Some of us have been in this business for long enough that we remember when using a computer for much more than email was completely novel. I remember reading David Gerstel’s book “Running a Successful Construction Company” which offered using a computer and Excel as an alternative way to do estimating (I had the 2002 updated edition). We have seen smartphones become standard equipment for even the most tech-challenged project managers. Project management systems, cloud based file storage, estimating software, company slack channels, drones, and 3D scanning are part of most remodelers tool kits these days. Can't forget Zoom meetings. What would you have said five years ago if someone suggested using Zoom for a sales meeting? Now, we are watching the second-generation of project management systems enter the market.

With all of these systems available - with options for which system and options within each system - technological change has become an inevitable part of our lives and our businesses. Instead of resisting this change, embrace it. We don’t need to embrace all the systems but we do need to be prepared for the systems that we use day-to-day to change and the systems that we need to do our jobs effectively to change. The tools we are used to using will change and the list of tools we need will change.

Working through a big tech system change in a business can be one of the most difficult things a company can do. Whether we’re trying to implement a new system or change from one system to another, the process is bound to create interference in your business for months at best. Most of the time you will not know where that interference will show up until it does. Upset team members, confused clients, lost files, or muddled books are all possible collateral damage. Adding or changing systems is inevitable in our current working environment so it is something that we as managers will need to be able to do.

If it is So Risky and Difficult, Why Do It?

There are a lot of reasons to embark on the change despite the risks. In some cases we will be forced to. For example, I had used CoConstruct for 10 years before their merger with Buildertrend, and while I could have stayed with the old CoConstruct, not changing and staying with a system that would eventually no longer be supported, that path felt like just prolonging the inevitable. The choice I was offered was to change now or change in a few years. Either way I had to adopt a new system so I decided to change now to something completely different and have spent the last 12 months sunsetting CoConstruct and integrating Job Tread into our workflows.

The other one many of us are familiar with is Quickbooks Desktop vs. Quickbooks Online. Hard to say how long it will take but it seems inevitable that QBD will eventually be a thing of the past. In both these cases, an integral part of our business operation is being changed externally and many of us are being forced to adopt something new.

Hopefully, many of us will get to choose what we adopt to improve some aspect of our business. While it is possible to get pulled into inventing problems that need to be fixed with technology (there are a lot of very convincing product demo videos out there that lead us in this direction), it is important to not get stuck in a “if it aint broke dont fix it” mentality.

Finding incremental gains is different than fixing problems; small gains in efficiency add up to big time savers over the long term. To illustrate this point, let’s take the suggestion to buy a computer and learn Excel for estimating instead of a yellow legal pad. Your legal pad ain't broke, so why invest the time and money in learning Excel? I'd say that the gains from a spreadsheet over a legal pad are more than incremental but you get the point.

Not changing because there is not a problem to fix will hold you back every time. The gains from switching from email to Slack for internal communication, or from your Excel spreadsheet to estimating within your management software, are smaller and harder to quantify. But that doesn’t mean they are not real or worth the effort and investment in time to make that change. By the same token, that does not mean that every possible change you can make should be made. There are plenty of reasons to not adopt or change systems but the fact that “it ain’t broke” should not be at the top of your list for reasons not to change.

Possible Reasons Not to Change

Cost. Good software is expensive, and for most cloud-based systems you are paying on a monthly basis. Cost is a factor that is often a hurdle for us. As you add systems to your “Tech Stack” the line item for software expenses in your budget will need to increase. I don't know a rule of thumb for finding a right- sized tech budget, but I do know that all businesses will need to have a budget for this. I’m sure you could spend too much on tech, so just consider the alternatives: Can you get by without this added system or is it providing real value to your business? It is important to take stock of the systems you are using and remove redundancy if you add a system that replaces the functionality of an existing system.

Not intuitive and takes too long to learn. Every system will have a learning curve, and investing some time into learning a new system should not prevent you from adopting that system. However, not every system is designed to be implemented and operated by the average person. Make sure when adopting a new system that you are not biting off more than you or your team can chew.

Not specific or applicable to your industry or a business of your scale. Not every system is made for every type of business and in fact, the best systems are made exactly for your type of business. In the remodeling and construction world there are a few systems out there that would be a perfect fit for the contractor who is building a new hospital or a bridge but my guess is that these tools would not work for a business whose sweet spot is $250,000 additions and remodels, and the system that works great for a single-line roofing or exterior contractor will be different from what a custom kitchen specialist will need.

If Change is Inevitable and Hard to Do, How Should We Do It?

