Touchplan allows project teams to plan better and build faster, together.
By Janice Hoppe-Spiers, Senior Editor at Knighthouse Media
The awareness of the benefits collaborative planning and incorporating technology can bring to the productivity of construction is on the rise. To change the trajectory of the productivity curve in the industry, which has been flat in construction since the ’40s, Michael Carr and his team developed Touchplan to improve overall efficiencies, communication and processes.
“My vision is to bring the construction industry to match the massive growth and productivity improvements that industries like agriculture and manufacturing have seen consistently throughout the years thanks to technology,” Carr says. “In addition, I want to continue to achieve this vision with people and tech. It’s important to recognize that people are a key part of the flow and management of information and processes.”
While studying civil engineering at MIT, Carr came to the realization that there was a real gap between state-of-the-art technology and the construction industry. “We had accomplished some incredible things like sending men to the moon and the development of artificial intelligence, but structures were being built the same way they had been for 50 to 100 years; nothing had really changed, and that made me curious to try to change it and make it better,” he remembers.
Carr developed Touchplan five years ago as a division of MOCA Systems, a full-service owner’s representative and software products development firm serving the design and construction industry. The unique software improves upon common construction industry processes by facilitating better planning and execution through the principles of Lean by way of the Last Planner® System – both rooted in the philosophy that people can work together, learn and improve over the course of a project.
“Touchplan currently works with over 500 project teams and over 100 general contractors and subcontractors globally,” says Associate Director of Marketing Jennifer Nussinow. “Touchplan is construction collaboration your team actually likes.’”
How it Works
Touchplan transforms the traditional sticky note pull planning process of the Last Planner® System and connects a team digitally on any device, providing real-time updates and live plans for greater efficiency and communication. “Touchplan is the only Lean way for project teams to easily execute the Last Planner® System by digitizing sticky notes on the wall, then transforming them into a plan with a view everyone can understand to execute from, track progress on and ultimately learn from to create even better plans in the future,” Nussinow says. “This technology is proven to help project teams finish 20 percent faster.”
The first step to implement Touchplan is to start with a master schedule, clients input key milestones and cover the entire project from start to finish. Step two is defining the plan, and being clear about the work that is involved. Using phase scheduling by pull planning allows the team to work backwards from a clearly defined milestone to identify in detail the tasks required for completion.
“Touchplan really made a difference to be able to coordinate trades and get the workflow together,” says Jeremy Crane, Assistant Superintendent at McCarthy Building Companies, Inc.
The third step is to look ahead and prepare for what comes next. “Now you are able to look at a project in summation to identify and remove constraints that could prevent upcoming work from being completed as planned,” Nussinow adds.
Paul Johanson, President of Johanson Construction Company, says that by using Touchplan, he was able to pick up seven weeks’ worth of construction in the middle of an active, functioning hospital. Another client was able to save $25,000 in general conditions and six weeks in time on a 35-week project valued at $6.4 million. It only took the client 15 minutes to get trade partners onboarded and using the software.
In the fourth step, the team will commit to the plan to increase accountability. “Set a regular time for the team to meet about current and future work, and collectively commit to getting next week’s work done,” Nussinow says. “Everyone understands what they need to do and everyone feels invested rather than being told what to do. Everyone is contributing to the entire process together.”
Lastly, Touchplan allows project teams to focus on continuous improvement by identifying key learnings. “Teams can regularly take inventory of what went well and what could have gone better with the previous week’s plan,” Nussinow explains. “They can look at that anytime to make better handoffs and stick to the schedule to get the project done ahead of time.”
Touchplan has continuously served everyone from subcontractors, superintendents and project managers in the field to project executives, architects and owners in the office and is slated to achieve a milestone with 10,000 users being eclipsed before the end of 2018. Pricing is based on the size and duration of the project. “We see success with every type of construction, from complex healthcare projects to infrastructure and higher education builds, to standard fit outs,” Nussinow notes.
Above all, Touchplan is easily integrated on projects, no matter the stage, and incredibly user-friendly. Teams have success activating Touchplan at any time — from the design phase to projects that are already underway — and since it’s so easy for people to pick up, there’s no limitation to when you can deploy it on a project.
“We know that at any given time, members of a project team can change, so Touchplan was created with that in mind — to easily allow people to be up and running on the tool so they can get work and use it to their benefit,” Nussinow says.
“It’s extremely user-friendly, yet effective in getting results,” says Logan Cannady, a Project Engineer at McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. “It is very simple to bring in a group of people, teach them the process and begin implementing within 15 minutes of learning the new software. The only thing you need to know how to do is push the square button to make a ticket.”
