Episode 162– SmartPM Technologies – Data-Driven Solutions for Project Outcomes

Episode #160
Original Air Date: 10.03.2022

45 Minutes

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Our Guest This Episode: Mike Pink, Dave Kirchheim

Why do delays on construction projects continue to occur? It might be because project managers have more to do in a day than they can handle, including putting out fires! Those PMs don’t have time for deep schedule analysis. Well, our guest offers some answers. We’re talking with Mike Pink, the founder of SmartPM, a real-time automated analytics platform. SmartPM analyzes complex construction schedule data via machine learning to uncover actionable insights so construction firms can reduce delays and improve project outcomes. Before founding SmartPM, Mike worked as a consultant for 17+ years at Deloitte and KPMG helping commercial construction firms with forensic delay analysis, becoming a leading expert in construction risk management. Mike saw example after example of delayed schedules and studied those causes that led to poor results.

SmartPM takes large amounts of construction data and distills it into something that makes sense. Listen in as Mike describes their grading structure that uses project data to determine if a schedule earns an A+ or an F. SmartPM gives an understanding of where a project schedule is on the spectrum of quality, and this helps to identify risks before they occur. SmartPM helps you understand which entities are causing the problems, which ones are delaying the job, when those delays are happening, and why they’re happening.

Also joining our conversation is project manager Dave Kirchheim. Dave leads project management activities for development projects in metropolitan Washington, DC. Prior to joining Lowe, he spent 9 years in project management for a large general contractor and was responsible for leading the construction of several notable office and multifamily projects in the DC area. Listen in as Dave explains how they’re using SmartPM as a tool to enhance project schedule management efforts, how this has impacted his project, and his biggest takeaways from using this tool.

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Favorite Quotes from Our Talk:

"... having something that can sit in the middle to produce good conversation that’s factually accurate, ... produces actually better results.  You would think a lot of our owner customers feared it was going to start arguments.  But what they realized was when you throw something down in the middle of you that has an analysis that really supports your concern, they will take it seriously because they take you seriously.  But when you don’t have that, you really have opinion; right?" 

- Mike Pink

"If you have missing logic, if you don’t understand true logic, if you’re making decisions to shorten activities to sort of right the ship throughout, you’re creating a schedule that’s telling you something, but it’s telling you the wrong things."

- Mike Pink

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The podcast by project managers for project managers. Why do delays on construction projects continue to occur? Hear about SmartPM Technologies, a real-time automated analytics platform, which analyzes complex construction schedule data via machine learning to uncover actionable insights so construction firms can reduce delays and improve project outcomes.

Table of Contents

02:41 … Why SmartPM?
06:56 … Why do Construction Delays Occur?
09:49 … SmartPM Primary Customer
13:53 … How SmartPM Works
15:18 … Scoring Model
18:16 … The Owner’s Perspective
23:28 … How SmartPM Identifies Risks
28:04 … Kevin and Kyle
29:26 … Only for Construction Projects
30:35 … Mike’s Personal Motivation
33:50 … Contact Mike
34:42 … Introducing Dave Kirchheim a SmartPM User
36:02 … SmartPM Experience
37:31 … Data Input and Output
39:27 … The SmartPM Impact on a Project
40:44 … Most Helpful Features
41:55 … Takeaway as a User
43:51 … Closing

MIKE PINK: But having something that can sit in the middle to produce good conversation that’s factually accurate, actually, you know, it needs to be factually accurate, produces actually better results.  You would think a lot of our owner customers feared it was going to start arguments.  But what they realized was when you throw something down in the middle of you that has an analysis that really supports your concern, they will take it seriously because they take you seriously.  But when you don’t have that, you really have opinion; right?  So that’s been the difference.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Welcome to Manage This, the podcast by project managers for project managers.  Thank you for listening.  If you like what you hear, you can leave us a comment on our website Velociteach.com, on social media, or whichever podcast listening app you use.  This is where we interview top experts and project managers to get their unique perspectives.  My name is Wendy Grounds, and joining me is Bill Yates.  Today we’re talking to Mike Pink.  Mike is the CEO of SmartPM Technologies, a construction schedule analytic software provider.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  And it’s interesting to note that before founding SmartPM, Mike worked as a consultant for 17 or more years at Deloitte and at KPMG.  He was helping commercial construction firms with forensic delay analysis.  That’s what led him to think about SmartPM.  So he became a leading expert in construction risk management and then started thinking about how do I use this information to help construction projects go better.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah.  So this is particularly for our construction project managers, but I think there’s a lot of lessons that Mike shares which are good for everyone.  In 2019, SmartPM launched its Schedule Optimization Platform, and this analyzes complex construction schedule data via machine learning.  And it helps to uncover actionable insight so construction firms can reduce delays and improve project outcomes.

