Improving productivity in construction projects is one of the most challenging issues for the industry & its professionals. Especially in developing countries like ours, where most of the building construction work is still on a manual basis, generally, productivity is seen as the prime cause of delay in project delivery.
Though productivity can be defined in many ways, the performance of labor is the most commonly used measurement. Productivity in construction is usually measured by units of work placed or produced per man-hour also called labor productivity. By the way, productivity is the ratio of output to all or some of the resources used to produce that output where the resources can be labor, raw materials, capital, energy, etc. Thus, productivity at the construction site level can be grouped under various activities like productivity in concrete, steelwork and shuttering masonry, labor productivity etc.1
A report published by McKinsey Global Institute highlighted the issue of lagging construction productivity such that it has remained flat in construction while nearly doubling in the manufacturing sector over the span of 10 years. Graph
The COVID19 pandemic interrupted everything and impacted the project schedules adversely and caused an overrun of at least 3-4 months. Labor has started to return and supply chains too have started to push materials but the reduced cashflows are not helping anybody’s case. At the site level, achieving the same levels of productivity ie before Corona status, since there are various constraints. The lockdown and the complete close of business for a month, for some cities, even more, the drop in demand, disruption in the supply chain, a credit crunch, non-availability of access to raw materials, and movement of labor has influenced the anticipation of the return of normalcy to only be in Q1 2021. 2
Inefficient & ineffective management of resources results in low productivity but there is more to it than meets the eye. Thus, it becomes essential to analyze the real factors in order to improve productivity in construction projects. Various research scholars have studied and analyzed the factors contributing to construction productivity among which the top 103 are:
- Lack of skilled workers
- Lack of empowerment
- Poor Planning
- Design changes
- Lack of Measurement
- Unsafe working conditions
- The poor condition of tools
- Low & late payments
We, at Vedzen Consulting, has been helping construction companies manage change and sustain productivity improvements through training & implementation of Lean Construction. It is an emerging approach that challenges conventional understanding and construction business practices. It focuses on profitably delivering what the customer needs by managing and improving the performance of people, process & systems in the construction industry. Applying Lean thinking helps in designing the right systems, processes & measures to deliver things right the first time at the right cost.
In Lean construction philosophy, underutilizing the people capabilities is classified as the 8th form of Waste. Lean advocates training & development of individuals in order to tap their potential beyond basics to improve products, services & processes. When an organization becomes successful in eliminating process inefficiencies, satisfies its customers internally, ie its employees also contractors & suppliers, it can satisfy its customers – the buyers.
For developing Lean thinkers, here are 5 key steps that can be taken to improve labor productivity
1 Create a sense of purpose & align everybody
A company’s philosophy is the core of an organization’s culture. Everybody from top to bottom must be productive enough in the sense that they contribute to achieving the company’s vision & objectives. But is the purpose understood by everyone – “who we are!”; does everybody knows “where do we want to go!” If yes, do they also know – “how to get there!” So, the top management needs to review their organizational purpose considering the pandemic caused crisis situation and set the strategic direction. The priorities of the organization need to be sorted & straightened out considering its employees, customers, and other key stakeholders in the long-term perspective.
2 Create ways to measure productivity
Productivity measurement at the construction site level enables companies to monitor their own performance against their site performance. Every organization devises its own method for measuring productivity. So, the first problem to be tackled is establishing a reliable standard of measurement before attempting to make an improvement. But this measurement must be linked to the overall performance of the project in terms of quality, cost & delivery and should be understood by all the stakeholders accountable for project completion. Because it is important that the way things are measure at the top are derived from daily work done at sites. Also, the linkage of measurements is known & understood at respective levels. Continuous assessment of profitability in a low revenue environment
3 improve the competence of site management
Managing competence before engaging the people to maintain the motivation of workers is a must. Respect for people and challenging them is a key tenet in lean thinking. Projects sometimes are short duration, so training is ignored, but ensuring everybody is aligned and aware of the company’s practices & core values is critical to success. Audit of Quality, Safety & Environment systems reveals that there is a lack of adherence to standards. Training needs identification, planning, and execution are mostly paperwork, thus making sure apart from compliance, understanding is also measured. Then, cross-functional Teams are to be established, to manage, to accomplish and improve the work. Just like building a high-performance computer, ensure that the components are compatible and communicate with each other.
