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How Data Leads to Better Decision-Making

Collecting and using accurate data to make decisions or to gauge your current standing is critical to keeping the design train on the right track

May 13, 2024

Data-driven decisions
Data-driven decisions

Believe it or not, software and technology are not the most powerful tools AEC teams need for success. Even AI or all the training and education involved with becoming a design professional don’t matter as much as the one tool all firms need to leverage correctly: data. Collecting and using accurate data to make decisions or to gauge your current standing is critical to keeping the design train on the right track.

However, not all data is created equal. Part of your firm making the right data-driven decisions is knowing what kind of data you can collect, how to understand what it’s telling you, and what you can do with that data to harness its power truly. Here’s how data can lead to making better decisions.


Design Data: What Can You Collect?

There is an unlimited amount of data. But it’s not all useful or high-quality. A significant part of data-driven decision-making is knowing which data to collect.


Time-on-Task

Recording the time spent on each task associated with a project is critical. This data helps a design team better understand where it’s spending its time, which tasks are the biggest draw on design labour, and how it can better utilize the resources they have throughout every phase of the project.

This data can include the time spent interviewing project owners, designing, selecting contractors, reviewing submittals and RFIs, and more. This information creates a baseline AEC firms can use to gauge their future projects.


Project Costs

Having a collection of data around project costs is incredibly valuable for everyone involved in a construction project. Knowing how much the design team costs to develop the actual design and perform administrative duties throughout its build helps teams stay profitable. Likewise, understanding how much the project costs to build compared to the estimates helps with estimation accuracy.

Also, from a customer satisfaction standpoint, architects, engineers, and designers can help customers settle on realistic budgets. This helps avoid frustration or scaling back the customer’s dream plans.


Timelines

Time-on-task data is important, but so is the time data unrelated to the designer’s job. The time it takes to complete each phase of the project, materials delivery schedules, the overall timeline for punch lists, how long it takes for inspectors to approve details, and other data are valuable data points that design teams can use for their own success.

For example, consider a project that should take one year to complete, determined by using past data for similar construction projects. The design team can better determine the intervals at which they’ll get paid, providing a better gauge for cash flow, how much more time they’ll have on the project, and other important information that can only be accurately determined by reviewing data.


Market Trends and Competition

The information available outside of an AEC firm’s sphere of influence is just as valuable as those that impact their projects. For example, tracking industry trends such as materials pricing, popular materials, legislative changes, and the latest technology provides the type of data that these teams need to keep in mind while designing their own projects.

It’s also a smart move to collect competition data. Which types of projects is the competition taking on? How much are they worth? Are they finishing their projects on time? What are they doing to promote their business? What are they doing differently than your firm, whether good or bad?

This data is valuable because it will help your company stand out. Using it, companies can bid better, change their marketing strategies, or target an untapped part of the market.


Employee Performance

Let’s not overlook one of the most important data sets available to AEC teams. Employee data is a valuable tool that firms reference to allocate resources better, improve training opportunities, and better distribute key responsibilities to valuable employees. Hours spent and payroll, customer satisfaction ratings, estimate accuracy, and other data points can be used to help companies grow by putting the right people in the right roles.


Data Utilization: What Can You Do With It?

Most companies focus on a handful of data points as key performance indicators. However, the reality is that all data can be KPIs if it’s used correctly. The following are examples of using this data for important processes and decision-making.


Set Valuable Benchmarks

Data collection and review are important for establishing the benchmarks by which a company should gauge its success. By collecting important dates, percentages, times, and other information, companies can establish the data set they need to determine success and solve potential issues before sidetracking a project.

  • Valuable information could help in establishing:

  • The average timelines for projects of different types and value

  • How many design revisions are typically required

  • How many submittals, RFIs, and change orders are average for each project type

  • How long each phase of the project takes the design team

  • How long it takes for project owners and consultant teams to communicate

  • The average profit margin for projects of all types

These data points are just a few examples of the information firms can use to establish their benchmarks and track their progress. They can then compare their progress on a project to the benchmarks to identify potential problems, delays, or confusion quickly.

They can also use this data to plan for the future and grow. Companies that focus on the most profitable projects that present the lowest risk and allow the company to operate as efficiently as possible will grow faster than those that struggle to identify their best lane.


Identifying Time Loss

In some cases, AEC teams might realize they have a time issue. All of their projects run out of hours, cutting into their profitability. This is a major issue that requires data-driven decisions.

First, look at the data collected:

  • Compare the hours estimated to the hours used. Which phase of the project ran over in hours?

  • Compare this to other projects. In which phases of the project do they overrun hours?

  • Compare profitability. Did all of these projects lose money?

  • Identify project type. Were they commercial, residential, industrial, or residential?

  • Cross-reference contractors. Which other companies were involved in these projects?

With this information, design firms can use the data available to determine the problem. If the projects aren’t profitable, it’s every project type, and it doesn’t matter who is on the project; there is an issue with their estimation process. If it’s one project type or a common set of contractors, they might be worth avoiding in the future.


Identifying Project Confusion

In other cases, teams can use data to identify potential issues and attempt to get ahead of them. For example, a design team routinely handles $5M to $15M commercial projects. The firm understands how long each phase typically takes, how many RFIs they receive, and other key data.

During a particular project, the firm begins to receive more RFIs than typical for a given phase of the project. Rather than the usual 250 RFIs, the team receives 350, 400, or 500 RFIs. There’s a good chance that something is going awry.

Or consider a similar issue with submittals. If it typically takes 6 days to review submittals, but the project’s timeline far exceeds that threshold, an issue probably needs sorting out.

Data might hold the answer to both of these issues. Let’s look at some questions only the data can answer:

  • How much time was spent on design compared to other projects?

  • How many submittals were received, how long did it take for the consultant team to review them, and how do they compare to other projects?

  • How many RFIs were submitted, how long did the consultant team take to respond to them, and how do they compare to other projects?

  • How many changes did the consultant team make to the submittals or RFIs, and why were they made? How does this project compare to others?

  • Which employees were assigned?

  • How many change orders occurred throughout the project, and why did they happen?

  • Have these contractors worked on other projects?

  • Was there a recent change in legislation or trends that could impact the project’s design?

  • How many deficiencies were noted at the close of the project?

These data points, and many more, can be referenced to understand where the confusion lies. The team can then use this data to create a better plan for the future.


Use Data in Your Firm’s Decision-Making Process

Information is power, and data doesn’t lie. Collecting and using important data allows design teams to work quickly, efficiently, and profitably. Part3 is construction administrative software designed by architects, for architects. Part3 helps stakeholders sort and analyze this vital data. Schedule your demo today to learn how Part3 can help you make better, data-based decisions for your design firm.