Also in this podcast we’re going to have a little chat with Dave Kirchheim.  He and his company have been using SmartPM, and so he’s going to give us his feedback from that.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, we thought it’d be great.  Talk with the founder of the company, the one that really inspired the creation of the software; and then talk with a user, a customer, and see how they’re using it and how it’s changed their project management discipline.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Hi, Mike.  Welcome to Manage This.  Thank you for being our guest.

MIKE PINK:  Well, thank you for having me.  I’m excited to be here.

Why SmartPM?

WENDY GROUNDS:  You created the software called SmartPM.  Why did you create this platform?

MIKE PINK:  Well, it’s a long story.  Try to make it quick.  I got out of college back in 2001.  I was an industrial engineer, and I got a job at KPMG in their construction solutions group, which is consulting. And  I didn’t really know what it was all about.  I just knew that it was an interesting opportunity.  It was in New York City, and that’s where I wanted to end up.  So I took the job.  And I ended up getting pulled into projects that had failed, right, projects that had taken too long and had cost too much money.  My job was usually to explain what happened, and it was to help people navigate the dispute resolution process or in some cases avoid it, some cases manage through it, all the way up through litigation.

But given my background in industrial engineering, and having seen so many projects end up in that place, I was wondering, like, how does this happen?  We’re talking 10, 20, 30 million dollars in overruns, and I come from a world of being optimized and non-wasteful.  And I’m sitting here watching people argue over money that’s gone and really having learned what I learned where I look at the data, right.  

I come into a project after it’s done, I never lived it, I needed to figure out with certainty what happened on a thing I’d never been a part of and know it more than anybody else who lived it.  And I was successful there.  Being successful and learning something about a project that everybody lived and didn’t have enough information on to know these things, it was kind of interesting to me that this is the way that this industry is.

So I saw a problem, and that’s really where having been able to look at certain projects retrospectively and having been able to go find the right data sets to explain the story accurately and translate that into overruns and problems and risks and all of that, you start to see that they’re avoidable if you know what’s going on in real-time.  So now I know the datasets that are most useful.  The most useful dataset to me to understanding things is the schedule.  And I started to see that there’s a path to understanding this stuff, even if you do it forensically.  But if you’re doing it in real-time, you can see the writing on the wall.  There’s ways to take data in real-time and project.  And there’s also ways to look at it backwards and understand.

So that’s really why I created this platform was, number one, I was tired of doing the work.  I mean, come on, it’s monotonous.  It’s long-winded months of being locked up in a desk trying to study a particular project with accuracy.  But number two, I saw it as an opportunity to help, help the industry start to not end up in a place where people are fighting, not wasting money, you know, it’s got its advantages in many different capacities.  You know, there’s a level of stress in the industry that’s caused by this that’s, you know, ridiculous.  And then there’s also pollution.  But that’s really – it’s all about the overruns, as well, and the relationships that are destroyed along the way.

To me it was like, if you can understand this information, and you can look at it in real-time, and you can get others to understand it and believe in it, better decisions are made, less disputes happen, more projects get done on time, and all those other problems become not as big.  So that’s really why I did what I did.  And, you know, it was an opportunity to build a business, too.  That was something that I always wanted to do.

BILL YATES:  The idea of taking something like delay, analyzing schedule delays, and then the forensic level of that, that you were in for years and years, tedious work.  Like you said, you were way up to your neck in the details.  And you started to see trends, and you started to get frustrated.  And as you say, you know, it led to an opportunity like, okay, there’s a problem here, I think I can solve it.  So I love the idea of, okay, instead of looking at this after the fact, what if we had real-time data?  What better decisions could people have made in the moment and at that time?

Why do Construction Delays Occur?

As Wendy and I were researching and preparing for our conversation today, we were looking at one of the blog posts that you wrote.  In that you talk about six reasons that construction delays continue to occur.  I thought the content was right on the money, and I just wanted to take one or two and let’s talk through those.  So why do construction delays continue to occur today?

MIKE PINK:  Well, actually one of the things that’s not on this list that I have learned over time, and it’s take an iterative process of building a product, meeting with the customers, refining the product.  I mean, I think that the things that we talked about in that article were, you know, teams are constrained.  Project managers have way more things to do in a day than they can handle.  And the last thing that happens is analytics; right?  They’re putting out fires.

And the reason they’re not doing analytics is, one, they’re not educated in it; and, secondly, the data’s not always good.  So the industry as a whole hasn’t done well in that regard because of the lack of enough resources.  That business data analyst never made it to the construction job.  The PM has been responsible for doing that in most cases.  Project controls teams exist for that reason, but only the ENR Top 150 have project controls teams.  So now you’re left with a big void in that department.  And people who are constantly putting out fires to be asked to spend their weekends and nights doing that on something they don’t really know how to do is part of the problem.  The PM is also disconnected from the scheduling process in a lot of cases.

