Q&A with PlanGrid CEO Tracy Young on tackling productivity

Drive-thru:

  • In 2012, Tracy Young co-founded productivity software PlanGrid to offer solutions to one of the construction industry’s biggest problems: inefficient sharing of documents.
  • According to Young, the goal of the system is to help construction companies, many of which are facing worker shortages, do more with less.
  • With a greater general investment in building these days, more and more construction companies are embracing technology.

Tracy Young has wanted to be a builder ever since she was a child. She began her construction career as a project engineer. A few years later, however, her love of building took her in a new direction.

In 2012, she co-founded PlanGrid, a construction productivity software that is aiming to solve one of the construction industry’s greatest problems.

“The inefficiencies of construction are apparent to anyone in the industry,” says Young, who also serves as PlanGrid’s CEO. “The industry is fragmented and isn’t really incentivized to work together nicely. Of course, we want to get the job done, but we’re more incentivized to get just our own portion of the job done. If there are any changes in the schedule or specifications or documentation, that is the opportunity to raise your hand and get a change order.”

Young continued, “You hear about delays in schedule and going over budget, and this [siloing of tasks is] part of the reason. To exacerbate the problem, distribution and sharing of information across all these different parties is incredibly hard especially when it’s through paper, which is still sort of status quo of how the industry operates.”

‘The industry is fragmented and isn’t really incentivized to work together nicely.’ – Tracy Young, PlanGrid CEO

Currently, PlanGrid works in nearly 80 countries with companies of all sizes. Young, who has a degree in Construction Engineering Management from California State University-Sacramento, says discussing productivity issues in the industry isn’t about pointing out what companies are doing wrong. Instead, it’s about helping businesses—many of which are understaffed—do more with less.

FUEL had the chance to chat with Young recently about the issue of productivity and how the construction industry is adapting to new technology.

FUEL: How does a system like PlanGrid help boost productivity in the construction industry?

Tracy Young: It gets everyone on the same page. Submittals, our product that launched in January, is a good example.

You can’t purchase any materials without an approved submittal. One of the first things when starting a new project is you have to sit down with the specifications, all however many sheets, flip through each page and then manually type in what we call the submittal register: the running list of stuff we need to send in to the design team.

With PlanGrid, you can just drag and drop your specifications into the system, and our technology can extract a submittal register for our customer base within minutes. You can then import that over to our submittals tracking and start creating packages that will create the workflow and send to the right people.

FUEL: Who is the PlanGrid system designed for?

TY: This is probably where we’re highly differentiated. From day one, we always wanted to build software for construction field workers. Of course, our software is being used by the VP of operations, project executives, and project managers. But the people that seem to have been underserved by software until very recently are the builders themselves: the electricians, the carpenters. That is who we love writing software for. If we can help them be a little more productive, then we help everyone be more productive—and, essentially, help the industry.

'We've got more investment but fewer people to build. The only way to make up for this is to be more efficient and effective.' - Tracy Young, PlanGrid CEO Click To Tweet

FUEL: How do you see the industry responding to new technology?

TY: It has changed a lot in the last few years. I would say the industry is thinking heavily about technology, and we have a massive labor shortage. We are retiring fieldworkers and construction leadership faster than we’re training them up. Concurrently, investment in construction is growing because of our deteriorating infrastructure and our growing population, and because of how the world is changing. The infrastructure is changing, as well. By default, we need to build more to keep up with everything that’s happening.

So, we’ve got more investment but fewer people to build. The only way to make up for this is to be more efficient and effective with the time that we spend in the field. Everyone is thinking heavily about productivity right now. We’ve been around for six years. Our early customers were definitely thinking about technology, but I’d say the demand for it is higher than it was 10 years ago.

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