Onsite Observations Provide Surprising Insights
Faced with rising material costs, shrinking margins and increasingly aggressive competitors, the owner of a large paint and drywall contracting company realized the only way he could stay competitive was to somehow boost the productivity and efficiency of his crews. After several “pep talks” and warnings failed to make a difference, he decided to take a more structured approach.
He began by conducting several onsite studies of all job activities, sampling and observing the activities of his crews. During these observations, the owner and his most experienced project manager recorded every specific activity being performed.
For workers performing continuous activities, such as painting or surface preparation, each activity was observed for a minimum of five minutes at a time, at various times of day over the course of several days. For cyclical or noncontinuous activities, such as installing panels, a minimum of 10 or 15 work cycles were observed, again at various times over several days.
The results surprised everyone – especially the owner. Even though the crews were “on their best behavior” while being observed, the most skilled workers – installers and painters – still spent nearly 50 percent of their time in nonproductive activities such as waiting for helpers to bring materials, move scaffolding or other equipment, or finish prepping the worksite.
Further analysis revealed that the key to improving overall crew performance was to rebalance the makeup of the crews themselves, assigning additional, relatively low paid helpers in order to maximize the efficiency of the more highly skilled – and more highly paid – craftsmen.
The owner also discovered another major opportunity: By improving coordination with other subcontractors he was able to schedule his crews more efficiently and minimize the amount of time his workers spent waiting for other trades to clear the site.