WORKER PRODUCTIVITY – Watch How the People Work

This is the eight posting regarding labor productivity and disruption.  This contribution provides some practical suggestions for the manager in the field.  The Subject Series can be viewed here.

Isn’t it always the obvious that gets us in trouble?  It doesn’t seem to make much difference what area of life you talk about, the aspects that are obvious are most often those that we assume will take care of themselves and we skip over as we develop our plans.  Considering the area of worker productivity, everyone knows how the work gets done.  Right?  Well, it is quite obvious.  You just pick up the material and put it in place.  After all, how can there be anything different about doing the work?  Get the material to the job site, hire craft workers, provide drawings and the project will miraculously get built.


When thinking about various construction sites, even in the US, several differences in the manner in which the exact same work is accomplished in various locations are revealed.  In order to properly plan and organize construction activities, the way people work in the specific location under consideration must be understood and incorporated.  For example, is it better for productivity for each pipefitter welder to have an assigned stand-alone welding machine?  Or possibly, the welder should use a welding machine located in an eight-pack of welders.  That question could be strictly a planning matter, or it could be related to the site location and area practice.  If one approach is better than the other for the project, area practice may need to be addressed and modified in some way for improved productivity to be realized.

The point to be made is that the planner should fully understand the way people work in an area.  That is accomplished by spending time in the field – watching, observing, talking, questioning and probing to identify area practices, worker habits, installation logic, materials management, tool supply, consumable availability and every other aspect of how the workers work and construction is progressed.  Sure, it all looks the same as the last job.  Truth is, it is the same – that is except for all the small seemingly insignificant dissimilarities.  These variances could make the difference in whether a project meets or fails to meet the project objectives.  The construction business is filled to overflowing with the “we’ve always done it that way” mentality.  No one likes change.  Change is uncomfortable.  But, small changes to seemingly insignificant aspects could provide huge benefits.  Could consumables (nuts, bolts, washers, hangers, gaskets, small tools, etc.) be placed right in the work area so workers don’t have to stop work and walk over to a central location for one single nut to complete a flange-up?  How about that bank of welding machines and the welder having to string out several hundred feet of leads just to reach his assigned work-face?  Then, if there is an issue with settings on the machine or something else, he has to walk all the way back to the location of the machine to make any adjustments – hoping they are correct so he does not have to make the trek yet another time.

In observation, do the workers pick up all they need for their work while they are at the supply location?  Maybe they make numerous trips throughout the day to and from the work-face and supply area.  Just a small amount of thought could eliminate countless trips and significantly improve productivity.  Some of these “habits” could be area practice or just developed habit.  In either case, observation will identify and training will correct many of those time wasters.

Some people are more productive than others.  Construction workers generally want to be productive.  They tend to be competitive and take pride in doing more work than the next one.  The project management role has as one aspect to encourage and support that desire by removing barriers, and helping the worker realize that goal.

Not only should the planner-scheduler be pro-active in this aspect, but the project manager, field engineers, superintendents and anyone associated with project implementation and betterment must be, as well.  Multiple observations by all disciplines accomplish several things.  Certainly, there are more data points.  But more importantly, the idea that management cares, not just about the work, but the worker too goes a long way to promote worker satisfaction and improve overall job morale.

It is important to note that observations and data collecting are not conducted in a spy-like fashion.  They are done informally in conversations and friendly exchanges with the workers.

Observe the details of how work is performed.  Talk with the workers about barriers, why they do tasks in a particular manner or sequence or what is keeping them from being their best.  Act on this information by incorporating it into the work plan and schedule development.

It is important to note that McLaughlin and McLaughlin [M&M] is not a law firm and is not intending to provide legal advice.  M&M is a consulting firm providing (among other services) non-legal expertise in dispute resolution and litigation support.  The Resource Center is for the convenience of blog visitors and M&M does not offer this for commercial purposes.  For further information on M&M services, please see