By Don Talend, Contributing Editor
Depending on who is responsible for writing daily progress reports, project superintendents/managers or foremen will tell you that this is an essential task but a time-consuming one that normally takes time away from their core responsibilities of observing, supervising and coordinating jobsite activity. Jimbo Bunnell, vice president of operations for new construction at Dallas-based TDIndustries, a mechanical, plumbing and HVAC contractor, says the company identified the need to reduce daily report writing time several years ago.
“It was really a matter of productivity and time,” Bunnell says. “I had foremen and superintendents who were handwriting notes, making copies of them, and sending them to customers every day.” He estimates that report writing took 15 minutes of valuable time that could be spent actually getting projects completed. Also, those 15 minutes added up to much more time when a superintendent oversaw more than one project in a given day. Native Spanish-speaking superintendents and foremen also faced translation challenges. Last but not least, TDIndustries’ Excel report platform and others the general contractor or owner used did not suit jobsite photos.
Speech to text
TDIndustries signed up for a trial of NoteVault’s Daily Reporting Platform and a Notes mobile daily reporting app for superintendents’ iPhones. The app, which can be operated with a tablet, is also compatible with the Android OS. It works on a dictation principle: Superintendents speak into their phones and provide details of a project and NoteVault’s construction professionals download the recordings and transcribe them into text. The text and photos are used in a report in Portable Document Format (pdf).
TDIndustries has the flexibility to determine who receives the reports, which are sent via email. The company’s report writers receive a report draft in the morning and either edit or verify the information for a clean, spell-checked final report.
Bunnell says that the cloud-based platform’s storage of time- and geo-stamped reports for 10 years is potentially useful. “Let’s say I had a job last year that was delayed and I want to know what happened from March through June,” he says. “I can send an email to NoteVault and they can pull all of those reports for that time period and send them to me so that I can evaluate them.” Bunnell adds that data in the reports could be used in cost accounting so that projects can undergo profitability analyses and so that estimates are developed with built-in profit margins.
Bunnell reports that superintendents, foremen and administrators learned the system via on-location training sessions conducted by NoteVault representatives on several projects and the knowledge cascaded to a total of 160 employees. “They sat with the crews, made sure everybody had it on their phones, were comfortable with pulling it up, were comfortable speaking into it, comfortable knowing what to say when they spoke into it,” Bunnell says. He adds that managers were coached to dictate project information in two minutes or less to eliminate superfluous information from reports and keep them concise. Once managers got used to the system, using it became second nature, according to Bunnell.
Focusing on higher-level tasks
Bunnell says his managers have provided positive feedback about the system. “They believe it saves them so much time and allows them to focus on higher-level things,” he says. “Do you want a guy writing a daily report, or do you want him out on a jobsite where things are happening and schedules have to be met and coordination has to be done, sequencing efforts have to be laid forth, and materials have to be delivered to expensive craftsmen? We want guys to be supervising crews and making things happen, not sitting there and spending a lot of time filling out a report.”