By Sam Grote
Founder and CEO
Project management is a key driver of success for a foodservice equipment and supplies (FE&S) dealer. While being invited to bid or quote a job is great — and being awarded a job is even better — neither of those achievements matter if the project is executed poorly. Better processes and technology can help ensure that awarded projects are converted to profits and help generate future business from happy customers.
Unfortunately, project management issues are quite common in our industry. Examples include job sites not being ready for installation, important deliveries being delayed at the last second, change order approvals slipping through the cracks, inaccurately marked-up shop drawings, inaccurate installation estimates, or missing/forgetting critical customer deadlines, just to name a few. This is driven by a lack of standardized processes and modern technology for most project management teams across the industry. Individual project managers or teams often work like sole proprietors, relying on outdated methods like spreadsheets, Outlook and pen and paper. Some may use general-purpose tools like Smartsheet or Microsoft Projects, but these tools are not designed specifically for their needs and thus require significant overhead to configure them successfully.
Some dealers have increased their market-share due to their aggressive adoption of e-commerce technology before everyone else. Many dealers are rushing to follow their lead, but should also look to emulate their strategies by embracing new technologies before their competitors on what is likely to be the next major battlefield — brick-and-mortar project management.
The current status quo — outdated technology and lack of standardization — creates many problems for dealers. For starters, it makes it challenging to collaborate effectively as a team and with external stakeholders such as general contractors, design consultants and others. It also creates limited operational visibility for leaders, making it hard for them to manage their teams and create a culture of accountability. Finally, it makes it almost impossible to efficiently onboard and train new team members, particularly those with no prior foodservice equipment experience. The challenge is increasingly evident post-pandemic as more project management positions are filled by industry outsiders. This is a potential existential risk for some dealers with aging workforces, with large books of business, that will need to be replaced over the coming years.
Both the next generation of employees and customers have grown up using high-quality technology everywhere in their lives. For them, technology isn’t a nice add-on feature, it’s a must-have product. A failure to adopt better technology solutions in project management and beyond will result in difficulties in attracting and retaining the next generation of talent and customers. To put this all very bluntly, spreadsheets and email are not sustainable methods for a $15 billion industry to manage their incredibly complex kitchen projects. This article doesn’t prescribe a specific solution as there are many ways to achieve success in this area, from home-grown tools to custom software development to existing off-the-shelf project management platforms. But there are some key things all dealers should consider when adopting any new approach: centralization, workflow automation, analytics, and long-term support.
By moving your project management teams to a centralized solution, teams can collaborate more efficiently across branches and functional departments, and executives get real-time visibility into their operations. This will also enable better analytics as it will lead to the acquisition of a large amount of standardized data. Examples of this include real-time revenue forecasts, bid win rate analytics, subcontractor performance analysis, and vendor lead-time analysis. If you are managing projects via hundreds of disconnected spreadsheets, you will never be able to gather valuable insights into how you can improve your business. It is important to note that a centralized solution should still offer enough flexibility to meet the needs of various teams. Flexibility is crucial as not all projects are the same. Opening a new kitchen for a chain operator is very different from an American Institute of Architects (AIA) contract job or a negotiated design-and-build job.
Workflow automation is another important aspect to consider. There are many tasks associated with kitchen projects that can be automated or streamlined with existing technology. While technology will never replace humans, it can free up time for them to focus on things that technology can’t do, such as building relationships with new customers. Examples of workflow automation tools to consider include:
- Project scheduling tools to assess project feasibility and ensure key milestones are met
- Project templates to automate project set-up and enforce best practices across your organization
- Install management tools to efficiently identify, qualify, and schedule third-party installers
- Purchase order tracking tools to ensure critical items are acknowledged and delivered on time.
Finally, when reviewing a new project management approach, it’s critical to think long-term. If you adopt a new process or technology system that isn’t structured to grow with you, it will eventually become a major bottleneck that will grind your operations to a halt. Your needs will change so it’s essential that you adopt flexible processes and technology that can evolve their capabilities with your needs.
The future of our industry lies in better project management technology. Today, outdated methods and a lack of standardization create substantial project execution challenges. But with a renewed focus and the right tools, dealers can move towards a brighter future, where technology helps them work more efficiently, generate valuable insights for their business, and attract and retain the next generation of employees and customers. Don’t be left behind, embrace the change, and take your project management to the next level.