Many of the same ways that contractors have always done work don’t ... well, work. It’s not smart management thinking. Here are six ways managers need to readjust their thinking to work smarter. They are not in any order of priority; all are equally bad.
Focus on low bid.
Many contractors bemoan that customers often select the competition based on the lowest price when they know they do better quality work. Many are constantly seeking to prove their worth. Yet many select the lowest priced items (hardware, gloves, tools, etc.). Many times field and shop workers complain about the inferior products they are given by the purchasing department. Shouldn’t you listen to your people just like you want your customers to listen to you?
Keep thinking things will change. You buy products from suppliers who have failed in the past with late and partial deliveries. They promise they will do better on the next project. Instead of being kind-hearted (and naive) and believing them, you should ask questions and evaluate their answers.
If they blame their employees, run away.
Workers behave mostly as they are encouraged and rewarded to act. Changing their staff may help, but usually only in the short run. Managers create the processes and systems that drive the behaviors of the workers.
If the vendors say they are changing their processes to deliver on time and with the quantities ordered, you may have hope. You can’t improve without changing something. If they seem to understand the need to improve their processes, offer to work with them.
Usually the problems of late orders and missing product is not fully theirs. Contractors’ ways of ordering often contribute to the mess. Yes all this takes effort, but success takes work.
'No problem' is good.
A lean construction guru likes to say that “No problem is problem.” This is not about being optimistic or pessimistic or being a whiner. Many contractors, when asked how things are going, usually say, “Good” or “OK.” This is because they don’t want to be perceived as not being in control or complainers. The reality is that there are always problems and either they are too blind to see or are hiding them.
Contractors need to change their thinking and point out the major problems they are experiencing and what they plan to do about it. They need to drop their pride and ask for ideas both from managers and workers. Even the newest apprentice may have a solution that works better than any you may have thought of. The point is to identify the major roadblocks and seek to remove them, and then attack the next one. There is always a problem to address. No problem is a problem.
Cost cutting is the answer.
You can always find ways to cut costs and some are surely needed. But often managers don’t think correctly. The first priority of management is to keep the crews doing value added work — aka installing. All other functions and actions should be geared to remove roadblocks that limit the crews from installing good product. Often managers will cut the material inventory or tool, resulting in the crews not having the material or tools they need to keep installing. Cost cutting is good when done after you are sure it will not negatively impact the crews doing the work.
Stop the batches.
In construction, many people often do work in large batches thinking it will save money. While it may result in a spot savings, it often hides the real cost impacts. One HVAC contractor thought that by forcing more duct onto delivery trucks they could save them money in fuel. They worked very hard to jam as much duct as they could on each truck. The downside, which they didn’t see at the shop, was what happened when the duct was unloaded in the field. It took the crews longer to unpack the crammed-in duct and some ductwork was damaged. It cost more in field labor to unload and repair the duct, than the fuel savings.
Another common batch problem is when the field orders ductwork delivered in larger quantities than they could possibly install in the next few days, or even weeks. Large orders often cause the shop to work overtime and delays other work. Product stored at the job site for very long is usually moved several times, possibly being damaged. It also keeps the crews who move it, from doing value added work.
Measuring the wrong things.
What gets measured gets done. If you focus on the wrong things, you will get poor results. Measuring productivity in the shop or field in units per time (pounds per hour, installed product per day) is a bad idea.
Some of you may have always used these measures in the shop and in the field. The reality is that these measures are not really comparable or useful. Crews and supervisors already know this. There are too many variables impacting the rate of fabrication and installation to make these numbers valid for comparisons.
These are not all the measures that can be used, but are very useful ones if applied in the spirit of learning and improving, not punishing. Today’s challenging work environment needs managers who work smarter and don’t let the old ways get in the way of improving the quality of how they manage.