Technology comes in all sizes and flavors. More than the “big ideas” type of tech like AI, small firms can often benefit from making even minor tech tweaks. In this three-part article, I’ll share my suggestions for ways small firms can reassess how things get done and how technology can help.
Automate repetitive tasks
Many aspects of project delivery are small repetitive tasks. We all get used to doing what we’ve always done. Stop and look closely, then consider if technology can automate any part of the tasks.
One example from our firm is submittals. You can either use Adobe or Bluebeam. It became apparent we were spending time to cobble together our submittal stamp in these different formats. The tech solution? We invested in having an outsourced person create a custom stamp for us. With it, we are able to pick the person and the appropriate check box. It ends up saving five minutes every time someone puts a submittal stamp on a PDF to send out a submittal. All that time saved per person, per submittal, adds up over time. A 5-minute daily task that can be eliminated by making an automation in a 5-person firm will create $13,500 of profit in a year. Now make 10 of these automations, and you will start to see greater benefits. This is just one example of automating something that I call “hiding in plain sight.” I know we may think about automation as something large scale, like robots making cars. But automation is anything that simplifies a task we do over and over again. During design development and construction documents, think about the tools you use that make it easier and faster to create documents. Create a way for team members to share new tools they learn. For example, this could include the “smart keys” within different software platforms like CAD and Canva; these tools could include things like the eyedropper tool, which allows you to transfer properties from a toolbar into your plans.
Another example of low-hanging fruit is project templates. Within our CAD platform, we created a template to start every project. Using a standard template instead of starting a project from a previous similar project again automates the process. But another big benefit is that starting with a clean template cuts down on errors. Fewer errors = higher profitability! You might be thinking, “but everything we do is custom, how could we make a standard template?” Think about what you do on every project and put that into the template. Maybe 20% of every project is the same. That is where your template starts. You might have a standard code sheet, permitting note helpers, exit plan, details, or a minimum number of pages used. What additional kind of documents do you typically use for submittals or to show your client? All of those things can go into a template.
When all of these things are in one template and the code changes, there is only one place to go and make the update. Let everyone know on their existing projects it needs to be updated. They can go to the template and pull that information and put it in their current project. But by using a standard template, we know every time a new project is started, it is started with the best and most up-to-date information.
By using templates it is also possible to create fields that auto-populate information. Think about connecting elevations and plans, and your title blocks are then automated; you fill out the information once and it populates it everywhere. Though it seems it’s just a little bit of time, every little bit adds up and ultimately makes the firm more profitable. If you’re not using an application that allows you to create templates and automate what you’re doing, I encourage you to look into the options. Talk to others for a point of reference and consider how much time you think it might save or how it might shorten your production process. If you’re charging the same amount of fee for the project and it’s possible to get it done in less time because you’re not having to do all these things that you don’t like to do anyway, you’re more profitable. It’s a WIN-WIN!
Stay tuned for Part II of this series. We will look at a few software options and how they can streamline practice and create profitability for your firm.