Embrace it. Gordon Moore predicted that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit (microchip) doubles every two years - a prediction that came to be known as Moore’s Law. I’m no math superstar but I understand enough to know that this means tech is much more capable now than it was in 1965 when Gordon Moore stated his observation about technological progress. The systems rolling out now are different from the systems people were building 10 years ago. The idea that we will adopt a system today that will remain the same for 10 years is a fantasy. These systems change rapidly, the machines that we use to interface with them change rapidly, none of this is slowing down and all we can do is to embrace this as a fact of the world we work in. Just like 2x4’s are actually 1.5" x 3.5": Can’t change it, might as well accept it. Embrace change and make it part of your culture. The alternative, resistance, is unfortunately not a long-term strategy.

Identify why you need to make a change (issues) and find something that addresses those issues. First, Identify problems by finding bottlenecks. Then ask: Are there problems or processes that are not followed? Have you unsuccessfully tried to create compliance? Do not change just for the sake of making change; do it with intention. Are there bottlenecks in your system that need to be opened up? Are there processes that you can’t seem to get your team to adopt? Perhaps there is a tool out there that will address these issues. I avoided doing seasonal email newsletters because the system I used instead of a CRM could not give me a list of emails for past clients.

Explore up to a point, but be intent on making a committed decision. There are so many options out there to choose from. It’s good to explore them but only up to a point; it’s easy to get stuck in exploring the multiverse of available systems. Many software tools offer an introductory version for free or are willing to do a 30 trial with a “money-back guarantee” so you can try things without much risk. Usually the free versions are enough to let you see what it does and leave you wanting all the features that are behind the paywall but these are very helpful for playing around with the different options to see what feels right.

Create a list of the items that are important to you and measure the options against that list. If the system you are looking at checks those boxes, proceed. Don’t get stuck in decision paralysis. A few things I feel should be on your list are “Open API” for integration with other outside systems; capability for “Uploading / Downloading” your data in the system: good Support responsiveness and training resources too.

Assign someone to own it. As you integrate the system into your business, different team members will interact with the system differently depending on their roles and responsibilities. Not everyone in your office needs to be an expert in the system. There will be one person in the office that should own the responsibility of knowing the systems through and through. In most small remodeling companies, this will likely be the `business owner, however it does not have to be. In fact there are many reasons that it should not be the owner. As the owner, your time is very valuable. The time spent understanding the deepest settings of a new system or how to link it to another open API system is better spent by someone who does not need to be spending time on the higher value tasks that a business owner needs to be doing.

Get buy-in from your team. Dr. Anna Hunter, EdD, the Director of Learning and Development at Job Tread spends her days developing systems and training resources to help new Job Tread users integrate the system into their businesses. Based on my experience with Job Tread's training resources, she is very good at what she does. As I have worked through integrating Job Tread into my business, I have had some great conversations with her about how best to integrate a new system into an organization. I asked her for some specifics about how to help get team buy-in.

Her recommendation is to introduce change to your team early and often. “Team members adapt to change in various ways. Some may adapt quickly and effortlessly, where others may take time to adjust to change. Communicating about change as early as possible gives everyone on your team the chance to navigate the change process at their own pace. Many leaders think that they need to know every detail about the change before they 'announce' it to their team. This just delays the inevitable and reduces the time some team members may need to process that change is on the horizon."

"When introducing an upcoming change," Hunter continues, "there are three goals to keep in mind: Clarify the current cause and effect relationship of the failed system; gain Consensus that a problem exists and that change needs to happen; and secure Commitment to resolve the problem. All the details (who, what, why, when, and how) can be addressed later on.”

When I decided that it was time to consider options to CoConstruct, I sent a survey to my team to give me feedback about what worked and more importantly didn’t work about the current system. Asking my team about what didn’t work got everyone talking about the problem and gave people the opportunity to clarify the “why” we were making this change for themselves, as well as build consensus that something needed to be done.

Identify team members who can get on board quickly, advocate for the change, and learn the new system. Some of your team may be 100% on board at the mention of a new system to learn, others could be completely indifferent and some could be vehemently opposed to the idea. Identify the people on your team who could become early adopters and help you advocate for change.

“Consider which employees seem to embrace change and show an eagerness to explore new possibilities.” Dr. Hunter suggests. “Find your team members who tend to cope well with uncertainty and even take it upon themselves to ensure they are well informed. Team members who try to understand the ‘why’ behind a change can more easily build support among their peers as they will align themselves with the change and will be eager to share a vision they believe in.” As they get excited about the change and learn the system they will ease the transition for the oppositional team members.

Once you have buy-in from you team It is important to build momentum and follow through. Being systematic and setting team goals for the transition will be important.

Iterations are OK. You may never have it 100% dialed in. It's OK to get something partially worked out and move forward. Establish a minimum functionality or understanding that you need to use the tool and move forward with that. Think about your smartphone: How much functionality does it have that you never even think about using. Most of us have apps that we never use or even know what they do. That doesn’t stop us from using our phones to make calls, read emails, send texts and manage our calendars.The point is you can use a tech tool to do the things you need it to and it still provides a lot of value even if you are not using 100% of the functionality. Don't let perfection get in the way of done. As your understanding of the aspects that you need deepens, and you become more familiar with the system or tool, you can add aspects of the system or change and improve your early process iterations.

