Brown & Carroll fits out its project leads with mobile progress management app

As a specialist in the highest specification fit-out joinery, Brown & Carroll is often the last in a long line of contractors to participate in bringing construction projects to a successful conclusion. Being a finishing trade puts Brown & Carroll in the hot seat for completion on time – and the company hasn’t missed a deadline for more than a quarter of a century.

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he company places a high value on project management excellence. It has been using Asta Powerproject for more than a decade, to help it prioritise and manage activities on some extremely large projects. It recently shifted to Asta Powerproject Enterprise to deliver a better overview across an increasing number of projects, as its market expands.

When Planner Matthew Kingston learned about its companion app, Site Progress Mobile, he recognised it could have a role to play in tightening up another aspect of assuring on-time completion. The company has purchased five licences of Site Progress Mobile for its project leads to use on its iPads when on site, and rapidly recognised a number of benefits.

Juggling site realities

Brown & Carroll is a finishing trade which, in theory, moves in once the basic internal finishes of a site are complete. The reality of construction projects is always a little different. The nature of finishing is directly dependent on the departure of other trades, meaning the Brown & Carroll team often finds itself working in multiple zones and constantly juggling the order of work. It needs not just finely-tuned timing, but a laser-like tracking of progress to ensure people move smartly through accessible project activities.

Matthew described: “When we’re doing a residential tower fit-out, we may put in some first-fix joinery before the walls go up. Then, once the decorators have been in and it’s ready for all the electrical, plumbing and joinery, we’ll return. Ideally, we would then work on one floor at a time – and once the team is finished, we would progressively move down the building. Sometimes we have to do it two floors at a time – it’s dependent on the time constraint that the client has given us. But, we’re also affected by whether other works have been completed, such as all the drylining and tiling in a bathroom. If we have to install door frames there, we may not be able to do them until other work is completed.”

In order to maximise profitability, it’s important not just to minimise time on site, but also ensure every piece of joinery that arrives from manufacturing is installed without delay. If there are such delays, the team needs to ensure it’s immediately visible in the master programme, so the order of work can be rethought. “The great thing about the Site Progress Mobile app is we can go to a location that is marked on the programme and, if we can’t start work, take a picture of the area. That is automatically pulled into the programme with a photo reference, which demonstrates the reason for the delay,” said Matthew.

Stop doing one job – twice

The use of Site Progress Mobile has eliminated some of the steps involved in tracking so that it can be reflected in the main programme. Matthew explained how they used to work: “Before we used Site Progress Mobile, we would print out the programme from Asta Powerproject and send it over to the managers on site. They would walk around and hand-write all the completion percentages on the printout, add comments and refer to pictures they had taken. It would all be sent back to me or a colleague, and we had to go through it line by line to input every comment and progress point. We were doing one job but doing it twice. With the app, we can mark up the programme directly from site – and that’s it. It reduces the time I need to spend – instead of taking information and wading through it, now it’s done for me.”

The team finds the app easy to use and it makes the programme easy to navigate. Matthew went on: “Site Progress Mobile comes up with a description of the bit of joinery, that they can easily identify. It has a very simple and clear interface which makes it so ideal for the guys on site. They just have to look at it and simply think: ‘Is it done, or not?’ ‘If not, why not?’ – It’s nice and easy.”

Shared needs for progress updates

Progress tracking becomes even more central in the final weeks of a project. As it draws towards completion, it is hardly surprising that clients are intensely interested and demanding of progress detail, requiring clarity on the reasons why anything isn’t being finished to plan. Brown & Carroll needs it since its payments depend on delivery and installation of the joinery. Crystal-clear progress reports are needed for both, as Matthew outlined: “We need to progress reports on a weekly basis. As the finishing trade, we are always the ones asked why something is not ready. We have to prove exactly why we couldn’t install a particular item, on a particular day. Site Progress Mobile helps us demonstrate it with the photos we took at the time.”

The app enables site managers to use and communicate their expert judgement of the degree of progress on every item on the build, using the sliders to set the percentage they judge. Matthew told us: “A doorset for an apartment comprises the door frame, the door and the ironmongery. We can judge the progress, creating an aggregate percentage completion for a particular scenario – such as 75% for a set where the frame is in, the door has been delivered from manufacturing and is here, just not yet installed.”

These percentages relate directly to payments, which are based upon physical delivery to site as well as installation. Site Progress Mobile ensures that the programme is completely up-to-date so that there are no delays or unnecessary interruptions to cash flow. “We design, make and install everything but the client can’t fully see the finished product in designs and drawings. To actually show progress using images makes it a lot easier to get your monthly payments in. Clients need to see the work before they will process a payment for it. So, if something is on site, at its location, we take a picture then allocate it to the right bar before making a claim for that item.”

Looking forward

Evolving the progress tracking process has several benefits to the business and its users. Matthew summarised it neatly: “Site Progress Mobile acts as a progress report, a monthly valuation report and backup for any delays that may occur. It significantly reduces the time that progress updates take. As long as the programme has been set up with clear first-column subheadings, so you know the exact room and item you’re talking about, it’s almost like you have that piece of joinery in front of you, and are looking at it, so you can mark up its progress easily.”

Brown & Carroll will continue to hone its use of Asta Powerproject and find ways to implement Site Progress Mobile to secure gains across other projects. Matthew concluded: “We’re on a lot of different projects of different types and we are looking for ways to use Site Progress Mobile more effectively around the business, as well as on site. It’s a work in progress but we’ve used it on two challenging large residential jobs. It’s simple, it’s easy to use and it works.”

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