The Contractor’s Best Friend /06-19-2013/Lean Construction #2: 10 Tips to Solving the Waiting Game

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In our series entitled “Lean Construction” we are learning about the Seven Wastes – and how to avoid them. The Wastes represent those activities that are costing contractors time, quality, productivity, and most importantly…profitability!

Last week we took a close look at Waste #1, Overproduction. In this article I want to address Waste #2, Waiting, which virtually every contractor experiences several times every week, if not every day.

Is there a Waste that is experienced by more contractors than the Waste of Waiting? Just consider some of the things a contractor might spend time waiting on:

-         Crew members showing up to work on time

-         Crew members showing up to a job site on time

-         Concrete crew waiting on a material truck so they can pour and finish a concrete slab

-         Crew waiting on crane operator to move needed equipment or resources

-         Contractor waiting on a customer to show up and discuss their needs

-         Project manager waiting on architect to finish drawings

-         Superintendent waiting on another contractor to show up at job site

-         Material plant manager waiting on contractors to place order

While there are always good reasons that an individual or crew might need to wait, our focus on waiting is purely directed at those wasted minutes and hours spent waiting due to a breakdown in communication or planning. Can any contractor eliminate all of their Waiting contributors? Of course not! But we can greatly reduce the actual time spent Waiting by workers in our organization.

Let’s consider a few causes for Waiting experienced by many contractors and their people.

  • Little to no planning
  • Poor or no communication
  • Misunderstanding about need, intent, or expectation
  • To many people “assume”
  • Apathetic or low-motivated workers
  • Little to no accountability
  • Poorly trained workers
  • Forgetful or poorly focused workers

I’m sure that there are another hundred or so causes but I think you get the idea. But here’s the key to keep in mind: such Waiting is costing you money. In some cases, lots of Waiting!

So, how can you overcome the waste of Waiting? Let’s consider 10 proven solutions that you can incorporate immediately.

  1. Deliver instructions with greater clarity as to who is doing: What? When? Why? And Where?
  2. After providing instruction, direction or making a request…ask the “receiver” what she heard from you.
  3. When placing a request or order to another person or organization over the phone…ask that individual to confirm what he understood.
  4. If you are dealing with a “repeat waster” be sure to remind the person of your instruction or request and have him repeat back to you the same.
  5. If placing request or order well in advance, follow-up with an e-mail, fax or written note with a confirmation.
  6. When training be sure to always perform a “watch-do” where the learner watches a demonstration and then performs the same task herself with a watchful teacher looking on.
  7. Plan your projects, tasks and assignments to the level of understanding and competency of the people charged with executing them.
  8. Be aware of the level of focus and motivation in your own workers and prepare to take action that might refocus their attention or put a little fire under their attitude. If this fails, consider discipline or separation.
  9. Be sensitive to the level of focus or motivation of suppliers, other contractors or customers and expend additional energy and communication to clarify and confirm.
  10. Live by the motto, “When in doubt…repeat!” Never ASSUME people get it the first time or that a nod of the head means they understand. “Yes!” doesn’t always mean, “I understand.”

Waiting is a great profit-robber for contractors of all sizes. Contractors are not overreacting or micro-managing because they want to ensure clarity and see that things get done the right way the first time!

We won’t waste any time tackling our next Waste: Motion. Look for Motion insights and 8 tested steps to help you reduce Waste from Motion next week.

Brad Humphrey  

© 2013 Brad Humphrey, Pinnacle Development Group/The Contractor’s Best Friend™