Reduce Unnecessary Motion in Your Construction Business to Become More Lean

Wasted motion eats up time, quality attitudes and bodies

Reduce the amount of extra motion so that you and your workers can be better, faster and more profitable performers.
Reduce the amount of extra motion so that you and your workers can be better, faster and more profitable performers.

We actually have the masonry industry to thank for this example of waste. Not that they are makers of waste…in fact, just the opposite.

Masons have long discovered a great reduction of waste can be found in their reducing the amount of motion they practice while actually laying bricks, stone or block. And they have Frank Gilbreth to thank for changing their industry and making masons a very lucrative specialty in construction. Here’s what Gilbreth uncovered:

Being a “motion efficiency expert,” Frank Gilbreth observed waste in the workplace when he observed masons bent over to pick up bricks from the ground. The bricklayer was therefore lowering and raising his entire upper body to pick up a five-pound brick hundreds of times a day…wasting both time and wearing out his back.

This inefficiency had actually been built into the job through long traditional practice. In other words, up to this discovery no mason had ever questioned the work process because “that’s how his daddy did it and that’s how his daddy did it.” The introduction of a non-stooping scaffold which delivered the bricks at waist level allowed masons to work about three times as quickly and with less effort.

Consider the examples of motion in your own company that are really a waste of effort when you look at through “lean” eyes

  • Your crew parks the tool truck too far from the jobsite when they could park closer
  • Making “call-backs” a normal and accepted routine when the crews are not correcting their poor performance the first time
  • Having more than one estimator working on the same exact bid proposal and then merging the best of both efforts
  • Demanding that field crews remove extra material, broken tools, tools, etc., immediately to return the same items to a different location rather than let them bundle and take more than one item at a time
  • Sending a worker back to your shop or yard for every little item forgotten rather than double checking in advance what is needed on the job and taking everything needed on the trucks

Extra motion might be accepted initially from even the poorest of attitude workers, but even the lazy employees will tire eventually of having to walk extra distances just because we’re not good at planning or simplifying the process of completing work. Wasted motion eats up time, quality attitudes and bodies.

Let’s consider a few efforts to reduce the amount of extra motion so that you and your workers can be better performers, faster performers and more profitable performers.

  1. Create a map that identifies where everything is stored in your yard or shop area.
  2. Post direction signs and arrows in your yard to keep all traffic going in the same direction.
  3. Look for ways to place your workers’ tools and equipment as close to their outstretched hands as possible to cut down on the amount of physical walking required.
  4. For office tasks examine how work tasks are completed. Look for ways to shorten distances, to reduce the number of steps in the process and to clarify task procedures.
  5. Consider making GPS a vehicle tool.
  6. Provide proper skill and technique training to new employees; limit your trainers to as few a number as possible.
  7. Educate your work crews to visually layout their jobsites with close proximity of tools and equipment so that the back and forth looking and retrieving is kept to a minimum of time.
  8. Video your workers performing their work and break down their approach looking for any wasted motion they could reduce or eliminate.

Again, there cannot be any sacred cows when it comes to eliminating any waste of motion. How a task is performed should always be open for improvement. And don't be too quick to blame this waste on older workers. I’ve personally seen more than a few older and wiser workers who were the first to spot the advantages of shorting their reach, their walk or easing stress in their back.

We may not always be able to influence the amount of waiting that can be thrust on us by others. However, we can definitely reduce the amount of waste that results from our own motion efforts. Identifying a better motion is to look for opportunities to reduce space or distance, reduce repetitive efforts and increase productive performance for people who hate wasting time or extra motion.