Types of Project Information in Construction Project Management
By Chris Hendrickson
Construction projects inevitably generate enormous and complex sets of information. Effectively managing this bulk of information to insure its availability and accuracy is an important managerial task. Poor or missing information can readily lead to project delays, uneconomical decisions, or even the complete failure of the desired facility. Pity the owner and project manager who suddenly discover on the expected delivery date that important facility components have not yet been fabricated and cannot be delivered for six months! With better information, the problem could have been identified earlier, so that alternative suppliers might have been located or schedules arranged. Both project design and control are crucially dependent upon accurate and timely information, as well as the ability to use this information effectively. At the same time, too much unorganized information presented to managers can result in confusion and paralysis of decision making.
As a project proceeds, the types and extent of the information used by the various organizations involved will change. A listing of the most important information sets would include:
- cash flow and procurement accounts for each organization,
- intermediate analysis results during planning and design,
- design documents, including drawings and specifications,
- construction schedules and cost estimates,
- quality control and assurance records,
- chronological files of project correspondence and memorandum,
- construction field activity and inspection logs,
- legal contracts and regulatory documents.
Some of these sets of information evolve as the project proceeds. The financial accounts of payments over the entire course of the project is an example of overall growth. The passage of time results in steady additions in these accounts, whereas the addition of a new actor such as a contractor leads to a sudden jump in the number of accounts. Some information sets are important at one stage of the process but may then be ignored. Common examples include planning or structural analysis databases which are not ordinarily used during construction or operation. However, it may be necessary at later stages in the project to re-do analyses to consider desired changes. In this case, archival information storage and retrieval become important. Even after the completion of construction, an historical record may be important for use during operation, to assess responsibilities in case of facility failures or for planning similar projects elsewhere.
The control and flow of information is also important for collaborative work environments, where many professionals are working on different aspects of a project and sharing information. Collaborative work environments provide facilities for sharing datafiles, tracing decisions, and communication via electronic mail or video conferencing. The datastores in these collaborative work environments may become very large.
Based on several construction projects, Maged Abdelsayed of Tardif, Murray & Assoc (Quebec, Canada) estimated the following average figures for a typical project of US$10 million:
- Number of participants (companies): 420 (including all suppliers and sub-sub-contractors)
- Number of participants (individuals): 850
- Number of different types of documents generated: 50
- Number of pages of documents: 56,000
- Number of bankers boxes to hold project documents: 25
- Number of 4 drawers filing cabinets: 6
- Number of 20inch diameter, 20 year old, 50 feet high, trees used to generate this volume of paper: 6
- Equivalent number of Mega Bytes of electronic data to hold this volume of paper (scanned): 3,000 MB
- Equivalent number of compact discs (CDs): 6
While there may be substantial costs due to inaccurate or missing information, there are also significant costs associated with the generation, storage, transfer, retrieval and other manipulation of information. In addition to the costs of clerical work and providing aids such as computers, the organization and review of information command an inordinate amount of the attention of project managers, which may be the scarcest resource on any construction project. It is useful, therefore, to understand the scope and alternatives for organizing project information.
Chris Hendrickson is the Duquesne Light Company Professor of Engineering and Co-Director of the Green Design Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. His research, teaching and consulting are in the general area of engineering planning and management, including design for the environment, project management, transportation systems, finance and computer applications. Prof. Hendrickson is a Distinguished Member of the American Society of Civil Engineering, an Emeritus Member of the Transportation Research Board and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Hendrickson is also the recipient of many professional awards.