Power to the Edge: A Work Tracking System for Construction

Project Team

Nelly Garcia-Lopez, Dr. Martin Fischer, Dr. Ray Levitt


The rapid development of Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) methods during the last few years has enabled progressive construction firms to improve their productivity. However, we are still far from realizing the full benefits that VDC has to offer. This research analyzes the development of a Work Tracking System (WTS) for construction. This system manages the information flows between workers and management, allowing them to publish and get information from the system as needed. The Building Information Model (BIM) is used to visualize work being performed by linking tasks to specific BIM elements and exporting an updated task list. Mobile devices and cloud computing are leveraged to bring the information and technology to the field, where the information is needed.


Project Background

Research Motivation

Building Information Modeling (BIM) is revolutionizing the construction industry and forcing it to change its traditional work processes. Progressive companies have seen this revolution as a strategic opportunity to leverage technology to develop a competitive edge. Furthermore, according to McGraw-Hill Construction, as of 2012 more than 71% of the construction industry in North America is using BIM and seeing unprecedented improvements in productivity and positive returns on investment (Jones and Bernstein 2012). Recently, mobile apps supporting BIM-based information and processes have begun to be used on construction sites to support field operations. This research presents the development of an onsite Work Tracking System (WTS) for construction which leverages BIM, advances in cloud computing and pervasiveness of handheld devices to track task completion, and improve on site productivity.

Observed Problem

Construction control state of the art tools and methods do not provide an easy interface that allows project stakeholders to understand what the current state of the project is with respect to the plan. Schedules are management tools that are supposed to answer the question: WHO is doing WHAT, WHEN? However, currently it is impossible for project managers, superintendents and field engineers to answer this question once the project has started. What is the status of X task? Unless a problem has been detected or a milestone has not been met, managers are generally unable to report a clear task status, or they assume that everything is going well.

One of the reasons for this is that updating schedules takes an excessive amount of time using current tools and methods (Figure 1). Not only do superintendents or field engineers have to walk the site and take note of task progress to update this in the schedule, but they also need to deal with an inflexible schedule structure to modify the task order, add levels of detail or change the construction method. As a result, project schedules are always outdated, which makes it impossible for supervisors to use project management tools, such as earned value and resource planning, to optimize work sequencing, subcontractor coordination and subcontractor pay.  Because of the lack of tools, supervisors rely on their intuition to make decisions. In complex projects this might lead to suboptimal allocation of resources and increased rework.

Current process to track progress in the field and update the schedule

Figure 1: Current process to track work progress in the field and update the schedule.


However, lack of clarity in the task status as well as the prioritization of tasks is not a problem that is faced by supervisors only. Timely communication about the task scope, materials, methods and resources is critical to avoid construction rework, which leads to wasted time, materials and energy (Mourgues et al. 2008, 2012). With the emergence of mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, we should be able to quickly and effectively establish a two-way communication between workers and supervisors (Saidi et al. 2002).

Research Objectives

To develop a system that manages the information flows between the different stackeholders at a construction jobsite to support better communication about task scope, progress, and completion. 

Research Method

This research was divided into two parts. The first part consisted of undersanding the information requirements from the different stakeholders at a construction jobsite. To achieve this, we carried out twenty unstructured interviews with project managers, superintendents, project engineers, foremen, subcontractors, and field workers at three construction sites, We inquired about what information was required by them to perform their job, and what information they had readily available or had to produce as part of their job. Based on the responses, we were able to understand the information flows that are shared by different stackeholders.

The second part of the research consisted on developing the prototype for the Work Tracking System. This was achieved by determining the core features of the prototype based on field observation of the Solar Decathlon Project, defining the system architecture, and implementing the prototype. The prototype was developed and tested based on expert feedback. 

Research Tasks

Part 1

We were able to understand what information the different stakeholders want to have access to (GET), and what information they can make available to the system (PUBLISH) (Figure 2). We noticed that we could match the information flows that users wanted to get from the system with information flows that a different user could publish into the system. For example, workers can report task completion and issues, which can be formatted into a report suitable for the Project Manager, who wants a summarized report of the subcontractor progress and issues.

Information flows at the jobsite

Figure 2: Analysis of the information flows for the different stakeholders at a construction site.

Based on the analysis of the stakeholder flows, we developed some idealized reports that would present the stakeholders with the information that they needed. Figure 3 shows the idealized view developed for the superitendent. 

Superintendent idealized information view.

Figure 3: Idealized view showing the information needed by the superintendent.

Part 2

The core features of the Work Tracking System were determined by seeking expert feedback as well as field observations of the Stanford Solar Decathlon Project (2012). The following features were chosen:

1. Task status dashboard showing: Task status, Task assignment (crews/specific people), BIM element/Location, Planned Start, Planned Finish, Actual Start, Actual Finish

2. Ability to create/update tasks

3. Visualization of the work being performed

Based on these core features, we developed the web application prototype. Figure 4 shows a flowchart of the Work Tracking System showing its integration with Revit, Navisworks, and Asana. Figure 5 shows the dashboard of the web applcation that we developed.
WTS flowchart
Figure 4: Work Tracking System flowchart.
WTS dashboard
Figure 5: WTS dashboard showing the task status summary and the task dashboard. 


The Work Tracking System prototype was validated by seeking the feedback of a project manager, superintendent, foreman, and workers in a mid-rise residential project. Figure 6 summarizes the feedback received from each of the project participants. 

WTS results
Figure 6: Table summarizing the feedback received from the Project Manager, Superintendent, Foreman, and Worker at a mid-rise residential project.


The Work Tracking System was able to:

1. Manage information flows related to work tracking between stakeholders

2. Reduces information latency

3. Help set work priorities

Limitations and Future Work

Practical gaps identified:

  • Need to set better information filters for each stakeholder
  • Need to manage information at different levels of detail
  • Namespace creation, which links the tasks with BIM elements, is burdensome and time consuming

Theoretical gaps identified:

  • Current scheduling practices do not support meaningful data collection
  • Master schedules are not connected with production schedules
  • Superintendents and foreman depend on intuition to assess work progress
  •  A static namespace does not allow field managers to replan easily

Research Proposal, Papers, and Presentations

CIFE Seed Proposal 2012-2013

Conference publication

Other documents

Last modified Tue, 15 Aug, 2017 at 10:39