I actually translate this also to an inexperience of the scheduling process across the board in the industry.  Having looked at as many schedules as we have, which is about, you know, close to 20,000 these days, call it 1,500 projects, you see that as a whole the industry doesn’t know how to build good quality schedules that are worthy to manage a job.  And what does that mean?  What is at stake in that regard?  You completely render that process useless when you don’t have a plan that’s accurate.  And that’s really going to what’s critical and what’s near critical.

If you have missing logic, if you don’t understand true logic, if you’re making decisions to shorten activities to sort of right the ship throughout, you’re creating a schedule that’s telling you something, but it’s telling you the wrong things.  And if you can’t recognize that your schedule’s not built with best practices in mind, you end up following a path that drives a completion date that’s actually not true.  So you’re putting all your resources in areas based on what a broken schedule’s telling you where the real delays are happening and pushing out that end date, and you don’t even realize it.  Those would be some of the most important things.

SmartPM Primary Customer

BILL YATES:  I wanted to ask you this quick question, too.  Mike, when you thought about this software solution, who was your ideal customer?  Who did you think would be the primary customer for this software?

MIKE PINK:  Contractors.  You know, I looked at it like these people are managing the job.  And they need to understand the information.  There needs to be visibility at the top in an organization to know what’s going on on all the projects.  And there needs to be people on the projects understanding what all the data means.  And you have at the source created a better outcome by the manager at hand.  But that would be the target customer that I believe would be the number one target customer.

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  And then as the software came out, and you started to get feedback on it, who did you find were – anybody other than contractors benefiting or using the software?

MIKE PINK:  Yeah.  First and foremost it was the owner, which was kind of a shock.  Back in the day when we were in our infancy with a product that was – generally needed a lot of improvement, we went through a customer discovery effort, and that meant let’s go meet with 500 people in the industry and really understand their pains, really understand what impact this problem has on them, the problem that we believe has qualified that it’s a real problem, and let’s not just talk to contractors.  Let’s talk to owners.  Let’s talk to the subs, let’s talk to architects, let’s talk to engineers, let’s talk to insurance companies, let’s talk to people at different levels in all of the above.

And what we found through that was that owners were in a lot of pain.  Owners not knowing what was truly going on, having a lot of questions but not getting answers that they trusted was a problem particularly because these projects had two different components.  From the contractor’s perspective, the longer you’re there, the more it costs, and the less your profit margins are.  But from the owner’s perspective, the longer you’re there, the less revenue comes in from the asset.

So you’ve got this world that’s separating both from a cost perspective and a lack of revenue perspective.  And owners really needed to know when is this thing going to get done.  And they never felt as though they were getting good information.  It always felt like it’s not going to get done on time, is it.  Time after time it didn’t.  So they were in a lot of pain.  I would say at first the owners were the ones buying our product, not exclusively, but for the most part.

But so really shortly thereafter we started to see contractors wanting to get better at managing, better at risk management.  I think COVID played a role in that because of the uncertainty that happened when COVID hit, first few months wondering what’s going to go on with all these projects.  It became very clear to a lot of these companies that they don’t really know what’s going on with the schedule and don’t know how to manage through it, given all the uncertainties that are happening.  And that sort of pushed that market towards us a little bit.

But since then we’re selling to insurance companies.  Insurance companies like our product because, number one, it enables them to evaluate risk on their projects.  SDI (Subcontractor Default Insurance) is an avenue that we’ve sort of gotten involved in.  So they can see how well or how at risk subcontractors are getting on the projects that they’re insuring.  And at the same time, since we have that forensic analysis, when a claim comes in, they can instantly review the legitimacy of that claim.

And all the while they will offer incentives to their insureds to leverage in SmartPM because they know that when their contractors are looking that closely at the schedule data and making decisions based on it, it eliminates or minimizes the risk of claims for them.  So they push it down to their customers and offer them incentives to do so.  And then consultants, companies that do what I used to do, oversight, risk management, predictive analytics, you know, even forensic reviews are using our product.

How SmartPM Works

WENDY GROUNDS:  You’ve described the problems and who’s using it, but can you give us a little bit more detail in exactly what SmartPM is and how it works?

MIKE PINK:  Yes, absolutely.  So SmartPM takes the best data in construction and turns it into something that makes sense; right?  So you look at the schedule files.  They’re ridiculous.  We get a big stack of paper and all these lines over a calendar and activity names, and usually it’s in a PDF or something, or it’s in a scheduling program.  But it’s a lot of information that doesn’t tell you much other than what to do, in what order, and over what period of time.  And it does give you some information on what’s a priority and what’s not.

But problem number one, industry as a whole wasn’t building great schedules.  There is actually a methodology out there called the DCMA, Defense Contractors Management Association, came up with a quality standard.  It’s a 14-point check that will look at various aspects of the structure of the schedule or some of the data behind an initial schedule and tell you if it’s following best practices.  The industry doesn’t really know much about that process, nor do they recognize what’s a bigger risk in one category versus the next.  Nor does the industry realize that projects are different, so these metrics should and could be different for each project type.

