Episode 9: Rob Wagner, Senior Project Manager at Del Amo Construction

The Full Scoop Podcast
November 30, 2020

Summary

On this episode, Clue CEO, Oded Ran, speaks with Rob Wagner, Senior Project Manager at Del Amo Construction, talking about implementing construction technologies like Procore and others at a General Contractor setting.

Links

Del Amo Construction website
Rob on LinkedIn

Read a Transcript of the Episode

Oded Ran (Clue) (00:08):
Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Full Scoop, where we cover all things, construction and construction technology. And today we have with us Rob Wagner from Del Amo Construction, and Rob is literally a few miles down the road from us, but thanks to COVID-19 we're still doing this interview by video. Great to have you. So tell us a bit more first about the company, the type of projects you do.

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (01:02):
So Del Amo is a little over 50 years old. It started off with the two brothers, started the company, I guess I've been there for the last 17, 18 years now. And in that timeframe, we've grown from about $30 million to a little over $300 million in volume. And our general contracting side has gone from about 30 or so employees to a little over 120 now.

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (01:02):
So we're starting to get over that hump of a hundred employees and you need to kind of focus on more process and technology has been a big part of that in the last few years.

Oded Ran (Clue) (01:13):
Absolutely. And you must've done a lot of different roles in the last 17 years, what are you currently looking after in the business?

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (01:19):
Yeah, so I started in estimating and then after a few years there, I worked over, moved over to the project management side and then worked all the way up the ranks through project management. And now I'm also in a shared role where I'm still doing a senior PM work, but I'm also helping the operations department with new technology review and implementation strategies and stuff like that. So really like give me a bit of a sense of the type of projects that the company does. Yeah. So we're, we do all pro private work and it ranges from $2 to $5 million on the low end to $60, $80 million on the high end.

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (01:55):
A lot of it's kind of white box. And then we also have a fair market share with within our company of the religious sectors, the community and churches, schools, private schools, stuff like that. So that was our bread and butter. When I started, it was a lot of schools, a lot of gymnasiums churches, and we've kind of branched off more into the developer side of the industry recently.

Oded Ran (Clue) (02:18):
Fantastic. So lots has changed in the last 17 years. I'm guessing both from your company because you know, massive growth and we'll talk about processes and definitely technology changed, right? So we'll spend today's episode really about your learning from implementing software and the changes you're seeing in your company and the things that work well and things that you hope could work even better. So let's start with that. Let's talk a bit about like a typical day in the life of an employee in Del Amo Construction, which technologies do you use?

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (02:49):
Yeah, so our project management platform currently is Procore and we implemented that about four, five years ago before that we were running on Timberline's Project Management tools and then using a collection of Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and stuff to fill in the logs and things that that Timberline wasn't handling. We had looked at before that transition. We had looked at things like Plangrid and FieldWire, and we were really kind of psyched about the online tablet managed plan tools and Procore at that point had a software called CurrentSet and it seemed to be a pretty good, useful freeware tools. So we started implementing it on a few projects and one thing led to another, our estimating department was working on a hybrid customization of Blue Beam. And we kind of finally, you know, the guy heading that up and myself heading up all these freeware tools out in the field got together and said, Hey, we're not a software company. We need to kind of stop trying to do our own customizations. And let's start to investigate a new platform that can do this stuff. There's a lot of new software is out in the field. And so we, we put together a committee within the organization and we evaluated a lot of the tools that were out there. And we ended up deciding that Procore was the one for us.

Oded Ran (Clue) (04:07):
How did that implementation go from the day you decided on it?

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (04:11):
Procore had a lot of tools. They wanted to touch, have a lot of touch points within our organization and our committee, you know, painstakingly tried to go through every option and figure it out. And, you know, fortunately we were an early adopter with Procore. So we actually had the ability to bend their ear on the design side and get a direct contact, a lot of their project managers on the software development side. So we felt like we were going to be able to form this tool over time and it, we have to some extent, and then they have done what they need to do to keep market share and keep other GCs happy as well. We spent six months pouring over this tool before we ever released it to any of our employees. And then we, we launched it and it's been, you know, no looking back since then.

Oded Ran (Clue) (04:58):
And since the moment you decided to launch it with employees, let's talk a bit about the implementation process and what went well, what would you advise a company that's considering implementing it now and they should be aware of as they started the process? What do you wish you knew before you started the process?

