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Managing Data in an Offsite Construction Company (2/4)

Lauri Tuulberg, CEO
July 31, 2019
5 min read

So I thought I'd start describing our software infrastructure by following the graph I posted in Part 1, which means tracking an incoming project's lifecycle in the value chain map and describing which software it comes into contact in our organization and what data is exchanged in the process.

No alt text provided for this image But before I go into more depth about our estimation and sales let me just say that it took us a while to get used to working with a CRM tool in the first place and if I look back now, I don't know what the heck I was thinking. It's probably the first rule of sales that if you are not using a dedicated CRM tool, you most likely have a sales problem. I must have justified this to myself with the low number of prospects that we had in the beginning as well as with a relatively slow deal velocity, but the fact is that once you get used to it, you can't understand how you managed to work without one.

From an industrial engineering perspective, the first article may not be very interesting because setting up a sales pipeline is not exactly rocket science but it is important that you get an overview of the whole picture. Although it may seem simple, there are no fixed answers and it was only quite recently that we drastically simplified our pipeline structure as well as had three other key revelations:

  1. The pipeline stages should be structured based on the customer perspective
  2. The teams work evolves around tasks within these stages
  3. Deals that are not moving, should be taken out of the primary pipeline

So you could say that the stages are designed based on an idealized version of the clients' procurement process stages and this outlines the boundaries for the game whereas the tasks are like balls bounced around between team members. You could use a basic Trello board for setting this up and our production control program - MRPEasy - has a CRM module built into it as well, at the end of the day we chose Pipedrive for the task. Probably it has a small patriotic undercurrent to it, because of their Estonian origins, but mostly it is because of the available tools and possibilities. I will not go into more detail about the process, ranking and resource allocation systems but we are still finetuning some of the setups since we are discovering bits of data that we should have available further downstream for better analysis. But in any case, the tempo, workflow, and mindset of sales are very different from manufacturing or engineering design, which to me again justifies a modular software ecosystem where different programs (tools) only change information with other programs with APIs and are dedicated to serving a focused task.

A dedicated tool developed for a single process, with a startup mentality will always outperform an embedded function within a bigger program.

And one more thing, setting up automatic workflows for data exchange, just like factory shop floor automation, shouldn't be a goal on its own but pulled by real necessity. Which of course does not mean that management shouldn't anticipate and project trends for an arising need, but I will talk about reports and data visualization in the last articles when I go into more detail about Office 365 and Power BI.

The estimation process itself is fairly straightforward, with selecting the appropriate structures (element types) and measuring the quantity. In a very simplified way, the price of the structures comprises of two basic components - Labout Time and Materials - and this is the first step in which the project comes into contact with our production management software MRPEasy. I will get into more detail about the program and how we use BOMs from HSBCad models in the next article but basically, since we track time for each material layer within every panel on the production line, we know very accurately how much time it actually takes for the factory shop floor guys to assemble and fix for instance an OSB or Fermacell board. This data, as well as the real value of incoming stock materials, is constantly updated and based on all this the estimation team finalizes a detailed offer.

Facade element project in Tartu by Welement AS

I will not bore you with the exact details of how our offer is structured but right from the very beginning, we took an open approach to the presentation of numbers to our customers. With custom projects, the possibility of miscommunication is high so that is why our offer is like an open menu with all the major offsite products, work, and loose materials listed separately with a highly detailed scope of work.

In the next article, I will dive deeper into our production management system (I am deliberately avoiding the acronym ERP:)), the design process with HSBCad and how we automatically generate the Bill of Materials (BOM) from the 3D BIM Model. Also most likely I will have to start talking about how we use Microsoft Teams in the office, as well as the factory shop floor.

PS! If anybody feels that the terminology that I am using is incorrect or has some good suggestions about further reading materials or podcasts etc. about all these subjects, I would be very thankful.