by Gregg Schoppman, FMI
It seems like just yesterday when we were last asked to update the applications on our smart phones. The reason it feels too recent is because it was just yesterday. Whether it is to mitigate the risk of security breaches or simply provide new enjoyment on Candy Crush, the ubiquity of updates/upgrades has become so ingrained in how society uses everything from smartphones to tablets to video game consoles. However, one document rarely sees the prevalence of such spring cleaning. Standard operating procedures can often be aged in much the same way dinosaur bones are carbon dated. In fact, similar dating can be assigned to the coating of dust that covers the antiquated three-ring binder that sits atop the shelves of managers and superintendents throughout the world. Ironically, it is the same ambivalence toward monitoring the firm’s “procedures” that has led to an ever-increasing lack of consistency in the way that manager and superintendents govern and more importantly proactively lead their projects. Put another way, firms wrestle with maintaining standards of management thus creating “Bob’s Way” and “Mary’s Way” rather than the “Brand X Way” of operating. In the end, the version is largely dependent on the individual rather than a set of best practices that are tested, vetted and the best application of the management team.
How did it get this far? The first question that every firm should ask relates to how loosely held management procedures are driven in the firm. For instance, is the operations manual a suggestion or a standard? One reason that leads to management apathy of process and tools is the lack of relevance to the current paradigm. For instance, if the tool and process is not germane to the current business model, it will quickly be scrapped. Are the processes geared toward a “hard bid environment” but the firm is now doing design-build? Are the tools not integrated into the current technology platform? It is easy to see why a superintendent or manager will develop their own work-around when the firm is deeply grounded in an antiquated system.
This is not to say that the original versions are abandoned to obsolescence. Better yet, this is an example of integrating version 2.0 into the daily routine. It is imperative for every firm to embrace a culture of continuous improvement to capitalize on these upgrades. Strict adherence to the status quo is increasingly dangerous in this quickly evolving marketplace. Even if the enhancement is as simple as revising a preconstruction planning agenda or creating a new version of the last planner tool (i.e. two-week look-ahead), nothing should be relegated to the status of sacred cow territory. In fact, small revisions (think version 1.0001) might get the engine of innovation started and lead to greater incremental progress.
There is something surreal about using prose to describe something multi-dimensional. Consider an engineer that used a written narrative to illustrate a complex system like a water treatment plant. Rather than drawings, the engineer describes everything in words. Complicated? Why take the same approach to internal processes? Consider the following comparison:
Preconstruction Process 1.0 vs. Preconstruction Process 2.0
Preconstruction Process Version 1.0
When a project starts, the first thing that a project manager should do is assign a project number. To do this see the controller and they will get you the latest number in the sequence. Next , you should coordinate with the estimator on a day to conduct the hand-off meeting. Once the meeting is set, you should begin the meeting with a discussion on the drawings. The second item should be around safety. During the safety discussion you might want to call the Safety Director. Some of the items around safety should include, fall protection, competent person, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc.
Preconstruction Process Version 2.0
This commentary is less about whether the steps listed are the correct ones for the process. Rather, it is about creating a linear or simply a logical road map for individuals to process and follow. This is even more important in an industry that relies so heavily on visual models and depictions to provide direction. Lastly, steps in the process can now be assigned ownership to drive the most important element of version control—accountability.
Pop quiz—are the procedures in the firm a suggestion or is it dogma? Most leaders would say that there is an expectation that procedures are strictly followed otherwise why would they exist. However, if they are to be followed, how does the management team know if the process is followed? For many firms, the only indication is if a project makes money or loses money at the end of a project. This is the equivalent of gauging the success of a diet simply by stepping on a scale but failing to measure food intake or exercise. For a firm to effectively manage the efficacy of its processes, it must measure them. Examples of “upstream” behavioral metrics to consider include:
- Preconstruction planning.
- Look-ahead planning (Last Planner for the Lean firms).
- Close-out meeting.
- Post project reviews.
- Trade contractor coordination.
For instance, if a firm begins 10 projects in a month, there should be evidence of 10 preconstruction planning meetings. While it sounds puerile to measure processes such as these, it probably has a more demonstrative impact on the bottom line. Metrics can also tell a great deal the aforementioned categories. Weak adoption of processes may indicate deeper issues such as lack of relevance or germaneness. Without this information, firms develop blind spots that mask the real problems in their operations. Measuring monthly costs is important but simply using these metrics to manage a business is like driving a car with the rearview mirror.
Most operating manuals are 80 percent to 90 percent “there.” Preconstruction planning doesn’t change that dramatically to necessitate wholesale overhauls. However, it is imperative that business knock the rust off and look up under the hood to ensure these guidelines are in fact driving the businesses.
As a principal with FMI, Tampa, Fla., Gregg Schoppman specializes in the areas of productivity and project management. He also leads FMI’s project management consulting practice. Prior to joining FMI, Schoppman served as a senior project manager for a general contracting firm in central Florida. He has completed complex and sophisticated construction projects in the medical, pharmaceutical, office, heavy civil, industrial, manufacturing, and multi-family markets. He has also worked as a construction manager and managed direct labor. Furthermore, Schoppman has expertise in numerous contract delivery methods as well as knowledge of many geographical markets. He can be reached at (813) 636-1259 or firstname.lastname@example.org.