Speaking with the industry

Holistic project management and cross-interface working - KLEUSBERG

Benedikt Anders talks to us about networked working and digital interaction with subcontractors

Holistic project management and cross-interface working - KLEUSBERG

As a general contractor for turnkey modular buildings with around 100 projects a year, KLEUSBERG has long recognised the added value of automating processes. However, we talked to Benedikt Anders from KLEUSBERG about how this can also be implemented across trades and teams. 

Benedikt Anders has been working for the medium-sized family business for 18 years and has been in charge of the technical office since 2017. His tasks there include supplying the operational areas with the necessary technical data on the one hand, and driving forward digitization in the company on the other. The latter means, for example, the further development of BIM, but also the introduction of standardized project handling. Here, the Technical Office works closely with the Lean Construction department. When you are a general contractor dealing with a scope of work like KLEUSBERG, it quickly becomes clear which processes are often repeated. Anders sees optimizing these processes analogously first and then automating them as a major advantage of digitization. 

From classic project management...

It was not long ago that KLEUSBERG also handled projects in the classical way: The individual departments worked through their responsibilities on their own responsibility and then handed them over to the appropriate department. Once the information was handed over, the topic was closed for the respective department. Often, conflicts were only identified at the point where all the information came together, which then had to be communicated individually to those responsible so that they could resolve them accordingly. This delayed the following work steps. Coordinating the execution planning of different trades is one of the biggest challenges in construction projects, confirms Benedikt Anders: 

"Most of the delays or cost increases you hear about can be attributed to a lack of coordination or poor coordination between the trades in the planning phase. So I would see that as one of the most critical points in cross-interface working."

... for working across interfaces 

In order to work more cost- and time-efficiently, KLEUSBERG took a closer look at the processes. How can cross-interface working be made possible? The general contractor relies on lean construction and digital solutions. During the project, all those involved meet regularly to report on the current status. Thanks to the regularly repeating processes, milestones have been created that can be used as a guide in every project. Upcoming issues are discussed and responsibilities are given to the appropriate departments. 

At the same time, information is fed into a project platform so that it is available to others at any time. This means that everyone can access the necessary data, communicate with others and see in real time whether everything is going according to plan. 

"In our experience, the greatest added value is that you can regulate issues well across interfaces in such systems. I think the most important thing is that people know where they are in the overall context of the project.

The transparency of the project process that this creates ensures that the focus of all those involved shifts more towards the success of the entire construction project. In contrast to traditional project management, there is constant coordination across all trades, which minimises collisions and generally leads to an increase in efficiency. 

An agile way of working emerges: The interdependencies of the different areas become clearer for everyone and interdisciplinary agreements are promoted. 

How to bring subcontractors along? 

In order to realise an exchange of information via platforms also with external stakeholders, they must be able to access such platforms. As a general contractor, it is possible to contractually bind subcontractors to the use of a platform. However, this does not automatically lead to compliance in practice. Benedikt Anders speaks from experience: 

"Enforcing that the companies do it that way is not just a matter of saying that it is contractually stipulated. You have to say: we'll sit down together and show you how to do it. We have developed training videos and manuals so that everyone is able to do it.

It takes time for such a transformation of processes to take place and for craft enterprises to use digital solutions without any problems. 

"But that is also very dependent on the operating companies. We have companies that already walk around with tablets on the construction site, so you don't have to explain it to them. With others, the integration is more difficult, despite instruction. You have to take people by the hand or have a little patience if it doesn't work right away.

Our expert emphasises that patience is an important motto when it comes to not leaving subcontractors behind in digitalisation. 

This is particularly noticeable when it comes to the companies for executing trades, as they are less involved in the planning process of the entire project. They are less dependent on the exchange of information with other trades, which is why the added value of coordinated planning is less obvious for them than for other subcontractors. In addition, these companies largely do not have the necessary technical prerequisites because they have not needed them so far. It is not necessarily due to the size of a company that such prerequisites are not available, but rather that the existing business model does not require it. 

Communication and collaboration 

Before a process is actually digitised at KLEUSBERG, it must first run optimally in analogue form. It is analysed whether there is still general potential for improvement, because otherwise digitisation would not achieve the desired success. At the same time, it is determined what a workflow must look like so that those responsible are notified at the right time and receive all the necessary data. Once this basis has been created, possible providers for a digital solution that could map this process are looked at. The new process is then implemented and tested on the basis of a new or upcoming project. As soon as this also affects external participants such as subcontractors, they are informed about the test in advance during the award process. Thus, during the project, in cooperation with those affected, it is worked out how a company-wide implementation can take place successfully. There are regular feedback rounds to get feedback from all sides and uncover inconsistencies. Once best practices have been identified, the process can be applied to other projects. 

