Behind the Build: Interview with Krystal Burton, Manager, Project Coordination at Kraus-Anderson Construction Company

Consistent processes and tools are vital, especially if you're a national company that handles multiple projects nationwide and has team members across various states.

Kraus-Anderson Construction Company (KA) is a prime example of a firm that has mastered the art of streamlining operations and communication despite geographical challenges. KA provides construction services from coast to coast and works closely with stakeholders—including owners and architects—to ensure every project succeeds even before breaking ground. 

To gain insights into how KA accomplishes this, we caught up with Krystal Burton, Project Coordination Manager at Kraus-Anderson. In our conversation, we touched on Krystal's journey at KA and discussed how the firm uses technology to deliver top-notch projects across the country. 

Tell me a little bit about Kraus Anderson and what you specialize in.

Kraus Anderson is a 126-year-old company, and it is family-owned. It's now on their family's third generation of ownership and leadership. It's pretty amazing. 

I’ve been working here for almost 19 years, so I've been around for a little while and have seen many of the changes that have happened throughout that. I had started really young with going to nursing school and decided I needed a full-time job to support my way through that. I stumbled across a job at  KA, and I liked it so much because construction was so much more than what I thought it was. 

I worked my way up now to being the manager of our project coordinator team. There are 20+ people that I oversee here in our HQ office, and I have direct ties to our outer/satellite offices. We have one in Arizona now, as well as Milwaukee, Madison, Wisconsin, Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota, Duluth, Bemidji, and Rochester, Minnesota. 

So, I will often travel to those locations and help with any training or oversight that needs to happen there, too.

Walk us through your career and what led you to becoming Manager, Project Coordination.

As I mentioned, I started off wanting to go to nursing school and then fell in love with construction. 

Back in the day, I had a little bit of a desire to go the project manager career path, but at the time, there was a heavy emphasis on resume-based hiring. So KA would get hired based on a resume, and owners were looking for people with college educations. That was the thing back then. That steered me away because I wanted to stay in construction, but I didn't want to go back to school and get a degree that just proved I knew what I already knew.

So, I stayed on the project coordinator path. Luckily for us in our organization, our project coordinator roles are pretty robust and heavily integrated into our projects. 

I got an opportunity to move into a management role and to further what I've learned about best practices and disseminating info to the other project coordinators. Even though it's not in my title to help or train project managers, a lot of what I do is directly tied to them. I also enjoy helping project managers on the software side.  

What is your proudest accomplishment in your career at Kraus Anderson? Why?

There's not this one big moment where it's like, "Oh my gosh, I am so proud of that." 

But these little things have come up that remind me of why I do what I do. One example for me is when I was working on a $50 million school project and stumbled across an incorrect product installed on the building. And for whatever reason, I'm known for just this crazy memory of recalling the most ridiculous things, and it piqued my interest. 

I said, "Yeah, I don't think that's right. That's not what got submitted." And I went back and realized it. We uncovered and corrected this significant substitution of a non-equivalent product that was not as specified. So we brought it to the owner, and they personally thanked me for catching something that many people overlook. So that's one of those really interesting moments.

But many of the smaller ones are around my work with different clients. I always say, "I do it for the clients," which keeps me going. It's always an interesting situation where you end up working with another design team or another client that you've worked with in the past, and they see your name come across the email, and they reply and say, "Oh my gosh, it's so good to see your name on this project. We're so glad to have you back." 

Or they've worked with you in the past, and your work ethic resonates with them to the point where they're grateful to see that they're working with you again. 

That is what keeps me doing what I do. I appreciate those team members who are grateful to see your name come across again.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? How does technology help you overcome those challenges?

Technology makes things easy for us when we're in 10 different locations or using old software. With the right tools, we don't have to navigate ten different locations. We're in a massive transition phase in our organization right now, too. We're in the process of streamlining our technology platforms, and Autodesk Construction Cloud is helping us create a one-stop shop for our data. 

So what we do with Autodesk Construction Cloud and Autodesk—along with where we want the product to go— definitely helps us overcome certain challenges because we can provide feedback to build out what is needed in the industry.

Also, minimizing duplication work is a big thing for us. The other challenges while going through the tech environment are working offline and syncing data in a remote area. The Autodesk platform allows us to do that. 

Beyond that, there's the people aspect of embracing change. KA is no stranger to that; we've gone through a lot throughout the years. The good news is that we're able to keep a positive mentality of, "This change is for the better, and this is going to solve a lot of problems long-term."

Of course, new software always comes with implementing and changing things. So internally, we do a best practice monthly meeting where we'll go over all the changes that have happened with utilizing the software.

What is the largest and most complex project you are using Autodesk Construction Cloud on at the moment?

