Posts Tagged ‘general construction’

Top 10 Tasks for Construction Superintendents

September 8, 2010
Stumbled upon this on the state of Washington Workforce Explorer site.  In reviewing this list, it occurred to me that jobsite photos and video should play a critical role in supporting most of these tasks. I have added comments next to each task (where appropriate) to specify the role that visual media can(should) play in performing the task.

If you’re not using photos in this manner, you should ask yourself why not.

Top 10 Tasks

  • Examine and inspect work progress, equipment, and construction sites to verify safety and to ensure that specifications are met. – Photos used to record progress and report conditions.
  • Read specifications such as blueprints to determine construction requirements and to plan procedures.
  • Estimate material and worker requirements to complete jobs. – Photo archives can provide visual references for similar jobs from the past.
  • Supervise, coordinate, and schedule the activities of construction or extractive workers. – Photos serve as a reference to confirm access, availability of materials and equipment.
  • Confer with managerial and technical personnel, other departments, and contractors in order to resolve problems and to coordinate activities. – Photos augment written and verbal communication and provide confirmation of resolution.
  • Coordinate work activities with other construction project activities. – As mentioned above, photos provide information on current site conditions.
  • Order or requisition materials and supplies. – Webcams and photos confirm receipt of materials, preventing over-ordering.
  • Locate, measure, and mark site locations and placement of structures and equipment, using measuring and marking equipment. – Photos used to augment measurements and markings.
  • Record information such as personnel, production, and operational data on specified forms and reports. – Photos augment written records and allow for forensic research of conditions not properly recorded.
  • Assign work to employees, based on material and worker requirements of specific jobs.

What’s Your Jobsite Photo Strategy?

August 4, 2010

When speaking with managers and executives from general contractor firms I make it a point to ask about their corporate strategy for jobsite photos. Ninety nine percent of the time, the response is “well, we don’t have one.”  Wow.

I’m sure if I asked the same question about estimating, scheduling, project management or accounting, one hundred percent would be able to convey their strategy to me. Yet, the one resource they have with the potential to irrefutably convey the value of their work isn’t worthy of a corporate strategy. Talk about an under-appreciated resource.

Flat Fee Construction: An Opportunity for Innovation

March 3, 2010

When you hear construction and The Great Recession in the same sentence, you wouldn’t expect it to be good news. But I read an article today in the Wall Street Journal that has me brimming with excitement over what the future holds for our industry.

Given a choice between going out of business or keeping their construction businesses alive, contractors are striking flat fee deals with banks to build/finish the houses of failed development projects.  Sure, the contractors quoted in the article mention that such contracts “help stop the bleeding” but how long would you expect any business to continue to work just for the sake of keeping the lights on? The strongest contractors will innovate in order to improve (create) their profits.

Where will the innovation come from? Well, I hope jobsite technology gets a good, hard look (OK, I’m biased). But you can’t predict these things. Maybe it’s more efficient use of materials or labor, new contract structures or creative insurance policies. Who knows? Every penny gained through innovation goes directly to the bottom line. Now’s the time to try things!

Given the large inventory of unfinished work in the now infamous markets of Florida, Arizona, California and Nevada, flat fee contracts with banks offer contractors a solid alternative to the bare-knuckled bidding wars that are taking place for government projects. Contractors in these markets can work in familiar territory to improve themselves.

What about you? What are your recession-inspired innovations?

You’ve Landed a Stimulus Project, Now What?

May 11, 2009

You and your team sharpened your pencils and beat back the most ravenous pack of competitors that you’ve ever seen in your career to win a coveted stimulus project. Congratulations.

Now it’s the morning after and you realize that things will be different with this project. Scrutiny from the government, the media and even the general public will be higher than you’ve ever experienced. Also, the razor thin margins that you have left for yourself mean that you have less wiggle room than ever to get this one right.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What changes did you make in your approach to bidding that led to your winning the contract?
  • Have you made appropriate accommodations to your operations practices in anticipation of the increased scrutiny? Timely, complete reports help a lot. Get out there and snap plenty of pictures.
  • Have you worked with your suppliers (and your subs with theirs) to improve the accuracy of their delivery schedules? Successful Just-In-Time deliveries can add precious days of cash flow while minimizing costly idle time.
  • Pre-Construction Quality meetings with your trades are helpful. In-project Quality meetings are even better. Track exceptions from inception to closure and don’t let schedule pressure affect your expectations for closure. Shortcuts only cost more in the end.

Times have changed. Have you?

Social Media for Recognition and Retention – Part 1

March 27, 2009

One of the attendees at my social media presentation to the local Associated Builders and Contractors board mentioned that he felt that there were many wasted opportunities to share stories about the great work his crew did.  He went on to say that his superintendents problem solving abilities were a real competitive advantage, but he found it difficult to convey that to current and potential customers.

I thought social media would be a great mechanism for sharing such stories.  The company benefits in a couple of ways. First, as the gentleman above suspected, these stories make great marketing copy. They create an opportunity for current customers to emotionally invest in the work of their contractor and paint an enticing picture for prospective clients.

However, I think efforts to recognize your crews’ success on the web will pay bigger dividends for the morale of the crews themselves. Think about it. If you see yourself mentioned in the company’s print newsletter, you might take it home to share with your spouse. However, if your mentioned in a blog post, with a link to the recognition page on the company website, then you’re likely to share that with all of your friends and family by email. Chances are that more than a few of those folks are in construction too, which means that your recognition effort can have recruiting benefits too.