Standard solutions for standard processes 

What sounds quite simple in theory encounters various difficulties in practice, Anders reports. In order to digitally map a process, it must be precisely defined beforehand. It is often the case that there are also different approaches for different people carrying out the work. This means that a procedure has to be agreed upon in advance and that one or the other has to deviate from their usual way of working in the future. 

In addition, it can happen that despite a large number of existing solutions, the one perfect application that can map one's own process 100% is not found. Large companies in particular often rely on customising existing products to their own requirements. However, this also means follow-up costs for regular updates, which can result in a certain dependence on the providers. Therefore, Anders has chosen a different approach for KLEUSBERG: 

"I am rather a friend of approaching standard solutions. Those who develop something like this have usually already thought deeply about it. We are not the only ones who realise building objects. If a certain process cannot be represented digitally in the way we imagine, there is usually a good reason for it. Before I cut a piece of software to size, I would always look to see if the process could be adapted to this in detail.

This does not mean that some processes should be completely adapted to existing solutions, but sometimes the deviations are so minimal that the additional effort of an individual adaptation is not in proportion to the result. 

With patience to the goal  

Subcontractors can be brought along step by step in the direction of digitisation by contractual means, including appropriate training, without being presented with a fait accompli. However, the acceptance of subcontractors is not the only challenge that general contractors have to overcome in digitisation projects. Employees of the own company must also recognise the added value and understand how the individual solutions work. Not every employee has the same affinity for technology and directly sees the advantage of a digital way of working. Anders describes it like this: 

"Often, the benefits of digital solutions only become apparent when they are applied in the medium term. You have to proceed very individually: you have people who intuitively know how something like this works. But you also have a large number of people who find it a bit more difficult, who are more comfortable with analogue tools. You can't leave them by the wayside, because of course you need them all. You have to do some individual training to show how something works. 

After all, the work processes have been practised in the same way for decades. Detailed explanations are needed to give everyone the chance to implement the use of digital solutions accordingly. Here, too, the focus should remain on people instead of pushing through a quick change with all one's might. Patience is the key, says the expert: 

"If there is a function in the project now, and the person still does it as a Word file, then you can also say: Good, then we'll leave it like that for now and we'll look again at the next project".

Most problems can be solved through early involvement and open communication. How do subcontractors find digital interaction? 

"The feedback from many is that it's a super thing. It is a great relief to be able to access information. After all, the core of the issue is that information is made available and that subcontractors themselves can also post information and communicate directly on the document."  

Negative feedback is also received when new processes seem too complicated at first glance and the added value is not obvious. However, upon closer examination, it usually becomes clear that the systems used are well thought out and the criticism is invalid. Here it becomes clear again that communication is important in order to complete the transformation in a sustainable way. Questions must be clarified in detail and uncertainties removed so that scepticism is dispelled. 

How can project management be improved in the future? 

To further advance cross-interface work in the future, project participants should rely on digital solutions as much as possible. Benedikt Anders sees great potential in the mapping of buildings over the entire life cycle through BIM and digital twins. In his opinion, even more companies should open up to this topic now in order to make processes more efficient internally and externally. 

"What is still missing is a bit of know-how throughout the industry on how to deal with model data and the corresponding software. But I think that will come with time." 

In the long term, Anders would like to see projects planned and handled digitally from the very beginning. However, there are still a few hurdles to overcome, for example with regard to documents that must still be available to lawyers in paper form. 

In addition, digitalisation should become even more prevalent and recognised in companies. Anders puts it this way: 

"It has to get into the heads of the managers. If they are not 100% behind it, it will be difficult. Because when you address such issues, you go to the basic substance of the work processes."

Those responsible in the company must initiate the process and realise that the benefits in the long run are greater than the short-term effort. This is the only way to ensure sustainable implementation. 

Potential of the platforms 

In order to also promote collaborative work on platforms in the future, knowledge must be expanded here as well. Anders sees many possibilities in the various solutions that already exist. Open interfaces can offer a lot of added value if the operation works properly. Because only networking can lead to increased efficiency. 

"In the meantime, there are probably subcontractors who have ten different portals where they have to register. You hear that a lot: now I have a new account again. What are my login details?"

Intelligent networking of existing systems is often still difficult to implement in practice. Once this is possible, collaboration and information sharing within the project can lead to a shared sense of responsibility for successful completion. Through live reporting, stakeholders feel integrated and can see the current status at any time. This enables agile working and construction projects to be completed on time and on budget.     

Published by

Berit Behler


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