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (05:14):
Yeah, so we had a two phased implementation. One was kind of all the tools that our field people would use. So RFI, submittals plans, specs and stuff that pretty much runs off the tablet. And our superintendents would be in daily contact with daily reports is another one meeting minutes. And then the other set of tools is more of the financial based tools. So you got like your budgets, your change orders, all your cost management type stuff. So in the first rollout was all the field tools. And I think, you know, we bit off a little bit more than our employees could chew. I guess you'd say we, we kinda overtrain them in a short amount of time and their, the amount that they retained wasn't that we also, we took a lot of our practices that were in the works from before that, and we just carried them over and we probably should have rethought about, you know, creating some more bottlenecks, more checkpoints in our process lineups because when we first started, we are having data entry issues, cause things were being left up to every individual in the organization to choose how they feel the fields out, as opposed to one person filling it out consistently every time and stuff.

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (06:26):
So I think when you do something like this, you really have to pull back the drapes and look at your entire organization and how you're doing business and then roll it out in smaller bite size amounts so that people can really digest it and, and work with it, you know, a more of a metered output. So,

Oded Ran (Clue) (06:45):
And now that you've pretty much gone through the hurdle of implementation, what are the new needs, new solutions that you at the moment looking for?

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (06:55):
So now we're looking at kind of, you know, Procore took us to the cloud environment. And so now we're taking the rest of the organization into the cloud environment. We're going with O365 or talking about looking at accounting solutions that are cloud based, especially with the COVID and work at home, you know, rollouts, it's going to be much more important that all of our staff can work from home on a moment's notice, you know, and they don't have to come in as often as they do right now. So that's probably a big initiative. The other side we're trying to look at is the data collection on the backend. How do we get all these now different platforms to report out data and be in a centralized location so that we can report back on it so we can get the quantitative information that matches our qualitative gut, so to speak, you know,

Oded Ran (Clue) (07:51):
From the field perspective that you have more people are spending more time now entering data. That's a problem we keep hearing from companies that operators and people in the field, they don't want to become your data entry, clerics. How did you, how were you able to avoid that from happening at dilemma?

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (08:10):
Yeah, so that's a problem that we can't necessarily prevent in every turn, but we do have on the front of our mindset when we're making our decisions about our, our solutions that we choose is how many input points can be interconnected on the backend. Can I input something in this software? And this other platform over here can read that data point so that someone doesn't have to try to duplicate that text string. Exactly. And so that's, that's been a new wrinkle in our evaluation process for a lot of new technologies is making sure that these things do talk together. They communicate well and that, you know, somebody is not trying to dominate the sandbox, so to speak. So, right.

Oded Ran (Clue) (08:53):
How large is the team involved in all things? It, is it anything from zero people to, you've got a team of 10 people, how many people full time?

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (09:04):
We have a few full time that I call tech gurus. And then we have more of an IT manager which handles more of the hardware. Typical traditional it solutions. He gets keyboards fixed. He gets printers fixed. He gets all that kind of stuff. And then we have kind of a calling question person too. So that's more of like a help desk liaison sort of thing. And then we have a variety of managers that assist them in their decision making and stuff like that. So there's essentially four full time employees working on these, what we call technical operations. That's the name of the department for our organization. And and then a variety of managers like myself, I've managed work. And then I help them kind of, as you know, aside to the work I'm actually directly managing and so

Oded Ran (Clue) (09:52):
Great. And one of the things that you, I guess they use Procore and other systems is to manage your subs, right? All your subcontractors and people who work with you on the projects. Let's talk a bit about that today. Every subcontractor do they have to use your system? How do you end up coordinating information with the people who you work with?

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (10:11):
Yeah, so they don't have to use our system. They can send everything in via email. There are portals with which they can upload directly and they can respond to things. So if they want to help streamline the process, they can, but it's not required thing though that we send out gets distributed through the system. So they get automated emails, they get, you know, all the RFIDs, all the submittals they get returned. They all go out through that system.

Oded Ran (Clue) (10:40):
You see that evolving to a world where, you know, what a feed to get all the information everyone is on the same system.

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (10:46):
Oh, absolutely. I think that you're going to see, you know, for instance, Procore will probably create some sort of a subcontractor tools so that they can have their own environment there and it will help them streamline their submittal processes. It'll help streamline their change order submission processes, and even their daily tickets and daily logs. Like there's the guys out in the field can be logging that stuff on their phone, you know, their TNM tickets and instantly that night, you know, the PM has it on his desk and he can just start matching receipts from the accounting side over to it and get our chambers submitted much faster and, and, and other documentation too. So hope that's actually where it's heading. You know, that will be very beneficial for everybody.

