New ideas don’t easily find their way into the world of construction. Whether it’s due to the age-old excuse of “We’ve been doing it this way for as long as we can remember” or just good-old fashioned resistance to change, the industry has not fundamentally altered its ways for many years.
As a result, our industry’s production stats have decreased in certain places while other industries have increased production exponentially.
Take the manufacturing realm, which has been steadily improving its production statistics for a while now. All because they’ve been open to being “lean” – a concept the construction industry has only very recently begun to adopt. But it’s an idea whose time has come, and one that can radically improve our processes as well as the buildings we construct.
To speak in very general terms, the lean concept focuses on optimizing workflows, removing waste, continually improving processes and making decisions that will add value to a project. If you think these sound like broad ideas, I agree with you. So I won’t attempt to explore here all the ways we can incorporate them into our construction practices. For the purposes of this post, we’ll touch on my favorite element: optimizing the team! (Watch this blog for more on other elements of the lean construction and design idea.)
Let me explain what “optimizing the team” means. If you think about it, you probably spend as much time during the week with your “construction family” as you do with your actual family. Strange but true, given the demanding hours in this business. So the bonds that tie together your team are extremely important and worth strengthening.
Why is that so important? Because a strong team is built on trust. When you know you can count on the people next to you to do their jobs, you won’t have to spend time double-checking their work or making multiple follow-ups to make sure they’re on task. You can rely on each individual’s commitment to achieve at the highest possible level so as not to let the team down. In other words, when a team is optimized, they are far more productive and less wasteful.
Everyone who works on a construction project is a member of the same team, even if we don’t work for the same company. We share the same goals of making a profit for all the companies working on the project (including our own) while delivering the best project with the highest value to the owner.
There are a couple of tools we use to do this. The first is co-location, which calls for all members of a construction team to work out of the same open office. Co-locating builds relationships across the entire team, streamlines the communication process, improves efficiencies, and simplifies the collaborative effort. My multiple experiences co-locating have all been met with great success.
There are different ways to achieve this at the company level. First, trust your employees and empower them to make strong, decisive decisions without having to check in with management at every turn. Second, make sure all companies that are part of a project team have the correct personnel on site who can make these decisions in the co-location space. Third, don’t work in silos and ask individuals to solve problems on their own. Instead, use your team and their strengths to resolve issues as they arise.
At VPCS, we’ve relied on these same tenets for our entire 20-year history. Now that these common-sense ideas are also recognized as the foundational ideas of lean design and construction, it’s easy for us to adapt. Building our business on these principles has allowed us to deliver higher-value projects — constructed by optimized teams — to our owner clients.
By Eric Van Pelt