Construction is a Series of Repetitive Processes
Construction is a unique industry in that no two projects are exactly alike. Therefore, the concept of repetitive processes doesn’t seem to apply, and arguably isn’t widely accepted, aside from those rare instances where the complete structure is built repetitively (i.e. a tract homebuilder). However, at BlackVector we believe a process driven mentality in construction is the basis for continuous improvement. After all, the first step in driving productivity improvement in any industry is to define processes that can be measured, studied and subsequently improved. That the process be repetitive is important, as the higher the frequency of repetition, the greater the opportunity to leverage gains from any improvement in productivity.
From a broad perspective, the industry already recognizes repetitive processes and is organized around these processes. This is evident by the existence of Specialty Contractors which focus exclusively on a particular trade, or sub-process of the overall construction process. What seems less prevalent, is taking a more detailed view of the composition of processes within a particular trade.
For example, a Concrete Contractor needs to install reinforcement, install formwork, pour concrete and subsequently strip formwork. All of those processes are repeated multiple times, across multiple jobs, even though those jobs are different.
We can visualize site work the same way. Earth moving, or laying pipe are all sub-processes of the site work process and are repeated across different jobs. In fact, laying pipe could even be broken down further into another level of sub-process if we think of it in terms of excavating the ditch, installing the pipe and subsequently filling in the ditch.
Certainly, this isn’t anything revolutionary, since the Specialty Contractors are already expert in their field and understand their work or processes. The suggestion is that an increased focus on those processes and understanding that those processes are repetitive across dissimilar jobs, can lead to increases in productivity. Different jobs that perform the same process, but with different crews, will likely differ (at least slightly) in how they perform the work. Measuring the process with well-defined productivity metrics can highlight those differences and help identify improvements. This can be an opportunity for sharing and learning across those crews as well as form the basis for further training of resources employed in those processes – a route to productivity gains.
The key to this approach is analyzing the process by labeling the different tasks that compose the process as value adding and non-value adding. Tasks such as installing formwork and pouring concrete are clearly value adding activities, as they are essential to creating the structure, while tasks such as double-handling of the material or idle time would be non-value adding.
By taking this approach, one can identify opportunities to eliminate or reduce these non-value adding tasks and ultimately enhance productivity.
These gains may initially be marginal, but marginal gains, over time, can make a meaningful difference. In a highly competitive industry with tight margins, small gains can have a significant impact on the bottom line or at least facilitate winning that next bid.