Author - andrewmunro_895lgtq7

Better Information Management

Effective information management is key to the success of construction projects.  In a conventional highway design model, the data consist of points and lines that define the outline of the planned works. Other information critical to successful completion such as design data and specifications is disassociated. In typical engineering application data is not only stored in different locations, it is often linked via a human or paper intermediary. This segregation of data occurs because, in the common file based data management environment, there is no direct link between a drawing and a document.  Changes in one may not be reflected in the other. This state of affairs is accepted historically as the design process has evolved to produce a final paper output with documents and drawings as separate entities. This is the focus of established design processes that have evolved over the years.

In a typical large highways project under the Early Contractor Involvement model, systems such as Business Collaborator (BC) share information among the parties. However in a typical application the data set held on BC is incomplete.  BC is often used to issue information to team members rather than as an information or knowledge repository. The effect of this approach is to create duplication between data stored in the collaboration system and data held internally on file servers. This duplication may further increase inside the design organisation as different teams or groups maintain their own file systems. Multiple asynchronous copies of information may be held (and relied upon) that are not subject to a consistent update policy.

The lack of compatibility means that it is not possible to go to a “single source of truth” for project information it is necessary in many cases to know first what is being looked for and where it may be stored. This increases the workload to locate information and introduces a risk that it may not be found or when found may be (dangerously) out of date. A user cannot be totally confident that he has discovered the true and complete information needed to complete his task. The secondary effect of this is that often it will be easier for a person to go direct to the source of the information and the result is uncontrolled information. Additional workload is created within teams from making and responding to these requests. Multiple requests may be made over time for essentially the same information.

Should information need updating it is not possible to be confident that all versions on the system have been updated, and team members, as a result, have low confidence that information on the system is up to date. The output may, therefore, be subject to additional and unnecessary validation and control stages. Authors may hold back information in which they have little confidence, but is still useful information. This creates additional inefficiencies.

Where out of date information is held on the system this may result in rework when new information comes to light or it is corrected. A culture of making do emerges where tasks are commenced even though faith in the information is reduced, or it is known that input data will be subject to change. To enable work to advance assumptions are made to avoid future correction that in themselves may require correction at a later date. Hidden contingency is built in to cover these assumptions increasing base costs and extending project time.

Within many organisations the culture of “design iteration” remains embedded as it is implicitly accepted that information will change through the design cycle and that the design will be changed several times in response to this changing information. Supported by better information and better management of that information it should be possible to deliver better designs, earlier and cheaper, by eliminating wasteful iteration, risk and rework.

To adopt new ways of working and managing information, we must first recognise that deliverable and document focused systems are based on a paper model.  In such a model information is collated into paper based documents such as reports and drawings. Information based methodologies eclipse paper and focus on delivering the right information to the right person at the right time. How information is delivered, and consumed can be variable, depending on the receiver.  It is not necessary, therefore, to maintain information in different forms just because the consumer of that information has different needs.  Information kept in different forms may result in omissions when updated if one of the forms is overlooked.

Much current technology for managing and indexing information is based on the assumption that information arrives in paper form or a paper analogue (e.g. email). In fact, what is essential is that the information can be found by those needing to know it. Such information is better found, not from the paper mindset of looking through all likely documents, but through search.

Traditional filing systems are based on a paper methodology with information collated into folders (files) browsed as a file analogue. The division into files can be arbitrary and at odds with how information is sought by the user. Within a traditional filing system, vertical navigation is straightforward, but horizontal navigation between folders is more difficult. The analogy would be that to move from the east wing of a 40 storey building to the west wing it was necessary to take a lift first to the lobby. If the constraint of the paper is broken, and the appropriate technology adopted, it becomes possible to obtain information by whatever method (for example full text search) is best and most effective

It is clear, therefore, that paper based approaches to information management in a world in which almost all project information is either electronic or convertible to electronic form creates an unnecessary overhead. Search based approaches will locate information more thoroughly and more efficiently. We are used now to the internet and Google, would we gladly give up Google to use a library instead? By continuing to use deliverable and document focused systems, as opposed to information focused, this is in effect what we force teams to do.

An effective information system must provide assurance as to the quality of the information being delivered. The current position of document controller on a project will change to information manager in order that the system is properly managed and controlled

Email Waste

So what is wrong with email?  It’s great and we can communicate so much easier with our teams.  Email is a potential problem in the design office and effective email management should be a priority.

It is this ease of communication that is the problem in project management.  When we receive “important” information we want to pass it on quickly so we fill the “to” box with as many addresses as we think need to receive it.  Then we worry that maybe others need to know we have sent it, and others might want to know too, so we fill the “cc” box with more and then we click send – job done!

