, etc.) is critical as the industry looks to execute on growing backlogs.


4. Lean Construction

Just as agile software seeks to improve quality over time, lean construction is an approach to the business of building things that aims to minimize waste and maximize value for all stakeholders by reducing waste commonly encountered on construction sites such as:


  • Excessive material handling
  • Rework
  • Design errors
  • Conflicts between trades
  • Conflicts between other contractors
  • Ineffective supply chains


5. Digital Twins and IoT

Digital twin technology seeks to mirror real systems and drive smarter, predictive analytics with real-time sensor data through machine learning and artificial intelligence – and it’s helped reduce rework in manufacturing by 15-20%.

Digital twins aggerate data through related IoT sensors that can be used in construction to keep track of tools and equipment in real-time across various jobsites as well as drive safer, smarter installations.

McKinsey some six years ago predicted the rise of IoT devices to empower companies to monitor and repair equipment in real-time through automated alerts for preventive maintenance, inventory management and ordering, quality assessment (i.e., “smart structures”), energy efficiency, and safety.

Today, many of those predictions have come true; with the launch of Apple’s Vision Pro recently, renewed discussion in the construction wearable space, for example, is worth having to enhance safety training.


Bottom Line

The construction industry, strapped for talent (both skilled trades and engineering), is rife with opportunities for technical debt – however, there’s a myriad of tools at a business owner or technologist’s disposal to prevent technical debt from getting out of hand.


We recommend:

  1. Collaboration and ownership through project retrospectives
  2. Hiring a Dedicated Software Engineer, Technologist, or CTO – perhaps displaced talent from the technology sector
  3. Embracing advanced technology
  4. Embracing lean construction principles
  5. Supercharging your data analytics via digital twins and IoT


Robert LaCosse is a User Experience strategist with over 10 years of experience improving user experiences for major companies like Intel and Razorfish. At Milwaukee Tool, he is a leader in the UX Research discipline, responsible for ritualizing user research practices for One-Key software products. He also serves as a UX mentor and adjunct professor of computer science at Clark College in Washington state.