Construction Field Labor Productivity Improvement – Plan the Work Well

This is the sixth post regarding productivity in engineering and construction projects.  To review an index and links to the entire series, please visit Subject Series  page in this blog.  This post discusses planning the work and the related impact on construction field labor productivity.

Any discussion of construction field labor (worker) productivity must, of necessity, eventually involve the idea of planning the work.  Virtually every major project employs the expertise of several planners and schedulers to work the Primavera® scheduling program or some other comparable software.  Great effort is placed on getting just the right schedule assembled and in place – with the right number of activities and leveled manpower, etc.  However, all too often the schedule has been constructed in a near vacuum with little or no input or review from those who have to make it work in the field.

The modern scheduling programs are very robust and powerful almost beyond imagination.  The power of these tools can be a problem.  With all the power available, it would almost seem that it was not necessary to have the electrical foreman or fitter foreman work with the scheduler to identify the activity level; count and detail they needed to better do their job in leading the field crews to a higher level of productivity and production.

Planning the work well simply means that the work sequencing and interactions have been very carefully thought-through and considered from the perspective of the craftsman actually performing the work in the field.  Many times the craftsman is forced to work a little here, then move to another work face.  Work a little there and move either back to the original work face or to an even different one, without finishing up anything at either work face.

Why schedule or plan to have workers move from one area to another without completing anything along the way?  Simple – lack of materials, incomplete drawings, no supports, working conditions, interference from other activities, etc.  There are numerous reasons why workers could be moved around from place to place – doing a little work here and a little there.  But the truth is, the project would be better served to not do any of the work if the moving and skipping is going to take place.

Placing yourself in the position of the worker, what would your attitude be if you could not finish anything you had started before being moved to the next location?  How would you feel if you knew you only had enough material to go part way, and then had to relocate to another area?  It would be very frustrating, discouraging and demoralizing for you to have that happen.  It’s no different for the craft worker in the field.  Most craftsmen take a high degree of pride in their work and the product they produce.  This is true in every area of the world I have worked.  Of course, some locations are better than others, but there is always a degree of pride and sense of accomplishment by the craftsmen upon completing a portion of work.  When that opportunity is taken away by what appears to them as a senseless act, the worker is demoralized and indifferent to the product they produce.  From the worker’s perspective they cannot see late material deliveries, unordered items, incomplete engineering.  It makes no sense to them to start a piece of work they know they are not going to be able to finish.  They naturally get frustrated and demoralized.  Further, as the conditions become worse, the frustration becomes deeper and worker discouragement becomes more pervasive.  Craft workers can get to the point that they just do not care what gets done, how it looks, or even if it is done right.

So, what does all this mean to our subject of “plan the work well”?  The person responsible for assembling the schedule must carefully and completely consider the availability of access, drawings, materials, commodity items, support equipment, etc. as they prepare the schedule and work plan.  If workers can be at least kept in the same tight area working on several different items in that area, then productivity will not suffer quite as badly as if they are moved to a completely different area to work, then back to the original location, and so on.

The sequencing of work must be decided by a person very familiar with the way a particular craft works.  Armed with a sound understanding of the sequencing, the planner or scheduler must collect all the other information on the support items (accessibility, materials, drawings, etc.) to determine if the work can actually progress in a proper manner without hesitation.

A well-planned job will allow for a work package to be started, progressed and completed without moving or relocation by the craft workers.  Access is not limited in any manner, materials are available, drawings are finished and up to date, there are sufficient support tools and equipment and peripheral items are available.  Nothing except time is needed to install a quality piece of work.  Now the worker will have the opportunity to be as productive as they can be and do the quality of work they are capable of and desire to do.

In situations where this is not possible, it is better to not start than to have to work under poor conditions.  Once the tone and climate are set for a project, it is quite difficult to change or improve them.  Generally, morale, attitude, outlook, opinion do not improve nearly as easily as they deteriorate.  At times, improvement will not be experienced – if the circumstances have been bad from the beginning and there is no clear improvement in view.

Realistic, sensible, attainable planning and job sequencing contribute significantly to improved worker outlook, attitude, morale, and thus productivity.

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