I had a former football coach many years ago who once told me, “Brad, you can’t coach speed.” Since he was doing more than his share of coaching of me at the time it was safe to assume that I wasn’t the object of his observation. In football you might not be able to coach speed, but in construction you sure as heck better be able to develop speed or you will be passed up by your competition. But what is the speed that we are to address here?
Speed, for many of today’s construction companies, is clearly due to the expectations of today’s customers. Consider that most customers:
- Want everything in a shorter amount of time
- With the same or better grade of quality
- And for less money
For the many construction leaders who have lived the improvements and advances in construction technology, material composition and delivery systems, the reality of seeing schedules compressed is overwhelming. General contractors have seen projects shrink 30%, 40%, even 50% or more in time allowance. Every specialty of sub-trade contractor specialist has likewise had to drive completion times to new (shorter) records or face elimination.
So how do we really increase our “speed” without sacrificing our quality or suffering greater safety losses? It’s not an easy topic to address for all people and applications. However, let us look at speed through two different forums: process and personal. While some principles might work for both forums, I’ll try to focus on what is more applicable for each forum. This article focuses on speeding up process. We’ll tackle the personal aspect of speed in another article.
Recognize the entire scope of work
As easy as this should be to do, many contractors still fall short of really seeing the entire scope of work that they will be fulfilling. This first principle is not just reviewing prints, drawings and the projected building phases but instead digging deeper to clearly see the impact of other contractors, assessing associated risk in the project, and recognizing the intangibles needed to pull off the project.
Look for potential built-in “wastes” and work you can eliminate
This principle is actually right out of the “Lean Construction” manual. “Lean” directs us to assess the seven or eight potential wastes that can hamper your project in terms of time, extra steps, same efforts being completed by multiple people, and anything that might cause us to “pay for ground twice.”
Wastes can include your purchasing more material than is needed or “over manning” a job just to be safe. Such decisions when made all lend themselves to demanding time from you and others to correct. Every effort not dedicated to your schedule does, in fact, slow you down.
Plan and prepare to do everything right the first time
Mistakes cost you time and money. Correcting a problem (no matter via poor planning or execution) can cost you upwards to three times the amount of having completed the same effort “right the first time.” Thus, the cost for an electrician to wire one wing of a building might be $15,000, if completed right the first time. However, if that same effort is found to be grossly wrong and must be completely replaced, the overall cost to correct that problem may well be closer to $45,000.
With such clear savings (and greater profits) by doing EVERYTHING right the first time, why do so many contractors still fail to spend the extra time in planning and preparation? I think the problem, in part, lies in the pressure felt to meet the tight time schedule in the first place. The sense of urgency that drives us to work faster (the need for speed) challenges our realization that planning and preparation can actually increase our speed.
Work to get all contributing parties on the same page
This principle is not new. Yet, too many contractors continue to get by with a nod and wink while all the time not fully understanding what others, before and after their own work efforts, are doing, and what the needs of others might be.
Every project you win should include an internal and external “partnering session.” The internal version of this brings every employee in your company together who will be contributing to the success of the project. Roles are clearly defined and assignments are discussed with time commitments.
The external partnering session builds on many of the same efforts but obviously focused on the many perspectives that will be working on the project in scope. Needs and expectations between contractors must be honestly identified and discussed as well as agreed to processes that will be followed when things do not go as planned.
Revisit “party commitment” throughout project life
Getting all contributing parties on the same page is a must; getting consistency from each of the contributing parties throughout the project life is where the real money is made. No matter your part of the project, always be sure that you are regularly following up on your contribution with those who work before or behind you.
Periodically assess process effectiveness and improve as needed
Dr. Ed Deming, the “Godfather of Quality” of the 20th Century, taught us his Plan-Do-Check-Act improvement process. Briefly, we should always Plan for improving processes. We are then to execute our improvements (Do). This then requires us to Check our efforts, making notes of adjustments we need to make and finally, Act on making such adjustments.
It was Deming’s contention that most work processes were “fat” and needed improvement. Mr. Deming’s observations about most companies were that process — that is, how things are completed — contributed to some 80% of our workplace problems. He found that only about 20% of workplace problems were directly the fault of people. Consider this for each construction project your company completes.
One point to remember regarding Mr. Deming’s observation: If you have an employee who makes a mistake, was the mistake the result of:
- Lack of knowledge or information about the needs of the effort?
- Lack of training or expertise to complete the effort
- A decision made by employee who willingly and knowingly chose to deviate from what is the proper action to take?
Both A and B above are process issues because education and communication are processes. However, the third possible result is a willful disregard for what is needed and expected and thus requires another process including either discipline or termination.
Require “look-ahead thinking;” reward and discipline accordingly
There is simply no excuse for any construction leader, at any level, to not think and prepare in terms of “look-ahead” thinking. There is just too much proof that planning ahead puts more time into your day and reduces the number of hurdles and speed bumps along the way. For a construction owner or senior leader not to require such thinking and practice is simply opening the door wide to mistakes, incidents and slow going…all resulting in less profit.
It doesn’t really matter whether you use a canned product (i.e. Day-Time, etc.) or software (i.e. Microsoft Project Manager, etc.) to line out your next week or weeks; the key is to use it consistently. Reward your people who consistently live by this effort and be quick to discipline those who choose not to. Build this mindset into every leader you have and watch your project success increase along with your profits.
Keep in mind that “look-ahead thinking” is not only time based, but it also considers the identification and securing of needed resources and contact information. It also works to identify needed prep calls to make prior to scheduled activities, follow-up efforts and how one effort will positively impact future efforts.
Now, there are many other process-related issues impacting the speed of our projects including the impact on new technology, moving to a new accounting system and even just the orientation involved with assimilating new employees, to name just a few more.
The bottom line in leveraging your work processes for your benefit begins by first taking an honest look at each process and then determining how best to take away any distractions or hurdles. The same philosophy is needed when we take a look at increasing the speed of our entire workforce on a personal level.