Construction is notorious for poor productivity. What contributes to this problem and how can we improve construction productivity on our projects?
Imagine if we could improve our labor productivity by just 5%. Not difficult one would imagine. If labor makes up 40% of a project’s cost then effectively you could save 2% on your project costs. 2% additional profit! Doesn’t sound like much? But if your profit margin was 10% then a 5% improvement in productivity could mean we now make 12% profit. Well that means we have increased our profits by 20%, and directors and shareholders would be more than happy with this. But improved labor productivity could also result in better equipment productivity, shorter construction times and reduced overheads leading to even more profits.
We often blame workers for the low productivity, which is sometimes the case. However, management can also play a significant role in improved construction productivity.
How can you improve construction productivity?
Here are some suggestions to improve construction productivity:
- Planning – unfortunately many projects are poorly planned at their start. I’m not just talking about the construction schedule but rather about how you are going to construct the project, what resources you’ll need, and when they’ll be required. It includes among others, selecting a construction methodology, selecting the most suitable resources, picking the construction team, and ordering materials timely. Too often the wrong choices are made at the start of the project which negatively impact the project later.
- Quality – a large problem on construction projects is poor quality which causes work to be redone. Some of this is due to careless mistakes when measuring and setting-out and others is because of a lack of skilled people.
- Ensuring employees have the required skills – skilled people will be more efficient, productive and make fewer mistakes. It’s not just about recruiting people with the required skills it’s also about ongoing training which also improves morale, adding to our productivity improvements. Having skilled people operating equipment will improve the productivity of the machine and will probably also result in the item being less likely to be damaged.
- Supply the correct equipment – too often workers spend their time walking the site to find or borrow tools. Sometimes they don’t have the correct tools making the job slower. We’ve all witnessed undersized excavators loading a large truck. But over-sized equipment is also wasteful – costing more to hire and using more fuel. Trying to save money by hiring or purchasing inferior equipment will cost money later because of lower productivity.
- Ensure equipment doesn’t breakdown – repeated equipment breakdowns disrupts production and negatively impacts employee morale. A crane malfunction can cause a whole section of work to stand. Provide reliable equipment. Encourage operators to look after the equipment. Implement regular maintenance checks. Oh, and talking about maintenance try and have this done outside working hours or during rest breaks. Stopping a crane or excavator in the middle of a shift for routine maintenance brings the whole team to a standstill.
- Poor communication – does your crew know what they are supposed to do? Do they understand the schedule – what has to be completed first and why? Poor communication leads to errors. In today’s environment where our construction projects employ people of different nationalities, cultures and languages, communication become even more important. Just because someone says ‘yes’ when you’re talking to them doesn’t mean they actually understood what you said.
- Material handling – poor logistics and not getting materials to where they’re needed on a construction site can strangle production. Teams waiting for materials or cranes are unproductive. Even packaging material differently can improve its handling. Having material delivered on pallets for instance could mean a slight increase in cost, but being able to quickly and efficiently move the materials on the project site will repay this cost back several times over. Moving materials after-hours or bringing another crane to site could prevent our teams standing waiting for materials. Constantly be on the lookout for these bottlenecks.
- Good people – never underestimate how important it is to have good people in our team. This means you need to look after your good people. Pay them fairly. Treat them well. Mentor and train them. Give them responsibilities. Employ the right people that will fit in with your company culture. A good project manager can make a project successful. A poor project manager can destroy the project and the company’s reputation.
- Double handling of materials – often materials are off-loaded in the wrong place or far from the work area. Plan the work areas so materials can be placed near where they’re needed. Plan deliveries so the items that are required first are delivered before those that are required later. Have lay-down areas prepared ready ahead of when the materials will be delivered. Try and plan deliveries of large items so they can be off-loaded from the trucks directly to their final position. Double handling material requires additional people and cranes and exposes the materials to risk of damage.
- Poorly motivated workers – often workers are poorly motivated which leads to lower productivity. Poor morale may be due to poor pay, poor working conditions, hiccups paying wages, excessively long shifts, machinery break-downs or poor supervision. The way management and supervisors treat workers can impact morale. Also, if management have poor morale, are glum and downbeat, this will rub off on workers impacting their morale.
Don’t be too quick to blame your workers for poor construction productivity. First look at management and ensure they are managing the construction project effectively and providing workers with the correct tools and skills. Even slight improvements in productivity can yield dramatic results in production, leading to improved quality, safety and profits. Managers need to be continually looking for ways to improve construction productivity, always checking there are no bottlenecks or roadblocks impacting productivity.