See part 2 of this post for a 7-step approach for promoting the work of your crews.

Yeah, Right.

February 24, 2009

Imagine that you are an assembly line worker in the days of Henry Ford. You work in an environment where throughput is king. In other words, keep the production line moving at any cost. If you cause the line to stop for any reason, you get fired.


Fast forward to 1995. Ford, having learned a thing or two from Toyota, which ironically, had previously gotten their start by copying from Henry Ford, institutes Lean Manufacturing in order to instill a culture of continuous improvement through employee empowerment. For the first time ANYONE is empowered to stop the production line if they see something wrong.

Imagine for a moment what that was like for the newly empowered workers. Not having been there personally, I can only assume that the collective response to this new initiative can be summed up in two words “Yeah, right.”  One day, you can lose your job for gumming up the works. The next day, you’ve got full braking rights.

Construction personnel have the same quality rights as the Henry Ford-era workers.  In construction, the schedule has the same “Golden Calf” status as Ford’s assembly line. Impede it at your own peril.

One day, the age of enlightenment will reach construction. Hopefully, I’ll get a front row seat to hear the very first empowered construction workers say those historic words: “Yeah, right.”

Billy’s Journey

February 16, 2009

A recent conversation with a quality manager from a major general contractor brought this cartoon immediately to mind.  You see, this poor chap was under the delusion that he could simply walk from his desk to a condo unit to check the fit of the refrigerator and then walk back.  The time required to complete his journey: 2 hours!

family-circus-billy-pathAt every turn, the quality manager was beckoned by a information-starved  sub contractor with a question.  Each question began innocently enough.  “Got a minute?” they would ask.  But after a dozen or so of these, his 10 minute walk turned into a 2 hour journey.

My take on Billy’s journey:

  1. Ground-level direction leaves a lot to be desired.
  2. Tradespeople want to do a good job for their clients, but don’t always have sufficient information to do so.
  3. If chance encounters with roaming managers are how trade questions get answered, then I bet a fair number of trade questions go un-answered.

Project quality suffers in all cases.

February 7, 2009

We launched the new Geedra website today.  If construction touches your life in any way, please pay us a visit.


Building Airplanes vs. Building Buildings – Part 3 (The Missing Link)

July 3, 2008

So far in this series of posts I’ve discussed the well-orchestrated construction of airplanes as compared with the improvisational construction of buildings in Part 1. In Part 2 I explored the differences in inspection and monitoring for the two processes. In Part 3 I’ll discuss Construction Verification‘s role in providing project partners with the means to drive their defect rates down significantly, perhaps to levels that compare favorably with those of aircraft manufacturers.

When it comes to the development of process systems, the biggest advantage that Boeing or Airbus have over a general contractor are volume and duration. When you are planning on building thousands of aircraft over a period of ten or more years, you can justify a sizable effort in developing a sophisticated process instructions that describe the installation of every wire, nut and rivet. The payoff for this intensive process development comes in the form of reduced defects, lower rework costs and of course, safer aircraft.

In construction neither owners nor general contractors can benefit from high volume or long duration as aircraft manufacturers can. While construction partners can invest in their own individual management systems, there is no economic payoff for them if they invest in systems that govern the movement and monitoring of individual contributors on a construction site. Why pay to develop specialized process instructions for every construction operation on a building when you can’t apply that information to your next building? That is, of course, if there even is a next building? Expenditures in systems development, testing, training and implementation cannot generate a positive return on investment during the time line of a single project.

Construction Verification, however, can make up for lack of process control available to the building constructor. By monitoring all significant building systems with images and data, CV offers a contractor the means to evaluate critical operations in near real time. Thus, afford him the ability to make corrections early before work is covered, averting costly rework in the process. Early detection can also reduce the quantity of errors as timely process or design changes can reduce multiple instances of the same problem.

By recording the Construction Verification data in a database, the contractor has the power to investigate quality defects like never before. If the contractor suspects that any particular error might be “the tip of the iceberg,” he can confirm or refute his fears without leaving his desk by searching the data base for multiple instances of the same defect. For example, if there concerns about quality of the roofer’s work the contractor can zero in on all work performed under division code 075000 to view every significant membrane roofing operation without leaving his desk.

With this type of information at his fingertips, the contractor can take advantage of his improvisational environment to enact process revisions on the fly.  With a few barks into a radio, process corrections can be conveyed to the superintendent and on down the line within minutes. Try that in an airplane plant.

Building Airplanes vs. Building Buildings – Part 2 (Inspection and Monitoring)

June 10, 2008

Workers assembling a 747 follow detailed process instructions that combine visual images and text to direct the installation of every component. Inspection is exhaustive (100% for critical systems.)

Process monitoring is comprehensive and accomplished in real time to enable rapid correction in order to minimize the amount of disassembly necessary to access the rework area (sound familiar construction folks?)

Again, the contrast in construction is obvious when it comes to inspection and monitoring. Inspection schedules often conflict with building schedules, often resulting in a lag that can lead to delays (as crews wait for inspectors to catch up,) multiple occurrences of the same defect or worse yet, potentially covering defective installations as time-crunched general contractors decide that they can’t wait for inspectors.

Building Envelope Defect-in-Progress

Monitoring (and data recording) in construction is haphazard. So much so, that if there is an indication that there are multiple instances of an error in construction, the only way to clear suspect installations is to physically inspect them. That is, if they’re not already buried in concrete.