Why isn't construction improving?
One of my recent posts on LinkedIn discusses an article that pulled data and research from various sources to conclude (again), that the construction industry has seen absolutely no gain in productivity in the last several decades. None.
That’s in spite of our adoption of new technologies and new production theories. So what’s the problem? Does it point to all this technology being useless? Does it mean that Lean Construction is not the panacea that some would have us believe?
A Loss of Focus
I think that what it means is that we have lost focus. We are so wrapped up in adopting technology, and so wrapped up in our so called “lean journey,” that we don’t even remember why we started down those paths. Or maybe we were all so excited about the prospects for success that we forgot to set goals in the first place.
One of the product managers at LinkedIn introduced me to the concept of focusing on the outcome, not the solution. I think this is exactly what’s wrong with the construction industry right now. We are so focused on the solutions; adopt digital drawings, implement a digital project management solution, go on a “lean journey,” that we have progressed to the point where being successful at implementing the solution has become the goal, rather than solving any defined problem.
Focus on the Outcome - Not the Solution
We have all heard it before:
Adopt Lean Construction and everything will be okay. If things still aren’t improving its because you are doing “fake lean” or not following every single aspect of the Last Planer® correctly. Focus on the solution and it will all get better.
Adopt this construction management app and everything will be okay. If things still aren’t improving its because you are not fully utilizing the software and all of its features. Focus on implementing the solution and it will all get better.
Did you even define the desired outcome at the beginning? What is it you are trying to do? Get better? What is it you are trying to improve? Everything?
That’s too abstract. Construction needs to focus on an outcome or two, and work towards attaining those goals, instead of picking a solution or two and working towards perfecting their implementation.
So where do we start?
Eliminate Re-work and Improve Project Throughput
Re-work and downtime are hands down the biggest problems we have in construction.
Look at the negative impacts of re-work:
Safety is impacted by exposing people to hazards during the re-work, and since rework often includes demolition or removal of some sort, those hazards often far exceed the hazard exposure during the original put in place operation.
Quality is impacted when “fixes” have to be designed because the work wasn’t put in place properly the first time.
Productivity? Forget it. You are doing the same work twice (or three times). That’s the exact opposite of productivity.
Cost is certainly impacted, no matter who is bearing the hard cost, someone is paying for the re-work.
With current demands on labor and materials, re-work ultimately affects project throughput when the limited skilled labor crews that are needed to keep the project moving forward are required to drop back and do something over again.
Which brings us to project throughput:
Downtime on construction projects is out of hand – time spent waiting on people and materials has a tremendous impact on project productivity.
Some projects spend as many days with nothing happening on the project as they do with work activity occurring.
Focusing on point speed (making the trades go faster) is a waste of effort when you give all that time back in downtime on the job site.
All that downtime, days spent with no activity, impacts the costs of general conditions and increases the time spent carrying risk. It also deprives the project owner and user(s) of the ability to utilize their new facility.
Don’t Abandon the Solutions
The solutions are still important, and I believe the two solutions I have called out here are two of the best innovations we ever have seen in the industry. But the solutions themselves cannot be the focus. The focus needs to be the elimination of re-work and downtime. Adopt solutions with these goals in mind and focus on the outcomes, not the solutions.
Editor’s note: Fieldwire is proud to feature construction expert Jim Rogers on our blog. Jim has decades of experience in construction management and safety, and is an instructor for LinkedIn Learning — an online library of video courses taught by industry experts from across the globe. LinkedIn Learning is a great source for construction management education and content, and it’s included if you have a LinkedIn Premium account.
Jim enjoyed learning about Fieldwire so much that he created an online course on how to use Fieldwire to manage construction drawings and processes. He then created this blog post for our readers who are eager to learn more about QA/QC processes.