Scoring Model

So we’ve actually taken those 14 points.  We’ve expanded to about 30.  We’ve come up with different rubrics that are really out of the box for different types of projects.  But we also created a customizable scoring model, knowing that certain customers may have different opinions.  They may have different challenges with their teams.  And then we turned it into a grading structure.  So basically made it very simple.  A+ is an awesome schedule.  An F you fail.  Anything in between will give you that sort of understanding of where am I on the spectrum of quality here.

We’ll also shoot them a list of things that need to be repaired to get it to that A.  And that A, getting to that A basically says I actually have a schedule that’s telling me important things about prioritization of my activities that I can believe in as I make decisions about resources or acceleration or durations that need to be hit.  So that’s really what it’s all about is giving you right out of the get-go, getting a schedule that you can believe in, which that process doesn’t exist in the scheduling programs.

Now, once you have that, right, if you don’t have a good quality schedule, I don’t analyze it.  I can’t.  I’m not going to tell you things that your crappy schedule would tell me if I analyzed it.  You’ve got to get it fixed up.  And then, as you add updates, the first thing you’ve got to do is maintain that log, so each update is going to tell you are we still at a level of quality that this thing is trustable; and, if so, what performance things can we look at?  Performance can be looked at in a number of ways – delay, progress, consumption, you know, looking at earned value progress versus planned versus actual.  And not only that, but we’ve broken it up into components.

So if you think of a master schedule, you know, you’re looking at a series of activities leading to an end date.  But these days lots of projects have interim milestones and various trades that are important to monitor.  So we actually allow you to tell the program, I want to track this milestone.  I want to track that milestone.  I want to track this trade.  And I also want to be able to play around with some ideas I have to see what it does to my outcome and whether or not that’s a feasible plan.  And all the while we’re tracking decisions being made, and in each category; right?

You know, if you’re looking at the decisions being made for the end date, the decisions being made for a trade, that’s done through changes.  And the resultant feasibility is the question, is this schedule getting too compressed when they shorten the duration?  Is that a thing that is in line with how they’ve performed in the past?  Or are we trying to do something that’s generally not going to happen?  So that’s generally what SmartPM does.  But now we’re getting into AI and starting to study many, many different projects and looking at them in different ways.

The Owner’s Perspective

BILL YATES:  Yeah.  Before we get into AI, because I definitely want to go there, one of the things I wanted to ask you about, Mike, was just to make sure that I’ve got this.  I haven’t used the software.  I’ve certainly seen some good schedules, and I’ve certainly seen some bad ones.  So I love the idea of having a score card.  And I’m thinking about your primary customer, an owner who has multiple contractors that are responsible for different parts of the project that I’ve got going on.

Let’s say I’m building a big sports stadium, and I have different contractors.  If I’m able to get the raw data, the schedule from each of those contractors, and put it into SmartPM, then if I’m reading this right, SmartPM is going to assign a score.  It’ll grade, just like a report card, it’ll say, okay, this schedule from this contractor is a B-; this one is a B+, this one is a C, this one is an A.  It gives me that kind of data.

 I almost think about it like a program manager then who has several project managers reporting up to that program manager.  Then it’s like, okay, I’m using something standardized like earned value.  Now I’ve got a standardized set.  I’ve got SmartPM that’s helping me assess each schedule from these different contractors and assign a grade to them and then have a very intelligent conversation with them.

Because to me, you know, I’m totally with you.  I see that pain point of I’m an owner, I’m hearing from these different contractors, and I don’t know what’s true.  I don’t know what’s true or what’s false.  I’m kind of at the mercy of the data that they’re giving me.  And maybe it is a PDF, you know, I can’t even dig into the details of this Primavera or this Microsoft Project Schedule.  Now I’ve got this tool that’s assigning a grade to it.  Now I can have an intelligent conversation with these contractors and say, okay, you’re at a B-.  Let’s talk about what it would take to improve this schedule so that now you’re at a B+ or even an A- level.  Am I reading that correctly?

MIKE PINK:  Yes.  That’s with owners, which I think I misspoke before.  Owners represent about 25% of our customers, whereas these days, contractors, represent about 60%.

BILL YATES:  That makes sense to me, though, because if I’m a contractor, then I’m like, okay, what software are you using?  You’re using SmartPM.  Okay.

MIKE PINK:  Well, that’s what’s sort of happened.  Owners got more out of the data; contractors wanted to see it.  And then once we got it embedded into their groups, they saw that this is adding a lot of value.  Going back to the owner’s side, yes, that’s exactly right.  What it really does is it eliminates that whole, I have a feeling.  I know construction.  I’m going to talk to you about that feeling in my gut that tells me that things aren’t going as well as you’re telling me they are. 

And I’m really trying to get to the bottom of it because I need to know with certainty is this thing going to be on time or not, and am I not going to be told I caused this problem late in the game.  That’s the fear.  That’s the pain is that I’m going to mismanage this job and we’re going to lose money.

