If you are like most concrete contractors, you don't view yourself as a software technology expert. In fact, you probably approach new information technology (IT) projects with trepidation or hand it off to the back-office staff or third-party consultants. This is an understandable and healthy fear given that many IT projects fail as a result of poor project management.

This is also one of the reasons why concrete contractors, and the construction industry in general, lag behind other industries in software technology adoption. While large manufacturers, retailers, and financial services firms charge into the 21st century with optimized supply chains and web-based customer management applications, too many contractors are still estimating with pencil and paper or job costing with a pocket full of receipts.

The good news is that you probably already have the experience you need to change your company's success with IT; the same skills that make for effective construction estimating and project management can be applied to software selection. Just like laying a new foundation, selecting software requires a detailed set of plans, an accurate budget, and meticulous project management.

Get over your fear of technology and you can be on your way to the first of many successful IT projects. It won't be long before these projects result in more accurate estimates, more efficient projects, and a healthier bottom line.

Why so many software projects fail

There are many reasons why IT projects fail, but we've isolated what we believe are the top five:

  • Limited budgeting and planning
  • The wrong team for the job
  • Poor requirements planning
  • Lack of a rigorous selection process
  • Weak change management or training

Ten steps to successful software selection

Now, let's look at the 10 steps for construction companies to manage an efficient selection process that ensures success:

1. Assemble the right team. Start by identifying an executive-level project sponsor who will ensure the project gets the right funding and attention throughout the organization. Next, you'll need a project manager who will oversee all details of the project from start to finish. If you have an IT staff, they obviously have an important role to play in the process, but don't let your software decision become exclusively technology-focused. Finally, you'll need to identify end-users who will enthusiastically contribute their requirements and ideas for improving processes.

2. Establish clear goals for the project. Once the team is selected and assembled, a good first step is to outline the goals of the project. These goals will justify the project expense and guide the team as difficult decisions arise. All choices during the project should be weighed according to how well they help achieve goals such as: “Develop more accurate estimates;” “Improve coordination between the field and the office;” or, “Better manage accounts receivable.”

3. Build a detailed project schedule. The next step is to create a project schedule that outlines all the major activities and their sub-tasks. Just like a construction project, you should consider each activity's various dependencies and resource requirements. Be sure to assign an owner to each activity and even to each task. The project schedule itself can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet to track the various tasks or as sophisticated as project management software used to track the project with Gantt charts and a Critical Path Method network diagram.

4. Create a project budget. An otherwise successful software project could be considered a failure if it comes in over budget. That's why you must have an accurate budget to work against. The biggest budgeting problems occur when the project team fails to account for costs outside of the software itself, such as: new computer hardware required to run the software; platform software requirements such as a new database; or, consultants to help install and customize the software.

5. Define your requirements. The next step is perhaps the most important in the entire process: defining the functional and technical requirements you have for the new system. As software selection practices have evolved, requirement planning has shifted from simply a list of features—often influenced by software vendor marketing—to a more deliberate, thoughtful analysis of “current” versus “optimal” business processes. This requires that the project team maps out existing business processes and then considers how each could be improved. Draw flowcharts of your most important processes using PowerPoint or Visio.