From Paper to PlanGrid: How One Engineering Firm Adjusted Their Technology Strategy During COVID

plangrid covid

Two words that describe innovators across the entire architecture, engineering, and construction industry this year? Grit and determination. They’ve adjusted projects and adapted methods on the fly to keep things moving. 2020 has required a significant shift in how these innovators leverage technology.

Pierre-André Trudel, Mechanical Engineer/BIM Director, EXP, explains what motivated his firm to adopt a new technology strategy, “When COVID hit, the biggest thing that changed well, of course, everybody's started working from home. We're about 3,500 staff across Canada and the US. So all of a sudden, we don't have a plotter anymore. You cannot print drawings, and in a paper-based workflow, that’s very disruptive.”

Trudel will be sharing his team’s journey during his session, Engineers Implementing PlanGrid, and Going Through Remote Work, at Autodesk University (AU) (November 17–20). This session will give you a closer look at how firms can adapt deployment and management strategies during unforeseen circumstances like the pandemic. Get all the valuable insights from Trudel and hundreds of other innovators by registering for AU 2020. This year’s conference is all free and all virtual, requiring only advance registration for access.

We were fortunate enough to catch up with Trudel before his session at AU. Below, you’ll find the highlights from our conversation and a sneak peek of what you can look forward to during his session at AU.

Before COVID: Paper-Dependent Processes

Trudel entered the design engineering world a decade ago and is the Mechanical Engineer/BIM Director for EXP, an engineering, architecture, design, and consulting firm in Canada and the United States. He got into BIM- and CAD-related technologies about five years ago because he wanted to understand the entire BIM ecosystem. Trudel explains why that understanding was so crucial to his role, “It’s critical to understand what's going on after your design, when you get into the construction phase of the project and to make sure you work hand-in-hand with your general contractor or the different trades in the job.”

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Trudel and his team were slowly rolling software under a push workflow for large-scale projects. Some workers were still reliant on paper processes, so Trudel had to manage a hybrid paper and digital workflow. However, things were about to change for Trudel, EXP, and the industry as a whole.

EXP has 3,500 employees across Canada and the United States, all of whom began working from home once the pandemic began. This change presented challenges for the team as they had no plotter, and the paper-based workflow was no longer effective. Trudel explains how this challenge led to a greater interest in technology solutions, “All of a sudden people were asking for PlanGrid. It went from being this sort of push workflow to being much more of a pull workflow where users started to ask us, ‘Hey, what can you do for us now?’”

Facing New Challenges Head On as User Adoption Increases

As Trudel and his team adopted a pull workflow, they encountered new opportunities to overcome resistance and make widespread adoption of these solutions a reality.

Utilizing Technology for Small Projects

Small projects presented an opportunity for his team to become efficient in planning. Small projects were often made up of only one to three sheets. The team worried about spending as much time setting up the project in PlanGrid as they would have by using manual processes. However, with the move to remote work, they overcame change resistance and increased efficiency. Trudel shares how they addressed this challenge, “We had to be creative in the way we set up our jobs and prepare our teams in PlanGrid so that they could very easily and quickly upload drawings and be on their way to a jobsite without any waste of time.”

Overcoming Bottlenecks in Centralization 

Once EXP’s documentation became more centralized, it caused a few challenges in user management, including licensing, creating projects, and related workflows. Trudel needed to make sure additional bottlenecks were not created by relying on a single person to create projects, assign licenses, or take care of other specialized tasks. Trudel explains how this misstep could result in productivity loss, “If that person becomes a bottleneck that prevents Bob from going on-site, it's a big failure. So you need to centralize your workflow, but without creating bottlenecks and to make sure that you've streamlined the added value processes.”

Replacing Coffee Machine Chats

So many big ideas occur in the breakroom. EXP is no exception, and Trudel knew that his team needed to find a way to replace the inspiration often taken in through spontaneous in-person conversations. They could no longer check in on users in the office to help them use the technology to its fullest potential. Today, Trudel and his team are “actively calling upon people, using consoles and other tools provided by Autodesk to determine who’s actively using (and not using) the technology.” They’ve made it a priority to approach employees in a proactive way to train and improve the way they use the technology.

Training and Champions: Layered Approach Leads to Success for EXP

Trudel shared with us that before the pandemic, creating training videos was a labor-intensive task. The shift to remote work has simplified the process with employees simply recording meetings and breaking them apart into segments. Creating separate, bite-sized training videos on different topics keeps things accessible and engaging. Team members can jump to video clips that outline key tasks such as uploading sheets to PlanGrid.

Trudel’s team takes a layered approach to training.

“First, people watch the videos, and then we follow up with them and make sure we help them set up their first project and just push that workflow a little. And just getting over that hump, this phone call, just human touch. And it makes a huge difference.”

Additionally, leaning into champion users has helped Trudel increase adoption and credibility. Users respond more favorably to positive feedback and encouragement from their colleagues who are in the trenches doing the work. “The discussion with our power users or champions got us to iron out our workflows and yielded a very good workflow that is tailored to our specific needs,” explains Trudel. Trudel also emphasizes the importance of working closely with production to ensure that the software works for all parties and can be implemented effectively.

No Matter Where They Are, Teams Need a Single Source of Truth

EXP’s move to a remote workforce for the pandemic has proven to the firm that working from home can be a successful business model. This shift has helped to overcome fears that remote work would negatively affect productivity, engagement, and overall output quality.

“With PlanGrid, it’s about having a decentralized team where your physical location doesn't matter anymore. Cloud-based technology allows people on the project to have access to the right information all the time,” says Trudel.

Instead of searching for documents and losing time, employees can reference a single source of truth. No need to hunt down the latest version of a PDF or sort through email threads to find the information you’re looking for. As Trudel puts it, “This is where it's at. And that is a huge gain and benefit that will stay hopefully for a long time. I don't see this going away.”

Learn How Your Peers Are Thriving in the New Normal

Cloud-based technology and remote workforces are certainly here to stay. How are you adapting to new ways of working? For ideas on how to ensure your team is getting the most out of your technology solutions, join us at Autodesk University! You’ll learn lots more from Pierre-Andre Trudel and other leaders in the industry.


Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.