We currently have over 203 projects in Autodesk Construction Cloud, and we rolled it out around March of 2023. 

So that tells you the volume of projects we do and what we use the platform for. The project sizes vary greatly, ranging from our special projects group, which does anything from a few thousand dollars, to a current project of $92 million. We do a variety of project sizes, and like I said, we're in that transition phase.

So this is just new projects forward from March of '23. We have quite a few projects over that $92 million in our old software that we just decided not to convert midstream, but it wouldn't be atypical for us too to have a project of upwards of $250 million in one Autodesk project. 

That being said, I think the most complex project in Autodesk Construction Cloud isn’t really a project. It is the depth and breadth of the tool itself and how we are able to utilize all of the modules. Each project is unique, like all construction projects, but leveraging the system as a whole is really the critical next step for us as an organization. Specifically, what do we want to convert, and what is the process, timeline, and value of making that conversation. Our focus is always having one source of truth when it comes to data and “Are we making our customers' and stakeholders' lives easier when we implement new tools?"

Right now, we are figuring out how it all works and what makes sense, so when we hire a third party to come in and connect, we have an idea of what we're looking at. 

The goal would be to have all our stuff within the Autodesk Construction Cloud platform, and we don't have to go to our ERP system to do anything outside of it. It's a massive undertaking for a company with around 400 plus projects a year, but we're looking forward to it. 

How has partnering with Autodesk helped make your projects more successful?

Having a partnership with Autodesk that lets us provide feedback for enhancements and hearing our requests has made the program much more useful. If we reflect on where we were in March, there were several instances where we said, "Well, it'd be nice if it could do this." 

And here we are, not even a year later, and pretty much everything we've asked has been implemented throughout that process. 

Plus, like I said, it's beneficial to have a one-stop shop for all of our data so that we can go to one location to access everything we need.

In addition, having a collaborative environment for all of our stakeholders and having all our design team members on Autodesk Construction Cloud has made Excel and Word less common. We still see a lot of design teams who will come out and punch it out and put it in Excel or Word to where now we'll just say, "Here, take my tablet." Or if they have a tablet, they can walk the building and punch it right on their device, and it's very integrated. From there, we assign it out and track it so that we're not taking data from Microsoft and implementing it into the system. It's already there. 

The design team members love it, too, because they always have the latest and greatest drawings at their fingertips. They don't have to go back and figure out where it is and what changed. They can see that in real-time.

Then, from our field aspect, there are no delays, bottlenecks, or pinch points in getting the data to the field system anymore. It's all done in real-time. And so, the only thing you have to know is when you last synced the data. And they click the button, they sync it, and so it's beneficial for that. 

The team can also mark up the drawings. We don't do a ton of hard-copy as-built drawings now. We can download those exported PDFs and turn them over, and away we go.  

Thanks to Autodesk Construction Cloud and the power of the forms module, every project has these forms for our field staff, and they carry to every job via the template. It's been helpful for them to go on and not have to ask for anything because everything is already there.

When you think about the future, what are your plans to advance innovation and productivity at Kraus Anderson?

I love anything that helps us do our work more effectively and efficiently. We're becoming a national contractor, and having a consistent platform like Autodesk Construction Cloud is super beneficial for us. 

Because as we bring on new people and we have to implement and do training when they're not in the same building, it's incredibly beneficial for us just to go in and talk the same language. We have these templates set up; they don't have to finagle around and figure out where to find a document or how to do a submittal. It's all there, and it's all the same. We're speaking the same language, and we're doing the same processes. 

That helps us be more productive. For instance, we have an employee down in Madison working on a project for us up here in Minnesota. And if the staffing needs help, everybody knows and does the same thing. So anyone can quickly jump in and work through the motions, and they don't have to be in the same geographical location.

Another thing for productivity is moving into that cost management solution. It'll be great just to have one easy-to-access platform. We're hoping this will happen next year, and we're super excited to be moving in that direction.

What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women entering and preparing for the future of the industry?

Change is imminent. You're always going to have it. And embracing change will help people succeed. If you can get in front of change, it will become easier to adapt.

So whenever I've felt myself getting nervous about change, it's because I don't know enough about the process of what we're investing in or what we're looking at. But if I'm part of that process and see its benefits, I can help bring that message out to everybody else about how much it will make our lives easier. 

Some people look at change and say, "Oh gosh, here we are. We’ve got to learn something new." I take a different approach: "Oh my gosh, how exciting. It's going to make our lives so much better."

Kelsee Campbell

As a Senior Customer Advocacy Program Manager at Autodesk, Kelsee has the privilege of working with Autodesk customers to champion their stories on the Digital Builder Blog. Kelsee strives to create an engaging experience that amplifies customer perspectives, fostering a sense of community and connection.