Oded Ran (Clue) (11:31):
Yeah. That's super interesting because we had another episode, we spoke about this issue of one version of the truth, and usually there are multiple versions of the truth, right? You're going to have your plan and maybe a, you have a plan approved versus planned submitted. And today, do you have these problems of, you know, the sub says, well, I submitted this and then you, it and approved it, but your original plan was something else. And now you have some conflict between two versions of the truth.

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (12:00):
There's some, there's definitely some, you know, ambiguity on certain things. And a lot of that happens when you start trying to move a job quickly and off of verbal conversations, as opposed to waiting for the actual paper documentation to hit. And then when the paper doesn't match the conversation or how people remember the conversation you get in trouble, a single source of truth goes back to your data entry issue. I mean, that's, that's ideally what we want. We don't want confusion in there. We don't want there to be two versions of the same change order floating around in our system. You know, that's, that's just a recipe for, for arguing later on. So, you know, we'd like to avoid all that, but at the same time, the general contractor to subcontractor is kind of, you know, cooks in the kitchen and, you know, the owner only wants to see their nice filet steak, you know, coming out. Right. So we do need to have our ability to churn through the tough aspects of those discussions without full transparency and stuff like that, you know, until we're, we've agreed on what we're doing, you know?

Oded Ran (Clue) (13:05):
So at the moment, in high level, in management, what are the main things that you're losing sleep on? What are the key problems key need for you trying to fix in the next six months?

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (13:19):
Well, I mean, one of the things that's really difficult is it's a very aged industry and there's a lot of people in this industry that are afraid of change, you know, and, and even though they will give you the go ahead and they'll say the right things and they'll nod their head when it comes to them being a participant in the change, it's been a little bit more difficult than we had ever anticipated. So I don't know if this is something we have to wait out as a generational issue, or if there's a way to, to kind of bring them around to the light eventually. But you know, there there's been kind of this separation in our organization where the top execs kind of want all this stuff to happen below them and just still have their same reports. And everybody in tech ops is saying, well, we need to change how we're reporting on these things. We need to change how we're looking at things because all of these solutions provide all these other opportunities to analyze stuff differently. And guys are asking us to just keep cramming a square peg into what was your round hole? Well, the peg has changed shape, so let's put, let's fit the whole bag now, you know, kind of thing. So, so that's, that's difficult. And trying to manage that personality discussion from underneath is a challenge. You know, so,

Oded Ran (Clue) (14:42):
And do you see today, technology is a hygiene factor. Something you just need to do like accounting, but it doesn't necessarily help you achieve your results. As opposed to technology is starting to help you perform better, whether that is generate more topline or improve your bottom line, where currently does it stand

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (15:03):
Technology does two things for you. Primarily one is employee retention trying to attract the brightest and most talented new employees out there. You've gotta be somewhere along the cutting edge. You know, construction is not a sexy industry. And so the fact that we're starting to now get into the technology discussion is making it a little bit more of a sex appeal, kind of trade war for these, these younger, talented employees. It also is helping a lot of these companies and ours included is streamline and consolidate your processes so that everybody across your organization is doing it the same way with the freedom of Excel and word. I mean, it's a free form, open slate. Anybody can add columns, anybody can add rows, you can start manipulating cells and adding all sorts of formulas and doing your own thing pretty quickly and easily. When you're locked into one of these more static frameworks and software packages, it does kind of force everybody to get much closer to the, to doing things the exact same way. And that's, that makes it easier to trade your teams in and out, right. To have people step over this other team and help them for a couple months, because they're a backlog of paperwork and stuff.

Oded Ran (Clue) (16:22):
Sure. And let's switch to talk about favorite subject of everyone. It seems COVID-19 so well, what was the impact of COVID-19 beyond the personal, which affects every person pretty much in the world. How did it affect specifically the company and your operations and the way you do things?

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (16:41):
We immediately kicked everybody out of the office. We kicked everybody out of the field that didn't need to be in the field. And then we kind of thought about it after that, right? Like, Hey, you know, everybody has a laptop get out of here, go work from home. If you don't have a laptop, pack up your desktop and start working from home kind of thing. And then, you know, our it department was like, what the heck? How do we handle all this? And some of these people can't do their full job, so, all right. We gotta figure out how to sanitize part of the office and moved their offices around. So they come in and be distanced and stuff like that, you know? So that was the initial knee jerk reaction, I guess. I think long term, we are starting to think about an office that has less people in it that has more of like a turnaround desk and more mini conference room type setups.

