“I don’t know.”
It’s an expected and unfortunately common, response to the questions:
“Who is on your site right now? What are they doing? And are they in the right place doing the right things?”
In construction, we all suffer from a lack of visibility. The complexity of builds, the overflow of data and the volume of people required to get a build done is overwhelming and often obstructs our views versus enhances them.
Labor takes up approximately 40% of a project budget. And research shows that 30% of work on a project is unplanned. Match that with rework (about 7% connected to overall work hours) costing up to 5% of total construction costs and cause project delays over 9% of the planned project time. Tack on the increased safety and quality risks associated with overruns and delays and you have a recipe for issues.
When you correlate these data points, you come up with an understanding that the workers on your site are by far the most important factor to project success. And yet to successfully manage them, you are relying on manual headcounts, Supers having eyes everywhere, foreman providing accurate updates and a schedule plan that was out of date the moment after it was created.
While tech solutions are helping in many facets, there is still the difficulty in larger projects (where you can’t easily step outside your trailer and eyeball your site), to see your trade activity.
And you need to.
That’s where technology can fill the visibility gaps. Many GCs are investing in planning software, and even 360 video capturing software for project updates. But there is still a gap in monitoring workers on projects.
That gap can now be solved with worker-focused technology for resource management. The right software will enable Lean methodologies, reduce unplanned activities and costs, and gather data-driven insights that inform current and future projects.
One of the core principles in Lean manufacturing is working in small batches. In construction, this might be quite challenging since a batch (usually assumed to be a single unit or a week/ month long task) takes very long and it makes the learning and improvement process useless. By the time you finish and measure you are already late to improve.
Another core principle of Lean management is fast learning and continuous improvement. The idea is to move fast, measure your performance and make small quick adjustments to your process to optimize it. In construction, measuring the effort it took to produce something is usually very hard and time consuming since we have limited data about our resources.
What does Plan-do-check-act look like in construction? We build a schedule (plan), the tradesmen do the work (do), the project management team measures the progress and quality (check) and updates the schedule moving forward (act).
A common practice in many construction projects is the weekly subcontractor meeting, where everyone sits together, discusses what we were able to accomplish that week and what can be done better and plan the week ahead of us. While this is a great and important step, it is not enough.
“I didn't have enough workers this week so I didn't finish my scope.”
“We had a change of plans so we started only 3 days after.”
“We had extra work on floor X so we didn't get to that.”
How many times do you hear the following comments in the weekly meeting, figuring out you just lost a few days of your schedule and now you need to try to find a way to make up for it?
The key is to reduce the “batch” size and “check” more frequently. The ability to have real-time visibility into your process and having proactive alerts when things are off track (hence more frequent checking of the plan) can save you days each week.
If you could know immediately about Planned activities that are not actually happening, you would be able to address and solve them before you lose the time and maintain the schedule you have built. The key is to have the right data and analytics available to see those.
Defaults, rework and change orders
Trade: “I had 8 men working on this change order for 50 hours”
Field manager: “I was there and I saw only 4 guys, there is no way you spent so much time working on this”
Trade: “Of course I did”
This discussion is taking place all the time on our projects. Subs are required to do out of scope work, which they are charging by time and material, and the GC has very limited visibility to what really happened. So we start arguing, and we all lose.
If you could have unit-level trade data that can show us all what really happens and how much time was actually spent on these tasks, the whole discussion can be solved immediately. To do that, the data must be objectively reliable and complete so we can all be sure of it.
Performance, productivity, future planning
The market gets competitive. We all want to take the job and push our precon teams to make better estimates and get the numbers right so we can land the next project and grow our company.
The risk of a bad estimate is enormous. If your bid is too high, you lose the job. If your bid is too low, you win the job but might lose money and your business.
While 40% of the project costs are labor, we have limited visibility to how much time a task really takes and we rely on guesstimates to build the schedule and therefore our costs and bid.
If we can figure out how much time it really takes to perform a task, and how productive are our different subs, we can rule the market.
By using historical production data, that includes the time spent, production rates and site conditions of our previous projects, we can make better estimates and optimize our bids.
The intersection of technology, workers and data
GCs have been wrestling with solutions to provide more insight for decades. In the past, solutions to help monitor resources included expensive gateways, mesh networks, costly smart helmets, geo-fencing or RFID tagging.
These solutions often fail to provide accurate data. Moreso these solutions have proven to bring with them more complexities like managing the wearables, loss, theft, being forgotten or losing service. Resulting in… more trouble than they're worth.
Today’s worker-focused resource monitoring solutions understand the desire for convenience, accessibility, and transparency, all things smart technology provides us everyday from apps on our phones. And that’s where the solution lies.
You’ll seldom find anyone more than 2 feet from their smartphones these days. And while there are projects where phones are restricted, most sites can’t or don’t restrict workers from keeping their smartphones on them. In fact, with the upcoming generation, just try to pry the phones from them. Not gonna’ happen.
Using smartphone apps and disposable bluetooth sensors, contractors can achieve the data insights necessary to manage resources and workers are empowered with a digital toolbox that allows them to access the site, check-in, go through their safety orientations, call the hoist, message with teams, get safety alerts for dangerous weather conditions, and more all from their phones.
New methods of resource monitoring that make the worker the priority, utilize technology that exists and is easy to implement, providing the data contractors need to understand their project actuals, while enabling workers to do more. That intersection is where resource monitoring success lies.