We all know the cost of construction continues to climb through the roof. The more we try to accelerate schedules and control pricing, it just seems to go in the opposite direction. Innovation promises increased production, yet production still drops. We have heard it all before. Maybe we need to dig a little deeper as to why projects continue to take longer and cost us more money.
At a training class for foremen, the instructor made it clear that efficiency in production was the key to profit. It was the foreman’s job to ensure production. This requires scheduling and team work. It also requires standing your ground against general contractors who mismanage. Do not allow them to bounce your crew around the project; they need to have a clear path ahead of them.
Anyone who has worked in the field knows that this kills production. During the class, one foreman leaned over and said he would stand his ground, only to have his own company ultimately direct him to follow the general’s request to hop around the project. At the end of the job, he would then be challenged as to why he had not met established production rates. He said this was common and discovered it became rather pointless to even fight as it only served to upset the GC. This bothered me and made me think about what happened. Why would his own company not back him knowing they would lose production rates? I came up with three distinct possibilities:
Subcontractors bid work based on production rates that assume certain factors are in place. His office may be failing to clarify those agreed assumptions in the negotiated contract. This would force the subcontractor to be at the mercy of a general who does not know how to manage a project efficiently. He is at the mercy of the general or will likely suffer significant back charges.
The subcontractor may subcontract several trades, which is called “bundling.” The general might have told the sub, “You can win this battle but I will make your other divisions suffer.” It is also possible that they could hold up a draw or have another job promised. In any case, it is leverage used against the sub. Generals have a lot of leverage and know how to use it.
His Boss Does Not Know
Because many heads of big mega sub-firms are top-down guys with little to no actual field experience, they simply may not realize that crew-hopping really kills production. People not from the construction field tend to not understand why a worker cannot work over here for a bit, then there for bit. They just don’t get it. Some think workers are just complaining.
This failure to run projects efficiently is the major reason why construction production rates keep dropping. Even with innovations in labor saving products and devices, pre-assembled parts and better tools, rates just keep dropping. Maybe we need to look at another aspect. I know I am not alone when I say the shift from bottom up to top down management promotions has impacted construction and most notably production. It is not simply creating and following a Gantt chart. In 1910, Henry Gantt acknowledged that his chart relied on information from trade experts in the field. The now 100-year-old Gantt chart has been altered by modern technology. Or has it?
The trouble is that while advancements and proficiencies in Gantt charting are increasing, construction materials still need to set, dry, cure and be installed by hand. The charts often tend to ignore trade knowledge, nuances, litigation issues and the ever-increasing complexity of projects. This gap creates more tension on the site as schedules are compressed to meet the enhanced Gantt chart. The boots on the ground plead their case and generally lose, as they have little to no support.
Historically, bottom up supervisors and managers with real field experience were better able to spot a problem and quickly fix it. Top down managers are more likely to ignore the field’s comments, stick to the chart and just push harder. Today, litigation and risk shifting have added to the problem. No one dares to make even a slight fix without written approval. What will the next decade bring?