So lets say we have now messages to 20 people.  To some receivers the information is of no immediate interest so it gets filed or perhaps more accurately it gets left in the inbox and forgotten about.  How many times have you had the conversation where you tell someone that you emailed them on such and such a date and they swear blind that you haven’t until they find your email……  Not such a good communication tool.

To others it is perhaps of more immediate interest or even importance, but as you copied the whole email which might itself be formed of a chain of replies they miss the actual important bit of information that was in a reply maybe 5 emails down.  But surely everyone reads email, spots the item of importance and carries out the necessary action?  They might if your email was not one of many all clamouring for attention.  We suffer from email overload and to cope with email many read it quickly or leave it to read it later….later…..later.  So in fact your important information has not even been read or perhaps only skimmed, yet design may be going on to which it has relevance resulting in rework when it catches up.

Email has become a monster.  It eats time that could be better spent.  Staff spend a significant amount of time each day trying to keep on top of email and in some cases failing.  More time is spent looking for emails later when the “did you get…” conversation happens followed by other work being put aside to then deal with it.  A succession of contradictory emails can send teams in one direction and then another.  A surge of activity at the expense of something else occurs then it is back to the first plan.

How do we solve the problem?  You can apply 5S:

Sift – Only send onward what is important and not the whole email chain so it is clear what the content is and what action is required.  Avoid “Reply All”

Sort – Decide who really needs the information and send only to them

Set in Order – Structure the filing of emails to avoid creating a morass of email, particularly in the inbox.  Use a priority system for action.

Standardise – Get everyone to use the same rules

Sustain – Keep doing it

Fundementally, recognise that in Lean terms email is a push media and that it can create a wave of tasks or work in progress that is counter to flow, especially if it is unstructured, unprioritised and untargeted.  Use of systems like Sharepoint or Business Collaborator to create information “pools” from which teams can pull information when needed may be preferable to email.

At the personal level use 5D to manage your inbox. Do (the action), Defer (add to a to do list), Delete, Delegate, or Drawer (file).

How to Increase Design Costs Without Trying

If you have money to throw away on your project then adopt these 5 practices (thanks to Iron Mountain http://bit.ly/iUaWhA):-

1. Keep everything

The easiest way to increase the cost of managing information is to keep everything.

By reducing what you store, you reduce these costs.  Know what you need to keep, know how long you need to keep it and get rid of the rest!

2. Don’t organise anything

By not organising your information, it is almost guaranteed that it will take hours or days to find something!

Make information easier to find and people spend less time looking for it and more time doing their jobs!

3. Lose what you need in the clutter

Not satisfied with merely making things hard to find?  Take the next step and make it un-findable!

Information that is lost is as useful as information that does not exist.

4. Recreate what you can’t find

Now that it’s lost, what choice do you have but to recreate it?

Don’t do twice the work for the same result.

5. Just wing-it

Process is the enemy of inefficiency (most of the time) – that’s why winging-it can help you to waste a lot of time.

Show people the way and they may follow; don’t and who knows where they will go!

Doesn’t apply to you?  Are you sure?

While you are still thinking about the unorganised chaos in your team, I’ll just point out that these 5 “practices” NOT to do, map very well onto 5S (Shine, Set In Order, Sort, Standardise, Sustain) in Lean.  So from the top:-

Don’t keep everything

Instead Sift (shine) and identify what is relevant and important.

Don’t not organise

Instead Set In Order and establish a single source of “truth” for the project, one place that every team member knows contains the information they need to do their job properly.

Don’t lose what you need in the clutter

Instead Sort and organise the information into an easily navigated structure

Don’t recreate what you can’t find

Instead Standardise file storage conventions so that it replicates easily from project to project and people don’t have to think about where to find things.  They will then not lose them.

Don’t just wing-it

Instead Sustain – having got your teams trained keep them organised and help them continuously improve.
So what will you do now with the time you have saved?

Information Management

Lean thinkers have referred to “ensuring that relevant customer requirements are available in all phases of production, and  that  they  are  not  lost  when  progressively  transformed  into  design solutions, production plans and products”.   Customer requirements are however only part of  information management in design.

