What does a growing utility company and two of Portland, Oregon’s largest mechanical piping contractors have in common? They’re all using Quick Base apps to drive modern project management built by Quick Base Certified Expert, Lee Gilmore.
We recently sat down with Lee to talk with him about his decade-long Quick Base journey within and across three companies: Harder Mechanical, Portland General Electric (PGE), and Alliant Systems, where he is currently a project controls manager. Here’s what he had to say about being a no-code Quick Base problem-solver and innovator at all three—and the impact that has had on his career.
The construction industry is very fast-paced, involves constantly changing information, and there’s usually a lot of chaos. Coordinating information in that kind of environment can be extremely difficult. Another hurdle is that this industry is typically at least 10 years behind the curve in using any sort of tech to run business, and change can be a hard sell.
When I first came to Harder Mechanical, I worked with Jacob MacIntyre, who was in charge of scheduling and later, project management. Our first big assignment together was building an information hub for RFIs, submittals, spec sections, drawings, and purchase orders. The problem was our only tool was Excel, which made it difficult to pass information along and keep track of all the revisions—and there was constant data cleanup.
As you can imagine, we were very frustrated with the process. So, when Jacob began using Quick Base to support his work, he introduced me to it as well. Learning from and working side-by-side with Jacob was the start of my Quick Base education and career. In fact, he now works directly for Quick Base as a customer success manager.
When Jacob left for PGE, I stayed on at Harder for another two years acting as both Quick Base app builder and platform administrator. I continued to find ways to solve problems with Quick Base, often partnering with one of the IT guys who taught me a bit of programming.
One of the solutions we developed together, and in conjunction with Quick Base Solution provider MCF Technology Solutions, was a barcode pipe tracking system for big projects with tight timelines. Having to track pipes down from manufacture to delivery without it was a nightmare. Now, everything is barcoded and scanned in and out—beginning with the initial spec drawings. There’s no more guessing because the exact physical location of pipe is known at all times. The app was a real game changer in managing and coordinating these kinds of projects.
Today, there are five or six Quick Base builders on the development team at Harder and they all went to Empower [the Quick Base user conference] last year. They’re big fans. I myself have been to the past three out of four Empower conferences—and only missed one when my first child was born at the same time.
The next phase of my Quick Base journey began when Jacob pulled me into PGE. He jumped up a position and I took his old job, which like Harder, involved a lot of construction support. They hired me in the role of construction scheduler.
I think the biggest challenge in selling Quick Base to employees there was that the utility was entrenched in manual processes that had been done the same way for decades. People were uneasy about change, but with a significant number of workers nearing retirement, and Portland’s construction boom on the rise, management knew they needed to start building in that efficiency to keep pace. And Jacob and I knew that Quick Base had the potential to take the drudgery out of day-to-day tasks and make everyone’s job more enjoyable, even as they took on more work.
Right now, PGE funds approximately 125 project a year. A few of them are actually supported by Harder Mechanical and Alliant Systems, which is where I now work.
One of the first and most pressing things we tackled was a manual budget forecasting process which entailed collecting over 100 spreadsheets, compiling them into one master, and then manually crunching the data to forecast the monthly budget expenditures. What we ended up building was something like a Microsoft Project clone on top of Quick Base to aggregate all these projects and automate all the calculations. With Quick Base, we turned an atrocious task into a fast and efficient job.
I also created a Quick Base scheduling app soon after I joined PGE, which housed roughly 150 projects for one calendar year, and contained projects for up to a ten-year horizon.
Something I notice about Quick Base adoption is that once you get a few successful apps out there, people start seeing all the tremendous possibilities the platform can offer. When I started with PGE we had 20 or 30 users. Now they’re up to 400 and there’s talk that they might go enterprise with it.
What I really liked about PGE was that, through my Quick Base work there, I met many people who were curious and interested in building apps for themselves and their teams. So, I would give them access, and they would go off and build their own solutions and tools. Later we’d start grouping them together or working on bigger projects. It was really cool to be involved in fostering that kind of builder collaboration and innovation. I joke that Quick Base is kind of like catching a virus—but in a good way. We brought it with us when we joined PGE and now it’s spreading everywhere.
In a lot of ways my Quick Base experiences at Harder Mechanical and PGE were like boot camp, and it was there that I honed my Quick Base skills from both operational and people perspectives. It was also all that experience with data prep—trying to connect it and pull meaningful insights from it—that set the stage for everything to come together for me at Alliant Systems. How I got there began months earlier…
By this time in my career, I understood the construction industry pretty well and knew that a lot of the work and processes were essentially the same business to business. I thought maybe I could use my Quick Base skills, create templates, and do a little moonlighting. Not long after that, I ran into one of my old coworkers from Harder Mechanical who was now working at Alliant, which is in a similar business. He was frustrated with all the processes tied to spreadsheets, and after learning what I was planning with Quick Base said, “You gotta get in here and help make my life easier.”
I was invited to Alliant to showcase my templates, and at the same time, I also got to talk about my history with these two other companies and what I was able to do for them with Quick Base.
Like Harder and PGE, Alliant is growing very fast and has pretty much doubled its workload over the last couple years. And like the other companies, their manual processes were strangling progress in both office and field, impeding the company’s ability to grow.
There were people like the payroll specialist who every Monday morning had to print out 250 spreadsheet-based time sheets and enter them into the system by Monday afternoon. Just the sheer amount of time that takes is really hard on one person—and that was happening in a lot of places—including the field, where workers were required to manually write up daily reports that were printed out and stored in a binder that no one ever read.
I think the winning combination for Alliant was this: coming from the construction industry I really understood their pain points, and I had expertise with an online platform that could really make a difference for them. But instead of them taking on the templates and running with that, I was offered a job to build directly for them and manage their Quick Base platform. The best part is it’s a brand-new job, carved out specifically for what I do best. It’s the perfect Goldilocks analogy! I get to be creative and build from scratch, which is the fun stuff for me.
I’ve been with Alliant for about nine months now and created six major apps, most of which are being used daily to support project management and relieve the workload across HR, Accounting, IT, and even safety and materials management.
In the field, we’ve got a mobile Quick Base app now with a voice-to-text feature that makes it easier than ever to report on everything from scheduling to injuries. That information, along with automated alerts, feed directly into the dashboards of our engineers and project managers so they always know what’s going on and can quickly respond. Our field workers love the extra support and positive feedback loops that are created with Quick Base, and because of that, they are willing to put more information into the system as things get accomplished. It has really strengthened collaboration and rapport among teams.
Word has quickly spread about Quick Base at Alliant, and I’ve already got a backlog of stuff that people want me to do. They’ll come and say, “Hey, I need help with this,” and my response is, “Let’s go build a solution.” Creating good tools that people use every day and find valuable has been very rewarding for me both personally and professionally. I love what I do.
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