Practical strategies drive tangible results in boosting efficiency and performance.
Productivity is all about optimising inputs and outputs, and the best way to think about it is miles per gallon. We’re not just interested in the destination, or what we’ve achieved but ultimately what it takes to get there.
The need to improve productivity has emerged as a critical focal point. This is supported by a data-driven understanding, highlighting that the construction industry increased just 12% in the 22 years to 2019 (0.5% per year on average), compared with the whole economy which saw a 53% increase (2.0% per year on average). A key element to improving productivity is the practical actions and principles that can be implemented on all projects. When these are applied appropriately, they facilitate on-time project delivery, mitigate risks and costs and contribute to sustainable practices.
These practical actions apply to every process, on every project and can be swiftly adopted by teams with the appropriate support. Driving change within the sector requires different approaches, from specific project delivery improvement to broader programmatic and organisational development. The overarching goal is to formalise productive practices as standard operating procedures.
Outlined below are practical actions aimed at fostering productivity improvements throughout the sector. These actions highlight the links between programme management, productivity improvement and quality assurance – ultimately delivering value to the customer and fostering a culture of continuous improvement and innovation.
A Systematic Approach
The delivery of programmes and projects needs to be considered from a systematic and integrated approach rather than individual silos. This systematic approach can be driven by the client or prime contractor, however, it requires clarity of customer values and goals to embed a common purpose and approach.
Figure 1 below displays the overall end-to-end process, highlighting the integrated elements, not necessarily sequential stages. The collaboration of all stakeholders as an integrated delivery team will generate enhanced value and productivity improvements.
Figure 1: BBI’s end-to-end systematic approach to drive value and performance
Setting up for success
Optimal impact and benefit to performance can be achieved from the outset of projects, however, improvements can be made at any stage. The principle of ‘setting up for success’ revolves around the strategic building and development of teams, identifying capabilities and opportunities, and determining the true customer value to create a common purpose.
Role of the client
The active involvement of a client who drives ‘’what great looks like’’ is instrumental in driving performance. However, the application of the improvement principles detailed below can be taken on by the prime contractor or integrator to embed improved performance within a project.
5 key productivity improvement principles applicable to every project, process, and team:
- Develop collaboration, teamwork and trust based on practical improvement activities
- Visual management and performance
- Eliminate waste in every process
- Integrated project team with design and procurement aligned to the value outcomes (not cost-based)
- Active leadership is crucial to set the vision and drive the behaviours/routines to achieve mutual success
To explain these principles further:
- Develop collaboration, teamwork, & trust
There is immense value in engaging team members, developing their improvement skills, and embedding a collaborative and challenging mindset around a clear project/programme or organisational purpose. These behaviours and characteristics need cultivating through structured and active training and coaching to then be embedded at all levels and throughout the organisation, project and supply chain which will promote more productivity improvement actions.
- Visual management & performance
Visual management aims for everyone to be able to ‘see & understand’ the situation ‘at a glance’. This includes a performance control room approach, production controls and embeds a Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle of daily, weekly, and monthly routines. Creating a visual, collaborative space (digital or physical) provides easier escalation of issues and rapid decision-making, as the impact and requirements are clear to see. The PDCA cycle includes robust short-range planning, production control, and a visual action plan where teams are engaged to plan in detail, identify constraints, and resolve blockers. This facilitates the right people, in the right places, doing the right things productively whilst working safely. Capturing the appropriate productivity metrics and data, and then visualising performance will help drive problem-solving anywhere in the project lifecycle.
- Eliminate waste in every process
High-performing organisations understand the distinction between value-adding and non-value-adding, acknowledging the 8 categories of waste (see appendices). The elimination of waste is often misunderstood within the construction sector, contributing to a lack of focus on the key time-stealers of productivity performance. The emphasis on identifying and eliminating waste in the end-to-end value streams drives right-first-time, robust processes, optimised logistics and informed decisions, further contributing to productivity improvements onsite, near-site, and offsite.
- Integrated project teams including design & procurement
The integration of the design and procurement processes into the overall project flow is imperative to improve decision-making and outcomes. Adopting a collaborative Target Value Design (TVD) approach with Design For Manufacture, Assembly & Operation (DFMA&O) at the core promotes standardisation, simplification, and the exploration of improvement ideas. The management of the design and procurement process using the principles above is also essential ensuring there is clarity, measurement, and clear flow which drives the productivity of these processes and their outcomes.
The role of the leader is key in creating the conditions for success, both on projects and within organisations. Active involvement of leaders, at all levels, from ‘boots to board’ is reflected in the principle of ‘shadow of the leader’ where actions speak louder than words. Engaged and informed leadership that aligns with the principles outlined above encourages a safe environment for experimentation and a ‘’fail fast’’ approach helping to drive their productivity performance.
Embedding these practices will significantly drive the productivity of the sector. Case studies demonstrate the practical Return on Investment (ROI) of these principles and emphasise the benefit of embedding these skillsets and behaviours within teams to strive towards long-term productivity improvements.
Setting the foundations creates the culture and environment for further adoption of actions such as strategic plan deployment, supply chain development, digital deployment and industrialised construction. With improved organisational performance and customer satisfaction, organisations can develop long-term relationships and negotiate contracts. Building corporate ‘muscle memory’ is key so there is a standardised way of working across the organisation which everyone adopts as the ‘way’.
Sustainability – There is a clear link between productivity and sustainability. Improving the utilisation of people, equipment, and materials, including packaging waste, contributes to a reduction in the carbon footprint for projects, programmes and organisations.
Continuous improvement & innovation – Innovation is key within the construction sector, however, is often sought from a top-down approach to try and encourage ideas and their adoption. There is great power and success to be achieved through a combination of continuous improvement and innovation, from a bottom-up approach and driving teams to identify small incremental changes which add up to significant change and develop an engaged, flexible workforce used to challenge and change.
3 minutes videos with key industry influencers discussing productivity:
Figure 2 – Categories of work Figure 3 – 8 types of waste Figure 4 – Focused improvement activities Figure 5 – Integration of productivity drivers