A look at one of the disorganization problems of the construction industry.
In 2006, a little-known movie entitled Idiocracy was released. The story starts in our present time, where an American soldier is ordered to be cryogenically frozen for one year. He is selected because all tests suggest he is an average Joe. After being frozen, he is forgotten for almost 500 years.
He is awakened to find that America has become a dystopian society and after some testing, it is discovered he is now the smartest man alive. The narrator explains that over the last several generations, the less educated tend to have lots of intimate relations, which resulted in more and more offspring just like them. On the other side, intelligent people tended to be reserved and had very few offspring. It was kind of a Darwin theory of evolution in reverse.
This future is all about extreme commercialism, blended with anti-intellectualism led by a uniformly moronic society. Citizens adopt names that represent corporate products (even the President of the United States is named after Mountain Dew). A lawyer assigned to represent our hero is named Frito after the infamous corn chips. The movie is filled with cultural references, exhibiting how ridiculous things have gotten.
For example, Frito comments, “Yeah, I know this place pretty good, I went to law school here.”
Our hero replies, “Costco?”
Frito says, “I couldn’t believe it myself. Luckily my dad is an alumnus and pulled some strings.”
It is the kind of movie that makes you laugh; it seems so far-fetched that there is no way this could happen. Then something happens and I am reminded of this movie and can’t decide, should I laugh or cry?
Construction projects today seem to be running on a pattern of extreme disorganization and poor management: trade stacking, poor scheduling, lack of production and waste at every corner and in every trade. The result is even slowing production rates and ever-climbing costs.
The idiotic part is that instead of solving the real problem, we seem to be intent on ignoring important issues and focus on inventing new delivery systems. We are painfully aware of the problem: the Labor Dept. puts out study after study proving production keeps falling. This explains why prices are so high. But it cannot be management—just look at all the classes and schools they have been to. Yet, production keeps falling.
The reality is most of these management people have little to no field experience and the ones that do have have little to no management training. I call it a true disconnect.
I was at a great seminar by Mark Breslin recently. He asked 300 working superintendents and foremen, “Who has had formal training to supervise?” I believe one hand went up. On the other side, I have been with upper management and asked, “What real construction experience do you have?” Sorry but a summer job during high school or a home remodel does not count as real construction experience.
I was on a panel run by PhDs, commissioned to fix our industry’s production problem. They passed around a book on construction sequencing; it had a detail on EIFS in it from a manufacturer no longer in business. I said that this detail is a perfect example of the problem today. The PhDs were semi-interested.
I went on to explain that the picture is professionally done and looks real pretty. I then stated, “If I ask those in the room with real field experience in construction to look closely at it and consider the sequencing of this detail, they will ultimately figure out it is not possible to build it as drawn.” The supervisors studied it for a few moments and agreed.
I continued, “This is going on right now on hundreds of projects across America.” While the picture looks really nice, it can’t be built this way; sequencing makes it simply impossible. This means an RFI (request for information) goes to upper management and the response is often to build it as drawn. Since it is not possible, the subcontractor is put under extreme pressure to make it work, so he finds a way. At best, it works out fine but wastes time and keeps adding costs. At worst, it creates unfair liability and really escalates a host of new costs, which all result in construction costing more and more money down the road.
This cycle just keeps repeating and escalating: projects are slow, liability grows, delays continue and costs just keep increasing. This seems to be a form of construction Idiocracy.