There is an endless stream of reporting on construction’s productivity, or lack of it. For individual contractors though, the topic is often muddied up in economic “techno jargon” that makes the eyes gloss over after reading a paragraph.
It’s also true that productivity assessments occur after-the-fact. Thus, they give you no heads up on productivity losses and make it impossible to address issues quickly. Here are the basics of field productivity in construction, and some simple things you can do to assess your crews’ productivity as the work unfolds.
Most contractors would like to improve worker productivity but often don’t have a clue how to get started. Tend to the basics first. Tracking time and attendance is the foundation for any productivity improvement effort.
Start With The Basics
You’ll gain valuable productivity insights by tracking worker time spent on specific tasks. Besides informing future estimates to make them more accurate, these time records will also reveal other factors affecting productivity. For instance, you might discover people are waiting too long for materials, equipment or information.
Next, consider the impact company policies and the quality of project planning have on productivity. Inaccurate estimating will affect worker productivity greatly while bad schedules set the stage for even more productivity losses. Once construction is underway, review how you stage materials and set up workspaces—you might be able to reduce steps and improve ergonomics.
But, what if you’ve done all that and still wonder if further improvements to worker productivity are possible? Well, then it’s time to get a little scientific.
The Field Rating Tool
Start with the simple process of field rating. This method requires you, or your crew leaders, to randomly observe workers. Note whether they are working directly on the assigned task. Then, do the math. Divide the number of observations into the number of workers classified as working, and add 10 percent to cover foreman and supervisory activity. If throughout a day, a foreman made 25 random observations and found workers working directly on the task 20 times, the field rating is 90 percent. According to one source on the subject, a rating of satisfactory is 60 percent or better.
Gain New Insights with Work Sampling
If your field sample is below 60 percent, you might want to do a little more formal productivity assessment called work sampling. First, you’ll need to create a “work sampling” form. If you put your form on Google Drive, Dropbox or on Procore’s cloud platform, people will be able to access it on mobile devices. It’ll also save the time otherwise required to handle and process paper. This more detailed work sampling will provide some deeper insights into your crew productivity by revealing factors that are negatively affecting production.
Let’s put it into perspective. Suppose you use work sampling one morning, and you do 20 observations. If the percentage working directly on task suggests the crew is only marginally productive, you should investigate further to confirm the accuracy. Do that by considering other factors.
Were you observing when people would be actively engaged in the task? Or, was the crew partially in mobilization, and partially working on task? If it’s the latter, then your results are less reliable than if mobilization was complete.
Suppose at another time you did 20 observations of the crew and found productivity was off the charts. If it was the first time you did work sampling of that crew, it could very well be the crew is super productive. In order to confirm your results, you’ll want to do more sampling at other times when the crew is working under similar conditions.
Validate Your Data
There are a lot of variables you should consider when assessing the validity of your work sampling. For instance, crews working in poor weather won’t be at their usual level of productivity. It would also be the case if crews were working short-handed. So, the more samples you take of crews working in similar conditions, the better the picture you get of their productivity.
View your work sampling results with caution and use discernment. These are not statistical samples valid for assessing an individual’s productivity or for measuring labor efficiency. However, they can point you to factors affecting productivity. Then, follow up by surveying your crew leaders and your craftsmen to get a better idea of the factors that negatively affect production.
Get More Specific With Crew Leader Surveys
Provide crew leaders with a form that they fill out at regular intervals. On the form, you might cover several factors that cause lost hours. For example, you might list redoing work, waiting for materials, waiting for equipment, and waiting for instructions. You can further break those down to get more specific. For example, under redoing work you might list reasons like design errors, fabrication errors, and field damage.
Have your crew leader note the time lost for each item and the number of workers involved. Use those two numbers to calculate the total hours of lost productivity. From these observations and reports, you can get a very clear picture of what’s behind the productivity losses.
For instance, if you find over the course of a month that 10 of the crew leader forms show ‘waiting for information’ as a leading cause of lost productivity, you have a starting point for further investigation. Is it specific information that’s lacking, or is it all types? From there, you might discover your RFI process has bottlenecks, or you aren’t getting all you could from mobile technology you’ve adopted.
Productivity is a multi-faceted topic. As everything changes, you won’t be able to maintain optimum productivity for long. But, by using a reasoned approach, regular observations and sound analysis of the productivity data you collect, you can make productivity improvement a part of your everyday operations.