Make sure to be open with your team and clients (if client facing) about the iterative nature. It is better to be upfront about what you know and what you don’t know. While implementing Job tread with my team we spent a lot of time trying to adjust our workflows to this new system. When we would put our heads together and come to an understanding about how we were going to handle a process in the new system, I would always remind my team that this is where we are now and in a few weeks we may need to adjust this process as we start to understand this feature better. Over time the processes that work will stick and there will be less revisions.

Make a list of all the things that you need to do to make the change. What functions exist in your current system that you need to replace in the new system? What steps do you need to take to build those features in the new system? Some of these items will take much more effort than others, and some of the items will be much more important than others. Prioritize this list by difficulty of implementation and importance to your operations. Identify the “low hanging fruit” that you can switch over to tomorrow with some basic training. Focus on those first and get them out of the way so you can concentrate on the more challenging changes. Some of the things that you will want to make the new system do will only be possible after you have had real jobs or customer accounts running in the system for some time.

Again Dr. Anna Hunter had some good suggestions about how to do this and build team buy-in at the same time: "Involve your team in the implementation work. Identify each of your team member’s strengths and delegate implementation responsibilities to them based on what they are good at and what they enjoy doing. Some of your team members enjoy creating systems and workflows while others enjoy organizing data. By inviting them in to help set up the new technology, they will feel committed to the end result and ensure your implementation is successful."

Hand off as many To-Do’s from this list as you can. And whenever possible, Hunter recommends, “invest in your team members by sending them to additional training for the software, such as a conference, workshop, or meeting. Not only will they feel valued because you invested resources in their professional development, but they will also connect with a greater community of people who use the technology as well. Remember, your people are your greatest asset, even greater than the technology you adopt. After all, your people will determine the success of the tools you have. Keep them at the center of the change process and they will see it through!”

Create milestones and goals for adoption. Map out when those changes will happen and set a goal for your team to have all new projects in the new system.

If you are changing to a new project management system, and you are anything like most remodelers I know, projects can last for a long time so you will be looking at sunsetting your old system over several months and operating both systems simultaneously. I would caution against trying to move a project from one system to another mid-stream but perhaps there is a step in your process where you can make the switch.

At our Design - Build company, we work through a long custom design process that turns into a construction project. That design process can sometimes take as much as 6 or even 9 months. After we start construction, depending on the scale of the project it can take another 6 to 9 months. Looking at the projects we had in our design process, I quickly realized that if we did not switch these projects to Job Tread we would be running two systems for another 12 to18 months. To avoid that, we decided that we could move our design projects from Coconstruct to Job Tread at specific design milestones or when the job changed from Design to Construction. This added some extra work to keep track of project financials through that move, but it shortened the sunsetting time substantially and was worth the extra work.

If client facing, be prepared to train clients and trades also. As you and your team get up to speed with the system you will need to train your clients and trade partners on the new system. A good system when set up properly and well understood by the team operating it will not need a lot of extra training for the external users. But do be prepared to train your external users on at least the basics. Your clients and trade partners will all have different aptitude for new technology systems and some may need more training than others. I have found it helpful to create my own client facing training videos to address the most important and basic features of Job Tread that our clients need to understand to make the system work for them. Find a video editing program that works for you, I use one called Camtasia that provides a lot of editing capability and the ability to make templates so you can create a repeatable format for making videos. Having a small library of videos on hand saves me a ton of time scheduling and doing one-on-one training with our clients and trade partners. Videos are great too because people can watch when and how they want to and pause / repeat as needed to understand what they need to.

Inspires Excitement or Foster Dread?

There are not many things in life that are certain and fewer that we have control over. In the 21st century one thing that is certain is that our technology will change and probably faster than we are always comfortable with. We can not control how, when, or why the systems we use will update, change, or merge with the competition. What we can control, is how we approach these changes. We need to embrace the fact that these elements of our business operations will be changing, and a systematic approach to managing this is the best way to make it happen without unnecessary disruption.

I was an early adopter of the CoConstruct system and after 9 years of operating with that system I remember admitting to myself that I had no idea what would happen if CoConstruct disappeared. When confronted with that reality after learning about the merger with Buildertrend, I remember a feeling of opportunity rather than fear of the unknown. Maybe the merger would be great for the system. Could I shed a comprehensive management system all together and operate our systems with home built spreadsheets and calendars? Is there something out there that is completely different and much better? I acknowledged that changing our system would take a lot of effort and cause some unforeseeable operational hiccups. But I also saw the potential for improvement. After finding Job Tread, learning the system and shepherding my business through this change, I can say that it has been worth the effort. It didn't happen overnight, and there have been a few hiccups, but the upside has been well worth the effort. The most surprising thing about making this change has been how quickly after starting to learn Job Tread my team wanted to jump in with both feet and not look back.

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