Sheet metal workers operate alongside other trades staff, performing some of the most integral tasks in the construction of new commercial, industrial and residential buildings. Work often goes smoothly, but when workers are under pressure to meet deadlines and working around other tradespeople, unexpected obstacles can turn into costly delays that prolong the completion of the project and can even lead to punitive measures like liquidated damages.

When a project falls behind schedule, project managers need to act quickly to identify the inefficiency or responsible party and correct the issue before things spiral out of control. This article discusses strategies that project managers in the construction industry can use to help ensure the timeliness of projects. A sound diagnostic approach based on data can be used to quickly identify the source of problem and fix it before it becomes a catastrophe.

Attendance, performance underlie productivity

Starting from first principles of project management, the manager must create a project schedule that allocates sufficient resources to complete the project on time. However, things can quickly fall into disarray if the schedule is abandoned, or if the workers perform differently than expected.

Let's look at an example. You're installing ventilation systems in 20 houses and you've got four work crews. Each crew is expected to finish one house per eight-hour day, so you anticipate that the project will be completed in five days. After five days, you report to the job site to inspect the work, only to find that just 13 houses have been completed. When you inquire as to what happened, it turns out you were never told that one crew didn't show up all week. Furthermore, one of the crews that did show up underperformed, completing three houses instead of five.

A problem went unaddressed for just five days generated the following negative results:

●Your firm must pay the under-performing crew their full rate for operating at 60 percent efficiency.

●You need to bring in more workers to help play catch-up, and you may have to pay your existing crews overtime as they try to compensate for the lost productivity  and keep the project on schedule.

●You're 56 work hours behind on completing the project, and the delay is preventing scheduled next steps from taking place.

Put simply, it's a complete disaster, and you're right in the middle of it.

Tracking 

Just like an elementary school teacher does roll call at the beginning of class, so too should an effective construction project manager conduct a roll call at the beginning of each day. Many firms hold on to the archaic method of paper time sheets - workers fill out a weekly sheet that indicates their hours worked, then submit it to the firm's accounting department so they can get paid.

The trouble here is that the feedback loop for worker absence or lateness becomes much too long. In the above example, if the project manager knew on Monday that one work crew was absent, they could call in a different crew for the following day to ensure that there were enough teams on site to keep the job on schedule.

One of the best ways to track attendance on the job site is with mobile time tracking software. A GPS marker is placed at the job site which allows workers to "clock in" when they arrive for work. Integration with project management software allows the back office to track, in real-time, who is present at the job site.

Productivity

Productivity expectations require buy-in from your team members ahead of time. If a worker thinks they can complete just two units of work per day, but you're asking for three, the schedule is broken from the start and there is no possibility of establishing accountability. Agree on productivity expectations beforehand and make sure you're on the same page.

Daily productivity reporting is an effective means of keeping everyone in the loop as to how things are progressing. It also allows project managers to find real-time solutions to productivity issues. Slow workers aren't just "lazy" — sometimes they're injured and struggling with the physical labor, or haven't discovered an efficient way to manage the unique process. Progress reporting and information and document sharing between work crews can boost productivity for crews that are struggling.

Smart project managers have contingency plans and hidden resources to expend when things aren't going to plan — extra crews or workers they can call on, a budget for overtime,

Conclusion

Project managers that contract with sheet metal workers face significant challenges in managing their output. The diverse capabilities and strengths of these skilled workers makes it easy to overestimate what they can accomplish, and breakdowns in communication always have the potential to yield unexpected results.

Effective project managers ensure timeliness on the job site by creating a realistic schedule, working out productivity requirements with contractors beforehand, and carefully monitoring daily activity and attendance to ensure the team reaches its goal.

This article was supplied by eSub Inc., a software suite for contractors.