4 Stabilise and standardize processes
Lack of standards ultimately results in creating inefficiencies in the process. In complex systems like construction, every interaction among people becomes a challenge where experience wins over something that is better for the employees, company, and the final customer. In any construction organization, most of the work that is required to be done is mostly defined by the project owner in the initial stages. Contracting firms like design, planning & execution works, etc are undertaken after analyzing the cost, regulations, outcomes, etc. Though the construction work is not yet completely defined in industrial engineering terms there is definitely a standard for everything like surveying, casting, finishing, so on – as to – how the work is to be done and in how much time! Improving Safety and providing Training and better on-site facilities (including health & hygiene) to migrant labor are a few of the ways to stop reverse migration in the future.
5 Use of technology
The innovation in technology over the last decade has indeed provided radical solutions that have ultimately benefitted customers. Internet of things (IoT) has provided a range of applications from Asset Management, monitoring equipment and diagnosing potential problems, inventory control & storage management to tracking resources such as materials, vehicles and labor to maximize productivity. The great number of components used in the construction and operation of buildings means that the potential for IoT application is very significant.
New technologies and modular construction have the potential to bring in the much-needed industrial-scale productivity. Technology is very useful but when the system utilities understood by all. So, without a deep understanding of the people, system, or organizational maturity, forcing technology would be disastrous. Going forward, greater emphasis will be on automation, mechanization & off-site fabrication. Also, for developing alternate strategies to reduce overdependence on labor.
Applying lean thinking in project design & delivery results in faster completion, improved in quality, reduction in costs, creates safe working environments and satisfied customers. Lean thinking provides a method to specify a value, align the actions that create value according to the optimal sequence, carry out these activities without interruption when someone requests them, and perform them with increasing effectiveness.
Lean Construction has turned out to be a broadly acceptable modern practice across countries and the construction sector to increase overall effectiveness and reduce response time. The philosophy of Lean accentuates on creating an efficient and high-performance organization to produce infrastructure fulfilling the customer demands of acceptable quality, lower cost and on-time delivery. A Lean practicing organization aims at continuous improvement by designing, developing, and delivering amenities that can go beyond the customer's point of view. It focuses on removing constraints from construction flow by identifying Value-adding Activity (VA) and eliminating Non-Value adding Activity (NVA). It frees up material and information flow from problems, bottlenecks, and delays. Lean Construction advocates that structure design, execution and delivery should be customer-specific.
Lean Construction is based on waste elimination including time lost in waiting for missed/delayed supplies, unnecessary storage, and the value tied-up in large stocks of parts waiting to be put up at the site. ‘Just in time’ (JIT) delivery is, therefore, a vital element, and to deliver, companies need to develop their network of suppliers. The project can channelize their significant efforts on suppliers to adopt the same Lean principles and systems which are solely related to that part of the suppliers’ operations that affect the project
Connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org for the implementation of lean construction practices.
References & bibliography
1 A study on productivity of concreting work in building construction in Bengaluru city, India Karthick R1 | ISSN: 2395-0056 | 2018
2 Indian Construction Industry – Aug 2020
3 Factors affecting labour productivity over construction sector - Er. Shriyank Sen & Er. Sandeep Verma, MTech BTIRT, Sagar, ISSN: 2395-0056, 2018
4 Graph McKinsey Global Institute
5 Lean Strategies for Employing Prefabrication, 2013, McGraw Hill Construction
6 Lean Techniques in Indian Construction Industry: D. More & and Madhulika Sinha, IJCER; ISSN 2278-3652