When Brandon Lopez, field operations manager for ABLe Communications, found himself tracking employee and task times by taking notes on box lids, or whatever was at hand, he knew it was time to look into better ways to beat the clock.
“We needed to get a little more up-to-date, so we started looking into our options,” Lopez says. “We needed a way to be able to track time and give employees a little barometer to show how they’re doing and performing against the budget.”
ABLe Communications is a family-owned business in Grand Prairie, Texas, specializing in copper, optical and wireless information transport systems, with integrations for audio-visual systems. The continuing boom in companies adopting technology means ABLe is taking on larger and more complex projects, bringing the need for time-tracking solutions to the forefront. That’s why the company recently adopted Procore’s labor tracking software that includes Timesheets and Crews.
Cost Code Soup
“On a big job, speed counts because we make money based on the labor hours,” Lopez explained. “The faster I get something done, the more money I make. That’s really hard to manage if an employee is doing an eight-story building with four quadrants on each floor.”
Lopez breaks up the job basing on cost codes. Then he assigns a time for completion of each. The company focuses on five core cost codes. As employees apply their times to the codes, they have a very granular view of their progress. Especially on long-term jobs, employees can now see right away how many hours they have invested in a cost code, even if they’ve been away from the job waiting for other trades to complete their portions.
ABLe’s cost codes are lined up with its specifications sections, making it clearer for its employees when time-tracking particular tasks. Thus, the company is using language that everybody immediately understands. So even when the GCs check on ABLe’s progress, they’re doing so based on specifications tied to submittals.
Tie Budget to Tracked Time
“If we’re bringing in a subcontractor, we’ll assign them their own cost code,” Lopez said. “But typically, for all of our self-performed work, we try to use our five core codes. Although we have branched out from there, there is such a thing as too much detail. I could put a hundred cost codes on there and get a lot of granular detail about where we’re at in a job. But that becomes a very hard thing to track and manage from an admin level.”
The company used to put all the costs into a bucket and draw from that. However, then they couldn’t really tell how they were doing until near the end: too late to make corrections. Now, they organize their budget in Procore, set the hours for time tracking, and manage the job with a constantly updated budget outlook.
“I’m able to forecast where I’m at in a job from day one,” Lopez said. “From the first day when I set the budget and the hours, I can watch that money bar move so I’m constantly up-to-date. When it comes to last-minute decisions, I make those every day. I make manpower adjustments and material adjustments, depending on what my budgets say on a daily basis. It is an ability I’ve never had before.”
“I make manpower adjustments and material adjustments, depending on what my budgets say on a daily basis. It is an ability I’ve never had before.”
Over the past decade, ABLe found itself gradually getting into increasingly complex projects. They were originally strictly subcontracting; now, their work for GCs and owners often requires them to have a full specification package. They need to subcontract everything that isn’t a part of their regular offerings. Jobs are larger, more complicated, moving faster, and with tougher schedules to manage.
“The truth of the matter is that the industry, especially my industry, has completely changed in ten years,” said Lopez. “So we’ve just evolved from a little guy who dealt with the amateurs, to a full-fledged prime contractor. The old ways of doing things weren’t working as well anymore.”
Getting people on board with tracking their time was easier than expected. Of course, Lopez said, some of the staff were content with how it had been handled before. But in the end, most see the benefit in using time tracking. And although there were some hiccups and lag before seeing improvements, Lopez characterized the rollout as one of the easiest he’s been a part of.
Improving Other Processes
ABLe is seeing improvements in its estimating processes, as well. Finding out the costs of activities in real time is helping the company to refine its estimating so labor budgets are more accurate. They are also seeing trends related to certain budgets and work performed in certain environments, helping them be more realistic in their labor allocations.
Payroll processing has gone from a seven-hour process involving the whole administrative staff to just 10 minutes, turning Thursday into a more enjoyable day. Moreover, by using approvals on submitted time, Lopez claimed, there’s no concern about people fudging on their hours.
Lopez especially appreciates how Procore and its labor tracking system are designed to be driven from the field and not from the desk. Procore helps them focus at the field level, making it easy to include pictures, watch their hours, communicate, and even submit and track RFIs.
“Procore is a very easy thing to see the benefit in. . . they’re constantly making adjustments, which is very important to me.”
“Procore is a very easy thing to see the benefit in. They have a great team over there ready for anything you need. They’re constantly making adjustments, which is very important to me. You can’t just roll out one product and think that’s universal across the industry—it’s just not.”
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