And then the way in which they typically do that without a SmartPM is go into their OAC meetings and ask questions and, you know, tell them their feelings about things don’t seem right.  But the response is always, oh, no, I know what I’m doing.  Or we’ve looked at that, and we’re going to do X, Y, and Z.  So it’s a biased discussion at that point.  And the bias isn’t – it’s not being manipulative at all.  I believe that the project managers in construction are the most optimistic, can climb mountains over challenges, out of anybody.  But sometimes over-optimism can cause problems.  And that over-optimism bias enters every single project.  And that’s where the owners get concerned.

So having something that sits between their concerns and the contractors’ probably not as informed opinion, because they’re not necessarily studying data like we talked about, causes problems.  It causes friction.  It causes fear.  And it causes stress.  It causes all sorts of issues to the relationship.  But having something that can sit in the middle to produce good conversation that’s factually accurate, actually, you know, it needs to be factually accurate, produces actually better results.  You would think a lot of our owner customers feared it was going to start arguments.  But what they realized was when you throw something down in the middle of you that has an analysis that really supports your concern, they will take it seriously because they take you seriously.  But when you don’t have that, you really have opinion; right?  So that’s been the difference.

BILL YATES:  Yes.  That’s a great way to say it, yeah.  Now it’s like, okay, we have something that we can look at together.  And this is just taking facts from the schedule and analyzing them, processing them.  So let’s have a conversation on the results of that analysis.

MIKE PINK:  Right.  And, you know, a lot of the things that we’ll expose are – it’s truthful.  That’s been the interesting piece is, you know, the accuracy of our system in the analytical side is great.  And then the structural side of the schedule, too.  We’re not exposing things that not every scheduler knows are a problem.  And in some cases it educates the person of what is to be expected of their scheduling practice, really.  So it’s interesting.

How SmartPM Identifies Risks

BILL YATES:  Yeah, yeah, it takes everybody’s game up.  I’m intrigued by this idea of identifying risks and raising those up so that before the risk occurs we’re able to take the time to plan for it and to have a contingency or workarounds in place.  How does SmartPM help identify those risks and then help those leaders – again, I’m thinking of a risk register.  I could have a hundred risks on one risk register.  But I need to have something like SmartPM that says, all right, here’s your top 10.  These are the ones that can really kill your critical path or kill your delivery date.  How does SmartPM work through that, with some of that process?

MIKE PINK:  Well, first and foremost it’s exposing risk; right?  Like the first risk, like I said, if your schedule is at risk of producing an accurate plan, an inaccurate critical path, and accurate floats, then you’re going to mismanage that job.  I mean, you might as well just be walking out every day and saying you go here and you go there, without looking at something.  That to me is the first risk that we minimize.  But then there’s performance; right?  You look at the collective, and you try to see how everything sort of plays together.  And that’s what the logic is all about in the scheduling.  That’s why the schedule data is the most important.  It has the roadmap of interaction amongst the various entities involved in a project.

So understanding which entities are causing the problems, understanding which ones are actually delaying the job, and understanding that those delays are happening, and we know exactly why they’re happening, you know, is something that a regular scheduling program doesn’t tell you.  You know, you do your update, the end date kicks out, all of a sudden the response is to shorten durations and remove logic or modify logic.  And then voila, the end date is back.  It’s sort of skips a step of understanding that we disallow; right?

So regardless of whether or not you made changes to your schedule, we’re still going to highlight how delayed were you.  How many days were lost in this period for what reasons?  That was the thing that I always got asked to figure out because towards the end of a job it’s very broad.  It’s like all the change orders and rain and all that affected us, and now you owe us $10 million. 

But actually no.  There’s a story.  There’s a story of what exactly delayed the job every single period that not only the owner needs to know, but that the site team needs to know because if you’re not studying that, you’re not getting on top of the trades correctly.  You’re not putting that in front of them and saying, look, if and when this job gets late, we’re going to back-charge you a little bit because of the delays that were caused.  And then without that information you can’t get the trades to take you seriously.

So we make it extremely clear, number one, what impacts are happening on the job; and, if they continue, what is the long-term effect of your end date?  So you’ve got that storyline going all along.  And then there’s the changes; right?  What was your response?  So you had this impact.  And I know that everybody’s got the right to modify the plan.  But the question is are you doing things correctly here?  Are you putting the project at more risk through the decisions that you’re making?  And we analyze that through compression.

So a lot of times things get pushed off because they have float, and critical paths get delayed, and the response is to tweak the logic.  But what we’re always looking at is how much work are you trying to get done in the remainder of the job, and how does that compare to your plan?  And are we in need of having to start thinking about weekends?  Or how bad is it really getting?  And then all the while we’re putting this predictive analytics side onto when are we really thinking this project’s going to get done based on the data that we have.  So those would be a few areas of risk.

