Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A culture for high productivity

To achieve higher productivity it is essential that the organization leadership develop and maintain a culture of high productivity in how projects are planned and executed.

For construction safety is has been proven that it is essential that company and project leadership be committed to eliminating accidents and achieving a zero-accident environment. In a clearly defined safety culture reinforced with effective proven Best Practices, training, planning and clear accountability many companies have signficantly reduced accidents on their projects.

The same is true for improving construction labor productivity. When leadership is committed to improving productivity and reinforce that with implement Best Practices for planning and implementing projects then it is possible to achieve improvement.

The culture which results in improved labor productivity would include:

Commitment of company resources to
Implementing Best Practices for quality front-end engineering
Effective planning of all phases
Lessons learned and continuous improvement across projects
Supply Chain management and materials management
Right tools and equipment
Effective collaborative team building and communications

Monday, May 25, 2009


In studies of labor productivity on project sites, Dr. Randolph Thomas, Professor, Penn State University, has identified project housekeeping (cleanliness, orderliness) as a direct factor in determining labor productivity.

Cluttered projects have low productivity. When job sites are cluttered and disorganized, workers have to work around the clutter and waste time searching for missing components

To make it possible for all workers on your projects, simply clean up the project and keep it clean.

Contractors need to provide adequate facilities for disposing of trash efficiently and to provide appropriate general project cleaning. Another important element is to have clear expectations of workers and enforce the rules. Orderliness includes keeping an appropriate level of materials on-site and keeping them organized and located conveniently. Tools and equipment should also be stored properly and located near the work sites.

Workers should be expected to place trash and debris in proper receptacles, keep scrap lumber orderly and free of nails, keeping their work areas clean and return tools and unused materials to the appropriate places.

Storage and work areas that will be muddy should be improved using fill, gravel, plywood or planks. Stairs and emergency exits should be kept open at all times.

Clean and orderly projects will also promote good safety practices and reduce the risk of accidents and injuries.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Productivity Improvement Resources

There have been many studies and reports on improving construction productivity.
One of the leading experts is James J. Adrian of Bradley University

His books are recommended as excellent resources:

This book shows you how to recover lost time and money and increase job profits.
160 pages

Authoritative book on measuring and improving construction productivity.

He also has a newsletter, self study guides and other resources in addition to consulting services.

Earned Value Reporting --- advanced

To improve productivity, you need to know how you are doing so you can confirm that you are improving.

Most contractor cost reporting systems report the quantity completed and how much has been spent.

These reports are very sufficient for tracking individual cost accounts. Knowing how many cubic yards of concrete have been poured and the labor $'s spent on that account is useful for idenifying issues and taking corrective action.

The only problem with quantity reporting is that it is difficult to summarize the results from many cost accounts and look at parts of the project or trends over many accounts. For example, CY of concrete and Tons of steel cannot be summarized

To be able to summarize, the recommended approach is to convert the quantity (CY, Tons, etc) to the "Earned Value" of the quantity completed. Earned Value can be reported in labor hours, labor cost($) or total cost ($). The Earned Value of a quantity is the "value" assigned to it in the cost estimate. If a cubic yard of concrete was estimated at 5 hours/CY then each CY of concrete has a value of 5 hours.

Earned Value = quantity completed x Estimated Unit rate

an alternate calculation of Earned Value is based on the % complete

Earned Value = Total Estimated Cost x % complete

When all quantities are converted to the same "value" then they can easily be summarized and reported.

On the chart above, there are three values plotted
Planned = the estimated value based on the cost estimate and the schedule
Earned = the quantity completed to date converted to Earned Value
Actual = the actual cost spent to date.

Comparing Earned and Planned is a measure of schedule progress (ahead/behind schdule)

Earned < Planned = behind schedule

Comparing Earned and Actual Values is a measure of cost performance (over/under budget)

Also, the ratio of Actual and Earned Values is a reliable productivity index

Actual/Earned > 1.0 Low productivity (spent more than earned)

Actual/Earned = 1.0 Actual productivity = estimate

Actual/Earned < 1.0 High productivity (earned more than spent)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Assemble a kit of parts --- advanced

Building construction projects requires putting together a lot of parts.

One of the time wasters in the field is having skilled craftsmen spending time looking for the right parts, dealing with missing parts, waiting for parts, etc.

The proven solution to parts management is kits. Assembling all of the parts needed into a single reliable "kit of parts" that includes all that is required. Kits should include everyting required including hardware, adhesives, lubricants, etc.

The objective should be to have the craftsman focus on the installation with little or no effort required searching for the right parts.

Kits can be assembled off-site in central locations that are set up and have the right resources for assembling kits for many projects. In this way, the minimum labor is required since the kits are assembled efficiently and the workers in the field are also productive.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Avoid extended overtime -- basic

The impact of extended overtime on construction productivity has been studied for over a 40 years. The results of many studies have been consistent, there is a direct negative impact of extended overtime (over 40 hours for more than 2 weeks). There can and are debates to how much impact there will be, but there isn't much argument that extended overtime reduces productivity.

Extended overtime has a multi-pronged impact on the hours required: 1.) Worker fatigue is obvious for most people who have performed physical labor 2.) Outpacing of support services. Basically, since the workers are working more each week, there is a requirement for more planning, engineering support, materials delivery, etc. Many contractors do not increase support, only extend the hours. 3.) Increase accidents and injuries which disrupt crews and site productivity. 4.) Increased absenteeism and turnover. Many workers eventually start taking days off for rest or personal business or persue other work with less demanding hours.

It has been shown that some of the effect of extended overtime can be avoided by creative front-end planning and increased supervision. Many "turnarounds" are successfully completed because they have thorough hour-by-hour planning of the work, extensive support for engineering, materials, tools, equipment, etc and additional supervision during critical times.

The easiest way to avoid extended overtime is to force managers to consider all the other options before they use overtime. In many cases, extended overtime is the first and easiest solution to solve a schedule problem. It has been shown that requiring the consideration of other options is a successful approach to reducing and eliminating extended overtime. The easiest approach is the establishment of a company policy of "no extended overtime" without the president's approval --- this is usually enough of a deterrent that most people will be creative before they will ask for approval

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tight but Realistic Targets -- Basic

Some construction managers believe that you can motivate construction supervisors and workers by giving them "stretch" goals ---- targets for doing the work for reduced budgets or schedules which have never been achieved.

The proven approach to establishing targets for construction are based on the concept of "tight but realistic"

Construction people like challenges, so having a "tight" target is a good approach, but the target needs to be "realistic" also. Targets need to be achievable with a little extra effort, but never unachievable. If it's never been done before it probably isn't achievable.

With an impossible target, studies have shown that people give up trying and the result is worse than the typical results.

With targets which are to easy to achieve, people relax and meet the target spending more hours and time than needed.

So the best approach is to use "tight but realistic" targets.

By the way, it is possible to do things that have never been achieved....but these take a special initiative with extra planning and approaches...you don't get the unachievable by just setting it as a target