Wondering how to improve productivity in construction without sacrificing quality or safety? It’s not an easy task, to be sure. But in this post, we’ll give you 10 actionable tips that will help you boost and track your progress with incredible effectiveness.
Defining construction productivity
Before we dive into the list, it’s important to get on the same page concerning what construction productivity is. As you might expect, productivity in construction is a measure of output. Consulting firms like McKinsey & Company analyze construction productivity on a macro scale, comparing data from multiple countries and pitting the industry against others.
Of course, productivity can also be evaluated within individual construction companies, which is the focus of this article. However, we’ll also do our best to incorporate factors that McKinsey & Company’s widely-quoted study has identified as responsible for a lag in construction efficiency.
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
10 tips for improving productivity in construction
#1. Know the metrics and measurement tools
It’s very difficult – if not impossible – to improve your company’s productivity if you don’t know what to analyze.
The following tools are among the most commonly used for this purpose in construction. Keep in mind that the topic of metrics could easily be an entire textbook unto itself. We’re just skimming through here to give you an idea of how nuanced measurement of productivity in construction can get.
Arguably the most basic measure of productivity (and one used across multiple industries) takes a company or team’s output and divides it by the number of hours worked. This will help you understand how much value the entire unit created per hour.
You can then take this figure and compare it to the project’s overall value as well as the labor cost to get an idea of whether you’re operating profitably.
Workforce utilization is exactly what it sounds like – a ratio describing how your laborers are managing their time. A subpar workforce utilization rate indicates that inaction on the part of your team is costing you money. Productivity can also suffer if your workforce utilization is too perfect, though (i.e. approaching 100%) because it means your team doesn’t have time for development activities. You need to strike the right balance.
Leaders in every industry understand the importance of measuring data against an appropriate and reliable benchmark. In investment banking, professionals might reference the S&P 500 while customer service representatives rely on industry calculations detailing the ideal amount of time to spend on each call.
In construction, you have several options regarding benchmarks. The best one will depend on what task you’re completing. A concrete team, for example, might measure its productivity based on how many square feet they’re able to pour within an hour. When building a skyscraper, you might focus on the number of floors added within a given period.
#2. Embrace digitization
Increased digitization is one of the changes McKinsey & Company has identified as capable of helping productivity in construction grow by as much as 60%. Once you understand the benefits of digitization, it’s not hard to see why the firm identified it as being so important.
Effective digitization can automate productivity tracking processes, freeing workers up to spend time analyzing data rather than manually typing things into spreadsheets (or worse – writing them down on a piece of paper).
With the many software solutions out there for construction companies in 2020, there’s really no excuse not to be relying on properly-maintained and accurate data at this point. Check out this post for some tips specific to working with data.
There’s a lot more to digitization than managing workforce data, too. Read this post for a breakdown of five great video conferencing tools that will improve the effectiveness of your company’s communication.
#3. Actively reduce skill gaps
Another potential productivity boost identified by McKinsey & Company is better training and skill development for workers.
Improperly trained workers will, naturally, not be as productive as they could be. In the worst-case scenario, poor training can lead to injuries and further setbacks to your project.
Remember when we mentioned a few sections ago that a workforce utilization ratio of 100% isn’t ideal? This is why. Having your team members constantly working on urgent tasks leaves them unable to engage in training that would improve their productivity in the long term.
By thinking about the big picture in this way, you’ll boost productivity across the board at your company rather than on just a handful of projects.
#4. Look beyond workforce management
Workforce management is absolutely essential for increasing construction efficiency. Of course, it’s not the only thing that matters, though.
Procurement and supply-chain management are two additional areas in which consultants have identified a need for progress. For many companies, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a particularly stark reminder of how important it is to develop risk management procedures, improve relationships with suppliers, and identify outsourcing opportunities.
This falls under the broader umbrella of construction resource management, which we’ve written an extensive guide about here.
#5. Get everybody on the same page
Communication hangups are a common cause of lost productivity in construction companies – particularly those in which digitization has stalled. Among the many benefits of using resource management software is that workers operate from a single source of truth, limiting the potential for miscommunication.
Read this article for some tips on getting your entire team to embrace data and build a culture around establishing single sources of truth where needed.
#6. Implement appropriate incentives
Construction work can be incredibly grueling, especially when a project’s scope changes and workers have to revamp their schedules. Take care to implement appropriate incentives in these situations or when laborers successfully complete a project.
It doesn’t have to be anything major. Even some pizza can help workers feel appreciated, which will keep them motivated and productive.
#7. Keep your goals realistic
Having good construction productivity measurement practices in place is great but won’t necessarily be effective if you’re constantly setting unreasonable expectations.
To be clear, you should absolutely set goals that challenge your team members to achieve their best. Those goals should just be within the realm of what you know they can achieve.
Otherwise, you’ll be setting your team up for constant disappointment as they miss goals and become demotivated. Few things will kill productivity faster!
The good news is that you can avoid this easily by following some of the other tips on this list (particularly embracing digitization and understanding metrics). Once you get a better overall picture of your workforce and its capabilities, your goal-setting will become much more effective.
#8. Encourage feedback – and actually listen to it
Effective collaboration is absolutely imperative for ensuring productivity within a construction company.
Any given construction project has countless moving parts. No one person can be an expert on everything, which is why it’s important to take feedback from the people you’ve entrusted seriously.
When people feel unheard in the workplace, they tend to lose motivation, which heavily impacts productivity. Ignoring feedback from workers in the know may also reduce their ability to complete tasks in the most efficient manner, causing setbacks in quality and progress.
Check out this article for some tips on creating a more collaborative construction company.
#9. Run your meetings more efficiently
Meetings that lack direction can leave your workers more confused and less productive than they would’ve been without any meeting at all. Achieve optimal construction efficiency by ensuring workers are adequately prepared for every meeting.
Every meeting should be framed around an agenda with clear objectives for it to be accomplished/communicated by the end.
#10. Keep the end goal in mind
As you’ve seen throughout this article, there are many nuances involved in boosting construction productivity. You should never get so caught up with the minutiae, however, that you lose sight of what’s important, which is that projects be completed on-time and on-budget.
By maintaining this, you’ll avoid the common pitfall of workers attempting to play numbers games to impress superiors rather than producing actual value for your company and its clients.
While productivity in construction has lagged behind other industries, we believe the trend can be reversed if companies follow the steps we’ve outlined in this article. Productivity is especially important in these uncertain times and getting the right steps in place will build your company much stronger for the future.
Lauren Lake is the COO and co-founder at Bridgit. She holds a degree in Civil Structural Engineering and is well-versed in construction workforce management and resource planning processes. Lauren has been named to the Forbes Manufacturing & Industry 30 Under 30 and Best Of Canada Forbes Under 30 Innovators lists. Lauren has presented at industry events and conferences, including BuiltWorlds, Canadian Construction Association, Procore Groundbreak, and more. Follow Lauren on LinkedIn and Instagram.
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