And as we get into the AI, we’re going to start identifying traits.  For this type of project is your schedule even possible?  You put together a schedule, let’s just go repair it for you.  The lack of true logic is an issue that came out for all of our data that I realized might be one of the biggest underlying causes of delay in the world.  But we’re learning these things, and we’re creating AI to recognize these things and correct them.  And we’re also going to be tracking, when decisions are made, which ones worked and which ones didn’t, and start to oversee the decisions being made on the changes and say, well, this one’s a good one, but this one’s probably not going to happen based on thousands of projects that we looked at.

Kevin and Kyle

BILL YATES: We’ve heard from Kevin and Kyle before, and we’d like to go back to just see what’s going on in their world as they’re working practical day-to-day projects. So, let’s hear from Kevin and Kyle.

KEVIN RONEY: A Kanban board is an agile tool that can benefit any project (not just IT or software). It is a project management tool designed to help visualize work, limit work-in-progress, and maximize efficiency. Kanban, in English- signboard, started as a visual scheduling system. Toyota created the Kanban board to manage the inventory of parts in its factories. 

KYLE CROWE: These boards are visual, easy to use, and create more transparency than the traditional tools. It’s a great tool for mapping workflow. You can identify bottlenecks, focus on the current work and increase productivity. Basically you can determine why work is getting stuck.

I can gain a better understanding of my process and overall workload. I can organize my work and visually prioritize it, keep track of every support ticket, and I have better control over the work process. 

KEVIN RONEY: It is useful for prioritizing and communication. The sponsor can see progress as it helps to automate communication and maintain a short cycle time to solve customer issues.   Trello has a free version

KYLE CROWE:  And, if you want to know more, check out Alan’s course!  Alan discusses the Kanban Board in depth in his new course Agile Beyond IT. He shows you how to create one and how it can be used for an assortment of projects.

BILL YATES: Thanks guys! Let’s get back to our podcast.

Only for Construction Projects 

WENDY GROUNDS:  Are you seeing SmartPM being used on other areas, other than construction projects?

MIKE PINK:  No, you know, I’ve had experiences in the past where we’ve done work on IT rollouts and that sort of thing as a consultant.  Somebody would come to a construction consultant who has experience.  But yeah, we haven’t necessarily done that.  I’ve gotten some calls from some banks about it.  But really want to stay focused on construction.  One day potentially, but one thing I’ve learned is a guy who’s trying to start up a new product in a business, you can’t get too broad.  You’ve got to focus as much as you can on a specific segment.  I’m even having challenges doing that because we’re talking to owners, contractors, insurance, and consultants. 

But I’m not there yet where I’d want to even consider getting involved in a different industry.  Although Defense Contractors Management Association does do a lot of risk assessments on schedules.  But we haven’t even tapped into that yet.  And I’m sure maybe one day we will.  But not today.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, one mountain at a time.  I get that, Mike, for sure.

Mike’s Personal Motivation

WENDY GROUNDS:  Personal question.  What has pushed you, your growth as a leader and an innovator?  What’s been your motivation?

MIKE PINK:  First I’ll say I went to business school.  And, you know, growing up I always wanted to have a business.  When I went to college I just always was a problem solver.  So I always thought to myself, let’s go out and start a business by solving a problem.  My next step was to go get into this industry not knowing where it would take me.  Then I decided to go get my MBA at NYU, which was extremely expensive.  So then after that, you know, I got a nice promotion at my job.  I was at Deloitte now.  And I just realized that if I don’t go do something like I’ve always wanted to do, and that’s start a business, then I’m pretty much wasting the money I spent at NYU.  And that’s what first pushed me to thinking about it.

So while I was wrapping up my business school, I started thinking about this automation of analytics and how I would achieve that.  Started talking to the companies that I worked with who were consulting companies, saying I think that there’s a way to essentially automate a lot of what we do.  They didn’t like that.  They were like, well, what are we going to do with all of our hours that we could bill?  And I thought, we can go help a problem.  But not interested.  So that essentially propelled me to deciding to leave that industry, that role, and start my own business and use the experience I had and just the drive I had to solve problems.

But then after that my brother started working with me.  He’s why I didn’t quit.  This wasn’t easy.  He pushed me hard because he left his career to help me, and then I’m like, this is too hard, you know, I don’t want to do this anymore.  I don’t know what to do.  I can go back and make some consulting revenue.  He was like, well, we’re too late for that.  That’s what kept us going.

BILL YATES:  He’s like, we’re all in.  Yeah, come on, brother.  You’ve got to show up at work every day.

MIKE PINK:  Actually his words were, “I’m not going back to the  mortgage industry.”

BILL YATES:  That’s a motivator right there.  That’s very cool.

MIKE PINK:  And actually to be honest with you, my father, the reason I got into wanting to own a business was growing up my father owned a business.  And I just thought it was so cool.  So that’s sort of my story here.

