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A Tale Of Two Projects

I.

Rob owns a small business that specializes in fielding pole data for utilities and their telecom attachers.


He spends a lot of time in the field himself, and usually can make design and engineering decisions while he’s out there. This means he comes home with a near-finished product and can hand off his notes to part-time clerical staff to submit the final permits.


One day, a former co-worker contacted Rob about an opportunity. The project would last the rest of the year and require collecting about 2,000 poles per week. The client is looking to work with a small, local firm that has in-house engineering expertise and takes pride in its work.


Excited, Rob works closely with project procurement and nails the bid. In the back of his head, he’s nervous about the volume of work and about ramping up his staff and training new people.


To be proactive, Rob starts to work on a data capture form for his new hires. He finds a great app that is configurable and lets him customize data inputs and attribute mapping to make sure the new field techs bring home all the data he needs for the project to be successful.


He’ll spend a few days training the new group on safety and tools, and then set them loose. But things don’t go the way Rob expects.


At first, Rob thinks it’s the new staff. Maybe this group isn’t as hungry as he expected, or they’re not putting in the hours it will take to meet the project’s demands. He starts to be a little more hands-on, but finds the new field techs are hungry, smart, and working hard.


But the process isn’t working. Rob doesn’t have the time to replicate his experience and expertise, but the project is failing. The team is either under- or over-collecting information, and Rob is struggling to clean up all the mediocre data being collected while training, providing feedback, managing the customer’s expectations, and handling deployment for all the recollection needed.


Eventually, the project dies—the customer hands the contract off to a bigger firm that can keep up with volumes, and Rob ends up as a subcontractor. Rob’s work is excellent, as always, but it’s only enough to keep him and his clerical staff busy for a few months. 


This leaves Rob in a tough spot—how can he grow his business if he can’t replicate his knowledge and experience?


II.

Amy manages a small team of make ready designers for a contract with an IOU. Her team is small, but between the seven of them, they can keep up with the telecom attachment requests for the whole footprint.


One day, Amy gets an email about a way that her team could support the IOU’s ongoing pole inspection project. There’s another vendor performing the inspections, and the data they’re collecting flags poles that need to be replaced, but not all the information necessary for construction crews to deploy.


Amy’s team collects photos and measurements of poles all over the utility’s footprint each week, so she is a no-brainer to quickly collect this crucial pole replacement information as locations are flagged by the inspection process.


Amy’s team is excited—this is an opportunity to continue to grow and gain experience and trust working to serve the power side of things. More than that, it’s a chance for her young team to see their work have an impact on the overall reliability of the grid.


As they start to tackle the project, Amy’s team runs into issues. The volumes aren’t a problem—it’s only a few dozen locations per week. But their typical workflow isn’t working.


Their make ready process, optimized for back-office engineering and design, is too cumbersome for a project like this. Too many hand-offs and touch points are happening for the few pieces of data that actually need to be delivered. It’s tough for them to type in notes from the field, and even after the data has been collected, clerical staff and designers are still reviewing each location and cleaning up data before Amy delivers it.


Amy’s make ready work starts to suffer, and they’re not delivering the pole replacement information fast enough to impress her client. 


After a few months, the requests stop coming in, and Amy worries that her team doesn’t have the flexibility to take on opportunities that are healthy for the future of their company.


In the first story, a data capture form was partially responsible for the failure of Rob’s project. For this scope of work, Rob found it difficult to scale his expertise and experience to a new team spread out across an entire footprint. Trying to coach a dozen field technicians to make good decisions is tough when you’re all in one place—and this group was spread out and tapped out.


In the second story, a data capture form could have solved Amy’s problem. She had a great team and a great process—but it was overkill for the simple information her client needed. 


I share these two examples as a (heavy-handed) warning about configurable field forms, like our Mobile Assessments tool. These forms have a ton of value:

  • Self-configurable to adapt to any project

  • Coach and guide data collection from the field

  • Prevent data entry errors

  • Reduce back office processing needed

  • Provide standard data fields and deliverables for each location


But they also come with risk:

  • Form data is not as defensible as photo data

  • Complicates field workflows, increases exposure

  • Limits potential growth to staff who want to be in the field


As a project manager, you need to be sensitive to your client’s needs and agnostic to technology and workflows. Starting in 2024, we’ve included field capture functionality into all Katapult Pro subscriptions so that you can leverage both office and field-heavy workflows to serve your clients.


If you have questions about when to use which, reach out to us and we’ll be happy to help!


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