Previous Tool: Microsoft Excel, Microsoft Project
Founded in 1925, Columbia Construction Co. is a third-generation, family-run business that has worked hard to earn its reputation for understanding client needs and working side-by-side with stakeholders and team members to deliver exceptional results. They value teamwork, empowerment, and understanding, which has resulted in a supportive culture, successful processes, and long-lasting client relationships.
Columbia does an impressive $400+ million in average annual volume, ranks in the top 10 of Massachusetts’ largest construction management firms, and is currently #254 on the ENR 400 list. Their massive portfolio of projects includes the academic, healthcare, hospitality, life sciences, energy, and residential sectors.
As Columbia has tripled their headcount over the last 20 years to 190+ managers, its team needed a system that could scale as fast as they have been.
Senior Vice President, Shawn Gallant, has been a part of the Columbia family for 20 years starting out as a project manager. One of his goals is to utilize tools and controls to create a team of employees that empower themselves and grow every day. “We started where most companies start, with an Excel spreadsheet,” explained Gallant about their previous process, “We found that as we grew, it just wasn’t a successful model because we didn’t have adaptability, changes were hard, and there was really no forecasting ability.”
Similar to a lot of construction companies, Columbia was relying on a single member of the operations team for most of their workforce planning. “Previously there was a gatekeeper. We would communicate project needs and they would go back to their desk to figure it out,” said Gallant, “It was totally siloed. We had one person controlling all of our operations and we did it that way for 20 years. We quickly identified that we could improve how we manage our workforce. It needs to be collaborative. You need the input of your leaders and your team.”
Gallant was also quick to point out how a business can be impacted by poor workforce management. “Company morale goes down, employees are burnt out because they’re going to do whatever it takes to get the job done,” explained Gallant, “It affects your employee retention and increases safety incidents on a project. With any safety incident, there’s a cost, but more importantly, there’s somebody’s personal life that could be impacted. You never want an unsafe site because you’re cutting a dollar on staffing. It just doesn’t make sense.”
“With poor workforce management company morale goes down, employees are burnt out because they’re going to do whatever it takes to get the job done. It affects your employee retention and increases safety incidents on a project. With any safety incident, there’s a cost, but more importantly, there’s somebody’s personal life that could be impacted. You never want an unsafe site because you’re cutting a dollar on staffing. It just doesn’t make sense.”
The team at Columbia switched to Bridgit Bench to manage their workforce in February 2021 and immediately began seeing the benefits of having more people involved in the process. “Having this collaborative tool that lets people interact with one another, see all our resources, and then plan staffing appropriately was really a major milestone event for us,” said Gallant, “It changed the way we plan our projects and how we communicate changes. So it was a big deal for us.”
Naturally, there was some resistance to change, but Gallant has a ‘long-term and improvement mindset’ and was confident this would be a shift in a positive direction for Columbia. “There was resistance because it’s a different way of approaching how we staff projects and allocate resources,” explained Gallant of getting buy-in from the team, “There was a sector leader within our group that was very resistant. When we ran our analytics roughly a year after implementing Bridgit, they were the highest user of Bridgit Bench and had become the biggest proponent of it, which was fantastic.”
Empowering the team at Columbia
With the help of Bridgit Bench, the team at Columbia has been able to provide better visibility into their workforce strategy across the organization. “Pretty much all our department heads have access to Bridgit Bench with view-only permission,” explained Gallant, “HR knows where people are working and marketing can dig into when jobs are finishing to create promotion plans. Even accounting has information without having to chase people down. They can just go into Bridgit Bench.”
“We still meet once a week as a group to run through what we’re proposing and what we want to change, but it’s really dramatically changed the attitude of workforce management from being terrible to them loving it because they’re empowered.”
Shawn Gallant, VP of Corporate Development at Columbia Construction Co
Bridgit Bench has also helped Columbia empower their sector leaders to be the main drivers of manipulating day-to-day activities. “I try to empower our sector leaders to collaborate amongst themselves,” said Gallant regarding collaboration at Columbia, “They can manage the whole team here. They know everybody. I can help if there’s an issue, but they can communicate with each other and help each other on different projects. It really helps to bond that team so they can look at themselves as the leaders that are going to control our workforce.”
The result of empowering their sector leaders? As Gallant puts it, “Nobody likes to be dictated what they’re going to do. They want to control who’s on their projects and they need to be empowered to do that. We still meet once a week as a group to run through what we’re proposing and what we want to change, but it’s really dramatically changed the attitude of workforce management from being terrible to them loving it because they’re empowered.”
Using Bridgit Bench to forecast workforce needs
Project success can often be dictated by upfront planning. Most of Columbia’s projects are competitive negotiated general conditions and fees. That means working with the design team right from the beginning and using that pre-construction time to define the scope and the best-fit project team. “With Bridgit Bench, now we can start to forecast better,” said Gallant of Bridgit Bench’s forecasting dashboard, “We have the bigger picture. Whether we want to run a three-month, six-month, or full-year forecast, it’s all there for us.”
“Running scenarios where we can actually run specific projects, like we’ve got 25 active projects and 10 pursuits, 3 of which are 95%, so I can factor them into my forecasting. That’s priceless to be able to do that.”
Shawn Gallant, VP of Corporate Development at Columbia Construction Co
Gallant also pointed out the benefits of running scenarios with their active pursuits. “Running scenarios where we can actually run specific projects, like we’ve got 25 active projects and 10 pursuits, 3 of which are 95% so I can factor them into my forecasting. That’s priceless to be able to do that. Adversely, there might be 8 jobs that are 20% that we’re just doing some budget checks with people. We don’t want to factor those into the forecasting, so being able to run specific scenarios like that is important.”
We look forward to seeing how the team at Columbia continues to evolve their workforce planning and empower their people. For more information about Bridgit Bench, feel free to take a quick tour, or book a demo with one of our experts.