Cycle time makes or breaks the Builder. Take too long to build, and the Builder risks lower margins if not losing money on the project all together. But build the project too quickly and quality may suffer. Or does it?
Many cycle time delays are due to waste in the construction process—activities not starting on time and taking too long to complete, multiple punch lists, return trips to finish a job, inspection fails, incorrect material delivery…
The list goes on and on. While weather and the odd, unexpected anomaly will always blindside the construction process and impact build time, a lot of the delays are actually within the builder’s ability to control.
Here are five steps to reduce cycle time without sacrificing quality.
1. Set a cut-off date for customer changes.
A pleasurable project building experience is a top objective for most builders, but allowing the customer to make changes during the construction process is not doing the customer any favors. Once construction on the project has started, the train has left the station, so to speak. Changes create errors and an environment of confusion– POs are wrong or revisions are missed, incorrect product is ordered and delivered, wait times are extended. Establish a “Change Cut-Off Date” with the customer, and set it in stone. The customer may be a little unhappy that she can’t change the plumbing fixtures, but the Customer will be downright livid when the fixtures are delivered and the project is delayed six weeks to correct the error.
2. Actively identify and eliminate recurring bottlenecks across jobsites.
“Identifying bottlenecks” may seem like the easy half of the equation. However, jobsite Superintendents often look at each problem as unique and unprecedented. Use the QC System to identify trends across jobsites. For example, while a specific delay may seem unique to that one project under construction, data in the QC System can offer a larger picture. Viewing delays across multiple jobsites can reveal recurring issues within a certain activity, or construction phase, or Subcontractor. Once bottlenecks are identified—whether they’re obvious or obscure—the Builder can take measures to eliminate them.
Eliminating bottlenecks requires the Builder to delve into the problem. On the surface, it’ll always be easy to point fingers. However the builder needs to ask why the activity is taking longer than scheduled. Is the job ready when the crew begins? Are crews performing “workarounds” to get the job done? Is there a habitual punch list that requires call backs? Understanding why an activity is off schedule is critical to eliminating the problem. Also compare an off-schedule job with another jobsite that’s on-schedule. That will most likely reveal best practices and opportunities for standardization.
3. Purge waste from the construction schedule, process and jobsite.
Waste is Enemy #1 for the builder. And it’s everywhere. In the construction schedule, many activities have buffer days that can be eliminated. If the framing crew needs six days to complete the job, don’t give them seven. Many subcontractors will take the maximum number scheduled days to complete the job, whether they need that much time or not. This often leads to a contractor starting a job on day one, then not returning until day three or four to finish. This wait time either artificially extends the number of days it takes to complete a job, or requires the next activity to begin before the prior activity is finished. That in turn breeds even more errors and delays.
Extra days to account for expected punch lists and callbacks must be purged from the build schedule too. Use QC checklists on the jobsite to eliminate punch lists, and reduce the overall number of days it takes to complete the job. Standardized inspections performed by crew leaders and Superintendents should stop callbacks. This will keep the schedule moving and ensure quality building at the same time.
Finally, jobsite waste slows down construction as much as anything else. A cluttered jobsite is neither safe nor providing ideal working conditions. Require the project to be cleaned-up and swept at the end of every day. Excess lumber, block, drywall and just trash in general make a statement about priorities and respect. (And that doesn’t even include the amount of money wasted in thrown-away materials.) If subcontractors don’t respect the jobsite, they won’t respect the schedule either. Keep the jobsite clean and the schedule moving.
4. Use the QC System as a Communications Tool.
The QC System is more than just quality control; it’s also a powerful communication tool that will improve cycle time. In addition to monitoring phase completion, its tools can distribute best practices across jobsites and communities. Through checklists and inspections, the Builder can ensure work is being performed correctly and to standard on every jobsite. Clarity about your expectations are brought to a whole new level when reference pictures and details are can be viewed right from the checklist. Checklists are also an open two-way line for the subcontractor and Superintendent to create Hot Spots, or areas that need extra attention. This can include right and wrong ways of performing to work to preferred materials and installation practices to a heads-up about plan errors.
The QC Program is also a platform for field to management and field to back-office communication. Through a sophisticated reporting system, those plan errors can be immediately sent to the architect for revision. The Purchasing Department can review material delays and defects and, in return, make smarter buying decisions. Scheduling can identify which Subcontractors (or even which crews) are meeting expectations and continue providing them with jobs over less dependable crews.
5. Solicit ideas for improvement from the field.
The Project Building Team is just that—a team. And the people in the field (Superintendents, Subcontractors, Project Managers, and even Customers) see problems and opportunities that a single person often misses. So, ask the Construction Team for ideas to reduce build time. They inherently want a shorter build time to get to their closing bonus quicker. Ask the Subcontractor how to make their job move faster and more efficient. They naturally want to get in and out of the house and on to the next job as quickly as possible. Often times, they have ideas and are just waiting for the chance to speak-up.
While there will always be something out there to create delays in the construction process, the Builder can at least reduce those obstacles to out-of-the-norm anomalies. There’s no excuse for recurring problems to create the same delays over and over again.