BILL YATES:  Mike, when I was reading about how you developed it and kind of your career beforehand, I’m like, this is really cool to me.  I mean, I used to be in software before I joined Velociteach.  And just the thought of thinking about a process and systematizing it and then thinking, okay, can I automate that?  Can I create software that, when I’ve got this decision tree in my head that I’m following, how do I write code to do that; right?  And what kind of data do I need, and how do I verify that data and validate it?  So this was really interesting to me to see how you built it.  So kudos to you.

MIKE PINK:  Yeah, no, I will tell you this.  I did not build it.  I had to hire people to build it.  The tech, we got lucky.  We have a very, very talented CTO here who’s unbelievable.  I mean, diamond in the rough type.  So without that, yeah, we would not be here.

Contact Mike

WENDY GROUNDS:  If our listeners want to find out more about SmartPM, where can they go?

MIKE PINK:  Well, we have a website, that’s https://smartpmtech.com/.  Soon to be SmartPM.com, but we haven’t rolled that new website out.  But SmartPMTech.  And yeah, there’s videos on YouTube, as well as emailing me, mpink@smartpmtech.com.  I’m happy to talk to anybody.  We’ve got a nice team here that we can get you in touch with, as well, if you want to learn more.

BILL YATES:  Mike, thanks so much.  And tell your brother thank you, too.  That’s very cool to hear that part of the story.

MIKE PINK:  Oh, yeah, absolutely.  No, I tell him that plenty.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

MIKE PINK:  But I really appreciate the time, and thank you for including me today.

Introducing Dave Kirchheim, a SmartPM User

WENDY GROUNDS:  We’re going to have a few words from a user of SmartPM.  This is Dave Kirchheim, who leads project management activities for development projects in the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area.  Prior to joining Lowe, the company he’s currently working for, he spent nine years in project management for a large general contractor and was responsible for leading the construction of several notable office and multifamily projects in the D.C. and surrounding area.  Hi, Dave.  Welcome to Manage This.  Thank you for joining us.

DAVE KIRCHHEIM:  Thank you.  My pleasure to join.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Yeah, we’re excited to hear about your story of using SmartPM and just the impact that it’s made on your project.  Can you first tell us what is the project that you’re working on in D.C.?

DAVE KIRCHHEIM:  Yeah, no problem.  I’m working on a project in a rapidly growing neighborhood in Washington, D.C.  The project has two components.  One is the conversion of an existing historic school building into an approximately 31,000 gross square foot art museum space, and 19,000 gross square foot of commercial space.  The other component is approximately 445,000 gross square feet of a new residential building that will include 492 apartment units and top of the market amenities here, right, looking at the Capitol Building here in D.C.

BILL YATES:  Oh, nice, yeah.  I can picture that.

DAVE KIRCHHEIM:  Yeah, we’re really looking forward to delivering it.

SmartPM Experience

WENDY GROUNDS:  So how were you introduced to SmartPM?  When did you first hear about it?

DAVE KIRCHHEIM:  Oh, I was introduced to it through Lowe, the company I work for.  And SmartPM has become the standard tool that we use for project schedule analysis here, at Lowe.

BILL YATES:  When you think about how you use it, I mean, typically, you know, for project managers who are listening to this are thinking, well, I’ve got my scheduling software, and that’s got all my details in it.  How does SmartPM help you with that?  How do you use it on your project to help you kind of get beyond the bottom line software that you’re using for your project tracking?

DAVE KIRCHHEIM:  Yeah, absolutely.  So on this project we’re the developer.  And we have our contractor generate the project schedules; right?  So as the developer we’re using SmartPM as a tool to enhance our project schedule management efforts.  At the beginning of the project, we take the contractor’s baseline schedules, and we upload them into SmartPM to review SmartPM’s reports and ensure that the baseline schedule that the contractor’s presenting to us meets an acceptable quality standard.  And then throughout the project we take the contractor’s monthly updates of that schedule and review the SmartPM reports to develop an understanding of any changes made to that baseline schedule, any updates made since last period, and also go through an analysis of any delays that may have happened since the last update, as well.

Data Input and Output

 BILL YATES:  Okay.  That’s awesome.  So I want to get real brass tacks with you, just to help people get a clear understanding of the SmartPM tool.  What goes into the tool, and then what comes out of the tool?

DAVE KIRCHHEIM:  Yeah.  So you upload either a native Primavera P6 or Microsoft Project Schedule file to SmartPM’s website.  It’s just as simple as a drag-and-drop.  SmartPM software then reads that complex data and information within the native files and generates various reports which summarize and simplify the data and information.  SmartPM doesn’t necessarily know whether any scheduled activity is a painting activity or a plumbing activity, for example.  But it’s able to analyze the behind-the-scenes logic and ties between the activities to tell the reviewer how feasible and reliable the schedule is.  And it does that by using industry-standard practices and information just how you are supposed to develop a schedule properly.  And it will tell you how reliable the schedule is using those metrics.

BILL YATES:  Excellent.  And all that’s built into SmartPM.  So that’s not additional data you have to load.  That’s already in the tool.

