Improving Construction Productivity: What’s REALLY Working

Stephanie Patterson, Rhumbix InsiderOctober 04, 2022 • 4 min read

Improving productivity is something that those of us in construction are thinking about constantly. But what strategies are really working? Many companies and industry experts are considering—or actively experimenting with—a variety of methods, including prefabrication, new field technologies, and Lean construction methods. While many of these approaches are still in their infancy, there are promising indicators of best practices firms can adopt to get the most out of their productivity initiatives.

In a recent webinar hosted by a new consortium of companies called the Construction Cloud, four industry experts shared their perspective on How Technology Increases Construction Productivity in the Era of Labor Shortages. Speakers included Ken Simonson, Chief Economist for the AGC, John Pemberton, CEO of Transforming Construction Solutions, Kris Lengieza, Vice President of Operational Excellence at Stiles Corporation, and Robert Kipp, Lead Superintendent at AECOM Tishman.

The speakers represented a variety of perspectives on productivity: from the Owner, to the field, and all the way up to the big picture of what’s happening in the industry.

Today, we’re sharing four insights that we think are helpful for anyone involved in productivity planning and improvements at their company.

1. Hire Early

A recent study completed by the Lean Construction Institute and Dodge Data & Analytics explored the specific practices that contribute to projects coming in ahead of schedule and under budget, which are the two metrics that matter most to Owners.

The study compared typical projects with best performing projects to see what factors made the biggest difference, and one of the key findings was the timing of hiring decisions.

The best performing projects hire everyone that will be working on the project at the start of the design phase. This includes all specialty trades like the General Contractor, Electrical Contractor, and Mechanical Contractor.

Fully 76% of the best projects in the study engaged key stakeholders before or during conceptualization. Hiring early ensures that those who will be implementing the design in the field have an opportunity to influence how the design happens.

2. Collaborate Regularly

Another consistent practice of the best performing teams is collaboration. Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) methods as well as Design-Build delivery methods encourage the highest degree of team collaboration and therefore increase the probability of project success.

Beyond delivery methods, encouraging collaboration can be as simple as co-locating teams in one big room; a simple change that the study found to yield significant results. For those in the field, co-location may not be possible but technology can offer the same kind of experience. Kris Lengieza talked about how Stiles has been using tools like FaceTime, Google Hangouts and videos to improve collaboration and communications between the field and the home office.

Collaboration also needs to extend to how firms are approaching technology. While it’s not necessary for all project stakeholders to be using the exact same software, they DO need to have access to the same data set.

Reaping the full rewards of technology requires that all data is integrated and shared across systems. ERP needs to share with field collaboration tools and field collaboration tools need to be sharing with ERP.

Free movement of data across the construction technology ecosystem is absolutely key.

3. Align Incentives

How teams write their contract also plays into overall project success. The best projects consistently used Integrated Project Delivery which, beyond encouraging collaboration, also aligns all parties (Owner, Architect, and Contractor) to a single contract. This ensures a shared risk/reward approach to unforeseen costs, and to savings.

The best projects approached their contracts from the perspective of, “How do we support the team with this contract?”, rather than, “How do we use this contract to move the risk to someone else?”

4. Don’t Make Disruption a Dirty Word

A final takeaway from the webinar was how firms are thinking about technology in general.

Many construction companies are looking at technologies to augment existing workflows. While this is a good first step, it shouldn’t be the only step. True technology disruption is often what leads to the most significant gains.

If the industry isn’t willing to explore disruptive measures, chances are the full benefits that technology has brought to other industries may never be realized. It’s time for construction firms to get comfortable with the idea of rocking the boat.

Images are from the webinar, which can be viewed here.

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