Information Waste

In Lean there are 7 classic wastes:

Definition
Over-production Producing more than is needed right now
Transportation Movement of product that does not add value
Motion Movement of people that does not add value
Waiting Idle time created when material, information, people, or equipment is not ready
Processing Effort that creates no value from the customer’s viewpoint
Inventory More materials, parts, or products on hand than is needed right now
Defects Work that contains errors, rework, mistakes or lacks something necessary

Some Lean thinkers add additional wastes:-

MAKING DO

  • Drawings, documents and information required to complete the task are not available and
  • The  task is started despite these not being available, or the task is continued when supply  ceases

UNUSED CREATIVITY

  • Effort available to the team but not used to create value

From these wastes the following information management related wastes can be identified

  • Waiting – unable to do work because information is not available or time is spent trying to identify information that needs to flow
  • Over Processing – excessive steps to produce the output caused by resources or activities necessary to overcome a lack of information
  • Making  Do  –  continuing  with  production  in  the  absence  of  required  information
  • Defects – drawings and design requiring rework and resources and activities used to correct or verify information
  • Unused Creativity – team members making do due to lack of information when they could be employed creating value

Information Flow

In design the “flow” is information to each workstation so that the output in the form of information for the next step in line (which could be further design or construction) can be completed on time and to budget with minimum waste.

Information Flow in Design

A scenario can occur in a design office where an absence or shortage of knowledge and information threatens to halt production (of deliverables).  The pressure of deadlines (push planning) requires work to continue and assumptions are made to fill in for the missing knowledge or information.  This builds in the necessity to make corrections of the assumption later, or contingencies are made that the assumption may be incorrect and the design is “over-dimensioned”. The result is unplanned work.

Making do has been described as an “art” in the construction industry and that the response to lack of input availability is making do on a “massive scale”.

The conclusion is that the reduction of making do in design requires control and optimisation of the flow of information and knowledge in the design team and between teams. The same applies to the knowledge created by the design process that adds to the total body of knowledge available to the organisation.  This knowledge can be levered by the organisation to improve and/or enhance the design process for subsequent projects.  The loss of this acquired knowledge, or perhaps the lack of sharing of knowledge, is a cause of unnecessary work.

Information Sources

Typical types of information include emails, letters, meeting notes, call records, drawings, electronic data and photographs.  A distinction may be drawn between “data” and “information”:-

DATA

Individual facts, statistics, or items of information.

INFORMATION

1. Knowledge communicated or received concerning a particular fact or circumstance;

2. Knowledge gained through study, communication, research, instruction, etc.

In the project environment typically a large mass of data will exist which continually grows in size.  Information that adds value to an output is a subset of the total data.

Management activity should therefore focus on Information as it is this which forms the value stream in the design process.  An 80/20 rule may apply whereby only 20% of the data collected is used in creating value.

Applying 5S to information management produces:-

  • Sift (shine) – Ensure information is accurate and up to date
  • Sort – Structure information so it can be easily navigated and found
  • Set in Order – Store information in a single location that is available to all working on the project
  • Sustain – Make sure teams use the system and continuously improve
  • Standardise – Set protocols for information management

With the volumes of information within organisations increasing exponentially increasing attention is being paid to the challenges it produces, and the risks it creates.

In the absence of information management there is lack of certainty as to where information is, who has relevant information, and limited certainty as to its availability and currency.  One consequence is that time is spent in search of essential information with which to continue production.

Smoothing the Design Workflow

To smooth the design workflow there must be a means of delivering the required information to the workface at the time it is required.  It is however difficult in design to fix with certainty the time when information is required and in consequence information is delivered by “push”.

The concept of “pull” should be applied so that designers acquire information when they are ready to use it without the overload caused by “push”.  There is then a likelihood that the information to be used in design will be current, correct and the best available.

Users need to be confident that they will find the information they are looking for and that it is current and up to date.  All team members must use the system consistently and for all information.

Key principles of a strategy for managing project information within a Lean production (design) environment become:-

  • Identify valuable information as distinct from data and manage it
  • Users will only use a system if it has direct value to them or they understand the indirect value for another team
  • Information should be available in real time as soon as it is acquired
  • Minimise duplication of information
  • Minimise out of date information
  • Minimise duplication of effort
  • Information should only be delivered as it is demanded by users (pull)

Information Management Strategy

To achieve 5S in an industry which is heavily dependent on the flow of information and knowledge requires a system that can provide:-

  • Single source of all Information to:
    • Minimise duplication
    • Minimise out of date or superseded information
    • Provide Information on demand as it is needed
  • Be accessible to all project users at any time and be user friendly to:
    • Provide direct value to users
    • Enable users to supply information to others working on the project
    • Provide real time access with notification of changes and additions

Conclusions

Reducing making do generated by lack of information can be attained by the adoption of relatively simple strategies.

  • Use a single source of truth for information
  • Recognise the 80/20 rule and actively manage useful information
  • Use pull rather than push to supply information to designers
  • Apply 5S to information management within the project
  • Introduce make ready checks into daily/weekly stand up meetings