A construction project involves various tasks that sometimes cannot be performed by one contractor alone. So construction companies subcontract these tasks to other service providers to get them done quickly. Each project can have multiple subcontractors, depending on its scope and complexity. The more subcontractors are involved, the harder it is to monitor their performance, resolve issues or disputes, and ensure they meet deadlines and requirements. This is where subcontractor management comes in.
Managing subcontractors in construction is critical in completing work on time, within budget, and to the required quality standards. General contractors understand subcontractors’ crucial role in a construction project, so they leverage new technology to streamline their subcontractor management system. Digital tools like project management software, online collaboration platforms, and time-tracking apps have greatly improved subcontractor management, reduced costs, and improved project outcomes.
The role of subcontractors in construction projects
Hiring in-house workers and procuring construction equipment is expensive. No wonder construction companies prefer hiring subcontractors since it eliminates the need for regular equipment maintenance and mandated employee wages. Besides significantly reducing the overall construction costs, subcontractors are also known for the quality of their work, mainly because they offer specialized services for which they invest in regular training and advanced gear.
Subcontractors can be involved in various stages of the construction process, from initial site preparation to final finishing work. For example, subcontractors may be hired to complete electrical, plumbing, or HVAC work, install flooring or roofing, or provide specialized services such as concrete pouring or welding. General contractors select them typically based on their expertise, experience, and ability to meet project timelines and constraints. Hiring subcontractors is similar to having in-house workers because general contractors can work with them on all projects.
Challenges of using subcontractors
Subcontractor management in construction is more complex than newly established construction companies may think. It has its fair share of challenges, which general contractors can overcome by implementing an effective subcontractor management system. These challenges include:
Communication barriers – Subcontractors often come from different geographical locations or have other communication preferences. Some may have worked with a different company for a long time and have adopted unique, old methods that they assume to be standard in any construction project.
- Coordinating work – Unlike full-time employees, subcontractors are automatically considered part-time project partners, meaning they may be working on other projects. This makes coordinating work quite tricky, mainly when conflicting schedules or requirements exist.
- Limited control – Depending on the contract a subcontractor signed, they can be an independent entity, meaning the general contractor has limited control over their availability, methods, and strategies. This makes it hard for the general contractor to ensure subcontractors meet project requirements and adhere to timelines.
- Disputes and disagreements – Because subcontractors are independent entities, they sign contracts with special provisions, which sometimes result in confusion and non-conformance on the general contractor’s end. This can escalate into disputes or disagreements about project scope or requirements.
Effective subcontractor management in construction is vital to rising above these challenges. It requires strong communication, clear expectations, and continuous monitoring and oversight.
Key Factors for Successful Subcontractor Management
The goal of every general contractor when hiring subcontractors and managing construction is to maximise the latter’s expertise. This can be hard to achieve if the project requires multiple subcontractors. It involves a combination of things, primarily the responsibility of the project manager and field engineers supervising the project.
- Clear communication – Everyone involved in the construction project, including subcontractors, must understand the specific goals, timelines, and requirements. The project manager must clearly inform them about the dos and don’ts and explain things they find confusing in the contract.
- Strong relationship – Working with a subcontractor is like partnering with a business. If things go well between the two parties, one project may not be the last. Building solid relationships with subcontractors based on trust and mutual respect can help create a collaborative and supportive environment.
- Proactive planning – Project managers must identify all potential risks and issues and develop strategies to address them in advance. This helps prevent major problems and lessen the impact of the inevitable ones. For example, disputes can be avoided by making it clear from the get-go how defects should be managed and what obligations the subcontractors have.
- Proper monitoring and oversight – While building relationships based on trust and respect, general contractors must implement strict quality control and assurance to deal with all issues that affect output quality. This guarantees that subcontractors are performing as expected, work is progressing according to plan, and any problems or concerns are addressed promptly.
- Effective problem-solving skills – Management of construction projects includes solving issues as they arise. Inattention or delay can lead to costly downtime. The issues in question can also grow and become irreversible at some point. Of the issues construction project managers face, disputes with subcontractors, which can arise at any project stage, should be their top priority.
By implementing these key factors, general contractors can optimise subcontractor management, reduce costs, and improve project outcomes. Unfortunately, traditional techniques are no longer enough to handle the increasing demand for efficiency. New tools and methods must be integrated into systems for subcontracting in project management.
The Impact of Technology on Subcontractor Management
Today’s general contractors use a variety of technological solutions to manage subcontractors. Digital tools like project management software, for example, are gaining popularity as they allow construction companies to create and manage project schedules, assign tasks to subcontractors, track progress, and communicate with team members more efficiently than ever before. In addition, they use cloud-based storage for better data management, with mobile applications for remote access to project-related information.
Construction project management software often comes with a collaboration platform that enables contractors and subcontractors to share files, work simultaneously on documents, and communicate in real time, regardless of location. The same software can be used to track time, which is critical when monitoring subcontractors’ performance and progress. This helps manage project costs, track work hours, and ensure that tasks are completed on schedule.
Best Practices for Integrating Technology in Subcontractor Management
Shifting to a data-driven subcontractor management approach is a complex process that requires a few best practices. First, construction companies must identify the most suitable technological solutions for their organisation’s needs. Even though the same methods are used to carry out construction projects, each project has a unique scope and condition, necessitating flexible digital tools that offer scalability.
Since the digital tools general contractors use are central to the project management system, all subcontractors must know how to use them. Proper training must be provided to ensure everyone is on the same page and can maximise the capabilities of these tools. This should be backed by data sharing and confidentiality protocols to protect subcontractors’ data. Then, they should monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of these solutions over time.
Subcontractors play a critical role in the success of any large-scale construction project. Therefore, an effective subcontractor management system must be implemented to meet all standards, regulations, and requirements. With construction projects becoming more complex and the demand for efficiency at an all-time high, traditional methods no longer work. Integrating data-driven technological solutions into the system bridges the gap.
While the existing technology used in subcontractor management systems is already more advanced than its predecessors, the innovation is far from over. Soon we will see versions powered by AI and machine learning, cloud-based platforms breaking the limitations of their current features, IoT and wearable technology becoming the norm in any construction project, and more.
But why wait for those to happen? You need a construction project management system that allows you to scale up and smoothly integrate new technology. Find out how PlanRadar can optimise your subcontractor management system now and in the future. Start your 30-day free PlanRadar trial or contact us.