Construction has had a bad rep when it comes to productivity. Studies over the last several years have indicated that the industry suffered from low productivity. A 10-year analysis by McKinsey from 2005 to 2015 found that construction-labor productivity in the United States hasn't kept pace with other industries.
But this is no longer the case. Over the last few years, construction has made measurable improvements in its productivity thanks to the use of better technology and data.
According to the 2019 USG + U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index (CCI), 78% of contractors believe that advanced technology can increase productivity. New building methods and practices have also proven to give construction professionals a boost. Doge and Analytics' report, Prefabrication and Modular Construction 2020, found that about 90% of firms report that “they achieve improved productivity, improved quality and increased schedule certainty” when using prefabrication compared to traditional stick-built construction.
We’re certainly seeing pockets of hope, though there’s still a lot of work to be done. In particular, companies need to refocus their efforts on improving the productivity of their systems, rather than the people who work in their firms.
As the statistician and management consultant W. Edwards Deming said in his book Out of the Crisis, “94% of most problems and possibilities for improvement belong to the system, not the individual.”
While it’s worthwhile to increase the efficiency of each individual employee, this isn’t the most effective way to improve organizational productivity.
Why? Because in an industry like construction, employees rarely (if ever) work in isolation. People in our field are always working with teams, and they rely on systems and processes to get things done.
As such, increasing productivity in construction should be focused on strengthening the foundation — i.e., the systems and processes — that power teams in your organization. Doing so will yield results that are far more superior than simply improving individual efficiency.
Now that you understand why it’s important to focus on organizational efficiency versus individual output, let’s explore the ways in which you can increase the collective productivity of your teams.
Technology, while helpful, can sometimes curb productivity when not leveraged and implemented properly. Having too many apps can cause employees to become overwhelmed and can also lead to inefficiency, particularly when people spend too much time switching between different platforms.
This issue is quite pronounced in the construction industry. According to the 2020 JB Knowledge ConTech report, 22% of pros say they use over six construction apps.
What’s troubling, isn’t so much about the number of apps, but the fact that a good chunk of respondents — 27% according to the study — reported that none of their apps integrate at all. This means that many construction professionals are always switching from one app to the next, thus relying on manual work input (49%) or spreadsheets (44%) when transferring data.
All that unnecessary back and forth leads to a huge amount of wasted time and effort.
If your firm is suffering from app overwhelm or a lack of integration between solutions, you need to invest the resources in centralizing your data on one platform whenever possible. And during instances where more than one solution is required, strive to utilize integrations that automatically sync information between platforms. This ensures that team members won’t have to worry about double-entry and they can rest easy knowing that the information they have is updated.
One company that’s unlocking the benefits of construction interactions is San Francisco's Dome Construction. According to Kaitlin Frank, a superintendent at the firm, integrating workflows and data improves collaboration and outcomes at Dome Construction.
“Having the integrated capabilities is going to allow for less miscommunication and having everyone come back to this one connected point where we can all communicate, we can see the workflows, and everything is right there,” she says.
Strive for that level of connectivity in your apps. Integrate your systems in such a way that they allow all stakeholders to efficiently work together on one platform.
When choosing construction technology, opt for simple and reliable solutions -- especially when it comes to field solutions. While there’s nothing wrong with using platforms that have complex features, you should always consider your end-users and factor in how they’ll be using the technology.
Is the solution intuitive and easy to understand? Can team members use it on the go or out in the field? How much training is required to learn the new system? Are there robust training programs offered if required? These are just some of the questions you should ask when evaluating different solutions.
For an easy reference, take note of these top traits you should be looking for in construction tech:
Employees shouldn’t have to find and chase down the information they need to do their jobs.
Unfortunately, this issue is quite common in construction. Research from Autodesk and FMI found that construction pros spend over a third of their time (35% or over 14 hours per week) on non-productive tasks like looking for project details, conflict resolution, and dealing with mistakes and rework.
Cliff Cole, a Virtual Design and Construction Director at the PENTA Building Group, said it best: “Most productivity loss comes from the lack of information or incorrect information and that causes rework; rework then causes schedule delays, and schedule delays cause cost impacts.”
One of the best ways to solve this problem is to centralize and improve access to data and information. You can do this by adopting a unified document management system based in the cloud.
In doing so, you’ll not only keep all the necessary information in one place, but you and your team members will be able to access the right info in real time — ultimately saving time and keeping everyone on the same page.
Swift decision-making helps projects move forward, so they can be completed in a timely manner. That’s why you need to empower and accelerate decision-making in your organization.
Improving accessibility of information (as discussed above) is the first step to doing this. In order for stakeholders to make informed decisions, they need to have accurate information. To that end, ensuring that they can access the data they need will go a long way in helping them make the right calls.
In line with this, see to it that project processes are tightly connected so that data flows smoothly across all phases of the project.
Hung Nguyen, the Senior Virtual Design Construction Process Manager at Herrero Builders is all about connected data. According to him, “I’m more thinking about connected workflows and connected data. We could bring all the data together to make sense of the information that can support informed decision making.”
Another important practice is being upfront with who and how stakeholders should make decisions. There must be a clear process and authority when it comes to decision-making.
Early collaboration is also important. When more people are involved in decisions in the preconstruction phase, stakeholders can reduce rework and changes down the line once construction is underway.
Conversations between stakeholders are critical in construction.
For a project to be successful, information must be conveyed and communicated to the right people at the right time. This can’t happen if everyone is using a different platform or channel. For instance, certain team members might be exchanging emails while others are using WhatsApp. Some people could be discussing things over the phone, while others are hashing out issues in person.
When stakeholders are leveraging disparate channels, information can slip through the cracks and communication can break down.
That’s why it’s so important to iron out your methods and channels of communication. Ideally, the majority of communication should take place on a central platform such as a unified construction software solution.
As Greg Scott, a Project Director at Webcor Builders puts it, “Connected construction is all about communication. It's all about the parties involved. Being able to have accurate information at their fingertips and be able to share and communicate back and forth [are critical].”
Greg explains that there are usually a lot of parties involved in the project, and not all of them are on site. For this season, having all stakeholders connected in one seamless environment will do wonders for communication.
That being said, it’s important to leave a bit of room for flexibility. Emergencies and big issues can come up, and in these situations, construction software might not be the most urgent way to communicate across relevant parties. So, ensure that you identify the best communication method for disseminating time-sensitive information and how details will be routed across the appropriate channel.
Increasing employee productivity may seem like a people issue, but if you look deeper, you may find that inefficiencies in your organization stem from poor communication, platforms, and processes. When you improve these components, you may find that your team’s productivity increases along with your efforts.