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (17:33):
And that will be more of the long term future. It will be a lot more work from, you know, it's okay. Work from the job site two, three days a week, work from home the other two, three days a week and come into the office for your team meetings and whatever you need to, and, and just, you know, check out a desk and we'll have, if they're still sanitary procedures and whatever, and in place, then we'll be doing that. But I'm, I'm talking beyond the sanitary stuff, hoping this is, you know, postmaster and all of that stuff is behind us. I think we're still going to have more of a satellite turnaround office type thing with only the top executives having real, you know, landmark offices in our, in our headquarters. So

Oded Ran (Clue) (18:19):
Super. And in terms of customers, have you seen projects that are now being delayed or have you seen actually projects going further? Because all of a sudden you can work on them faster. Ooh, what's the impact on the business?

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (18:32):
Currently, I'm watching one job finish up and then another one is struggling with city issues to, I haven't seen anything speed up, but I haven't seen any of these things really slow down. What has me most concerned is that the inner communications that used to be there you know, just having a desk close to somebody else, you just talk to them about some issue you saw on the job site. They're not happening. You know, so trying to still find ways to open up a channel of communication between people needs to happen. So someone things, some technology, some whatever needs to kind of figure out how to bring back the water cooler talk, you know, so that those little sparks of ideas can still be shared, right? You don't just talk about, you know, the latest sit-com at the water cooler. You talk about work at the water cooler.

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (19:24):
And when you share those issues on the project, people become aware, you get more minds thinking about how to solve problems and, and things run smoother, right? More people know about issues. We can all keep an eye on it. We're helping each other out. I feel like with the current situation of everybody kind of working remotely, you sign in to talk about the topic you guys said, you're going to talk about you sign out. And those, those auxiliary conversations are happening. So we'll see if that has an impact on the projects, if there's more mistakes because of that or not. But I'm a little worried about that.

Oded Ran (Clue) (20:00):
So with that in mind, switching back to technology, are there any things you're excited about that you haven't tried anything from drones to wearables, to cameras all over the site? What, what things have you not tried yet?

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (20:14):
I have an opportunity to work with a company out of Israel and their AR VR company called Clone. And they're working on a technology that will kind of transport somebody onto the job site, or actually a group of people onto the job site. So the superintendent can wear an AR headset and then anybody else can either use their phone or a full VR headset. And you can all be standing on the job site, looking at the real job site conditions with avatars on the screen as well. And so you're having a stand on the job site meeting, but everybody's sitting in their living room or, or whatever. So it's, you know, that was a pretty cool technology. I think there's some technical difficulties on speed of data, transmission, and accuracy of what you're looking at, but we'll see, you know, with, with time, maybe the technology can get their bandwidth, can get there to support it. And then it'll be a how everybody's communicating in the future. So maybe that'll be my water cooler.

Oded Ran (Clue) (21:14):
Yeah. It could be right. And I'm guessing you've seen more and more people that you didn't think previously will be doing video calls now doing, jumping on a vehicle and the zoom call everyone in the organization pretty much knows how to do it.

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (21:27):
Yeah. Oh yeah. Yep. Yeah. It was a little bit of a learning curve at first. Yeah. I haven't been guys log in late and not, I don't know how to set this up is my mic on or off or how, who, who muted me questions, but now everybody's a pro.

Oded Ran (Clue) (21:44):
Fantastic. Great. So to finish off one question that I ask everyone, if right now you had the chance to take any piece of heavy equipment go fulfill day with your very newborn baby, right? Maybe with the baby, maybe without the baby, what would that be?

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (22:01):
I would probably go, I'd probably fly back to Wisconsin, hop on my dad's Bobcat and go help him build dirt bike trails back in the Backwoods.

Oded Ran (Clue) (22:09):
That sounds awesome. And I hope you can do that soon in a pandemic free world. You gave lots of room for thought for companies that are thinking about the problems that you pointed to, so what's the best way to get hold of you?

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (22:25):
Probably through LinkedIn. Yeah. On LinkedIn that's Rob Wagner, I should say.

Oded Ran (Clue) (22:30):
Fantastic. So anyone listening or watching this now, you'll see in the links of the podcast above the recording, you'll have links to Del Amo Construction on the website, as well as to, to Rob. I want to thank you so much for for jumping on the call and taking part in the show. And I look forward to also seeing you in person, given that we're only a few miles once from another.

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (22:52):
Fully, we can have a chat and a coffee together sometimes.

Oded Ran (Clue) (22:55):
Fantastic. Thanks so much and see you all in the next episode of The Full Scoop.

Rob Wagner (Del Amo Construction) (23:01):
Thank you.

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