DAVE KIRCHHEIM:  Yeah.  What you’re able to do is you can create a certain quality profile that may be important to your organization or your particular project.  And then SmartPM actually will sum that all up into a grade, like you’re in school.  So you can tell whether you’re getting a C schedule or an A schedule and be able to report that to just about anybody who cares, all the stakeholders on the project.  Or, you know, something that we’re looking to do is, on upcoming projects, make a benchmark requirement in our contracts that says that throughout the project you need to maintain a certain schedule grade.

The SmartPM Impact on a Project

BILL YATES:  That’s a great tool.  So practically speaking, how has this impacted your project?

DAVE KIRCHHEIM:  So whether or not you have P6 or Microsoft Project software on your computer, you’re typically provided PDF files of a schedule from your contractor.  If you don’t have the scheduling software, you’re missing out on the ability to review the valuable information in the behind-the-scenes logic.  Right?  Because you’re just looking at a PDF of – and you’re trusting a whole lot in what the contractor’s reporting.  SmartPM breaks that down and makes that information visible and presents it in a manner that’s easy to understand.  Right?

So I think that on our projects you’re not just relying entirely on trust.  You have something hard to look at to say the schedule that they’ve assembled is sound and therefore reliable because it’s using all the best industry practices, and we’re looking at an A+ schedule right now.  And then all it takes is to deliver on that schedule, and what’s being presented in there, and what’s been planned.  That’s the easy part; right?  Just making sure that there’s nothing that gets in the way.

BILL YATES:  Yeah, everything goes per the plan.  Of course.

Most Helpful Features

WENDY GROUNDS:  What have been the most helpful features for you on this tool?

DAVE KIRCHHEIM:  Well, thankfully on this project we haven’t had to use the delay analysis tool too much.  And maybe SmartPM’s played a factor into making sure that we planned things right.  But I think that the quality report and the grading scale has been most helpful.  I think what’s visible within that quality report isn’t something that you can really argue with.  And so when you return a report back to the contractor, and you say here are all the things you can improve on, they’re really able to chip away at those actionable things and improve their schedule from the onset.

What you might hear from SmartPM directly is they have a lot of contractor clients also because, you know, I’m sure that there are plenty of contractors out there who have put together schedules that everybody trusts in.  But the logic within them wasn’t sound enough, and therefore problems happen.  So this is cheap insurance.

BILL YATES:  Exactly.  Yeah, it’s a good way to put it.

DAVE KIRCHHEIM:  So I think contractors used it just the same as we might.

Takeaway as a User

WENDY GROUNDS:  So as a project manager, what’s been your impression of SmartPM?  What’s your main takeaway from using this tool?

DAVE KIRCHHEIM:  Well, I think it’s great.  It’s easy to use.  I mentioned the drag-and-drop, and SmartPM sort of does the rest.  You can print reports and share them very easily.  And then something that we’ve already also talked about a little bit is there’s a level of pride behind assembling a very, very detailed schedule.  And in the developer’s position, sending something to a contractor like you said, they may not like it very much that somebody’s picking their work apart.  This tool allows it to be very cut-and-dry and keeps the subjectivity out of it. 

And I think it allows for a better relationship when you’re trying to talk about these things that are sometimes difficult to talk about and may cause a strain on your relationship with the very most important stakeholder that we’ve got in this project.  We wouldn’t be able to do this without the contractor if they weren’t successful.

So I think in terms of being a project manager and understanding the value of our relationship and making sure that they deliver, we don’t want to be the bad guy.  But we also want to make sure that we’re doing our due diligence.  So this tool allows for that middle ground to occur.

BILL YATES:  That’s good.  I get that.  SmartPM then kind of becomes the, all right, I’m not the bad guy, I’m just telling you what the tool is saying.  So let’s look at it together.  You know, did you give me bad data?  Did I feed bad data or a bad schedule into it?  Do I have an old version?  It gives you a basis for a conversation instead of just pointing the finger at them and going, you got a C-, ha ha ha.  So that’s good.

WENDY GROUNDS:  Well, this has been great, Dave.  Thank you so much.  We really appreciated your input.

DAVE KIRCHHEIM:  Well, thank you.  It’s been a pleasure speaking with both of you.

Closing

WENDY GROUNDS:  That’s it for us here on Manage This.  Thank you for listening.  To our listeners, the good news is that you just earned some Professional Development Units by listening to this podcast.  To claim your free PDUs, go to Velociteach.com and choose Manage This Podcast from the top of the page.  Click the button that says Claim PDUs, and click through your steps.

We’d also love to have you visit us at Velociteach.com to subscribe to this podcast, to see a transcript of the show, or to contact us if you have any questions about project management certifications in general.  Until next time, keep calm and Manage This.

One response to “Episode 162– SmartPM Technologies – Data-Driven Solutions for Project Outcomes”

  1. Jose Correa says:

    SmartPM sounds like a very useful tool, I will try it soon.

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