Cannady continues, “Typing in a ticket to create a digital sticky note requires the same skills used to send a text on a phone — it’s a very simple process designed so that anyone can put the power of Touchplan on any project at any time.”
Seventy-nine percent of general contractors with three or more projects in Touchplan saw their annual revenue increase, based on Engineering News-Record’s 2018 Top 400 Contractors list. “The fundamental difference with Touchplan and some other approaches really boils down to how we use technology,” Carr explains. “Oftentimes, computers are brought into the mix to tell you the answer. With Touchplan, we’ve made the conscious choice to have the computer provide you with a superpower to help you come up with the answer yourself and then expose your team to things you otherwise wouldn’t be able to see or understand.”
Touchplan allows for general contractors and trades to easily collaborate and work as one operating unit, resulting in greater accountability and productivity. “They all win together because they are hugely dependent on one another,” Nussinow says. “Touchplan helps create a dependable team and achieve overall success. That’s the promise of Lean and Last Planner® in the first place — eliminate waste which ultimately saves time and money.”
Touchplan is motivated by feedback from its clients to ensure they are meeting the needs of its users and providing the most value possible. For example, trade partners are critical to the success of projects, but often aren’t given the tools to combine knowledge and forces with each other on the job. Because of this, Touchplan knew that the collaboration of the tool not only had to be for specialty teams, but inclusive of the entire project team to work together, learn from each other and always improve. This reak feedback continues to motivate the Touchplan team not only to provide a solution through its technology, but also from expertise and coaching to improve project team operations at any level, at any time.
“Insight into how things are progressing on their jobs (like production rates, material requirements or quantities, headcount and manpower requirements) that helps them track and manage their day, and providing a higher-level view of how the trade partner’s business is running is invaluable,” Carr notes. “For us, it’s critical to provide tools that are specifically designed as solutions for trade partners looking to take their business to the next level. And the great thing about it is we can do it without taking away from Lean project planning and management. It will just give trade partners the ability to operate in a leaner fashion in the back office and across all their projects using Touchplan.”
The construction industry has been conditioned to think that they can only pick two things out of time, cost and scope. For example, if you want to get something done faster for less, you have to pay for it with reduced scope. “There is a way to do all three, or at least improve one while you hold the two others fixed,” Carr says. “Touchplan helps people achieve this. It’s like having a superpower, giving people this ability.”
Touchplan is about finding ways to help people not have to make that tradeoff. “There are efficiencies out here that were previously untapped and they’re difficult to get to in something like construction where there are dozens of stakeholders, a high degree of coordination and a whole bunch of things outside of people’s control,” Carr explains. “These elements make a resolution even more difficult to come by. So, we’ve come up with a system to move the team to a whole new level — a new norm — of what is possible.”
Touchplan regularly tries new things and focuses on pushing the envelope. “You don’t make progress without taking risks,” Carr says. “It’s not risk-taking for the sake of it, but it is not knowing the first time you do something how it’s going to be received or how it’s going to go over — it’s all about making advances and learning from it.”
When Touchplan first started, for example, there were things that weren’t perceived to be normal, mainstream or even possible. “Something as simple as 2 or more people collaborating in real time on different devices was jarring and now it’s commonplace,” Carr says. “What was deemed to be unexpected is suddenly just the new normal and we’ve been a huge part of advancing that at Touchplan. We’re changing the way things are done and leaving the old ways behind.”
Touchplan is a web-based tool that brings tremendous value to individual projects. “There’s also amazing insight to be gained when looking across a portfolio of projects. Customers recognize this potential and are looking for ways to better tap into these insights,” says Carr. In response, the company is developing a suite of new dashboard reporting capabilities that will enable users to look across their projects and draw new insight from data they’ve never before had. “We pride ourselves not just on being in tune with what our customers want and need, but also what’s progressing in the industry,” Nussinow says. “Projects are more demanding, the builds are more complex and the population of folks working on the jobs is waning. What better way to rise to these challenges then by affording teams a way to learn more so they can work better, faster and smarter?”
Moving forward, as Touchplan continues to help improve construction efficiencies, the company hopes that the cost of construction will go down to enable two buildings to be built for the price of one in a safer, less pressurized environment. “It’s really cool to see something that started out as a flight of the imagination now being adopted by so many influencers in the industry,” Carr says. “Touchplan is solving a real need and being met with acceptance, excitement and awareness that this is the only way to move forward.”