Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Use technology, best practices to improve productivity

A panel of experts talked about Keys to Enhancing productivity at the 4th Annual ENR-CURT Construction Business Forum, June 15-16, at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, Va. Paul Goodrum, associate professor, Department of Civil Engineering, University of Kentucky, College of Engineering, Lexington, Ky.; Albert Schwarzkopf, senior project engineer, Merck & Co. Whitehouse Station, N.J.; Jim Shoriak, director, Major Projects – Refining Group, Marathon Oil Co., Houston; Steve Toon, CE&T productivity engineer, Bechtel Group Inc., San Francisco; and Dave Umstot, vice chancellor of facilities management, San Diego Community College District, took part in the panel.

The experts agreed that using technology and best practices were key to improving productivity. “The construction industry is one of the largest manufacturing industries in the U.S., worth about $1 trillion, little lower now, maybe $800k-900k,” Goodrum said. “Construction lags behind other industries [in terms of productivity]. We need a productivity index. The data is there, but how you can begin to accumulate it is the question. We see a lot of variability in project performance. From project to project we’re not necessarily doing what we need to do. We need to ensure what needs to be done is being done. Technology can get you there.” Integrated design processes, such as BIM, allow designers, builders and trade contractors to work in a collaborative 3D environment during design and construction, he said.

There’s a need for workplace productivity analysis, Toon said. “Figure out how much time is spent doing direct work at the work place. All those pieces come together when you do the analysis. We want labor productivity at the back end. We need to embrace technology and need to implement it earlier on. Health and safety issues, HR policies, all need to be in place, and not shot from the hip.”

Doing the right thing in the wrong time is not necessarily productive, the experts agreed. “If not coordinated, productivity’s compromised,” Umstot said. “Timing the project is important. The owners need to put that in place. All of the contractors need to have input in the plan. Measure productivity on key activities, do a selection of the key activities, and roll those up in sector indexes. Theoretically, it can be done, but it’s expensive.”

Contractors who have the motivation, adopt best practices and succeed, the experts said.

“If we all improve productivity best practices, it will benefit the industry as a whole,” Schwarzkopf said. “We need to get better at that as an industry. If we do it, the rest of the world will follow, so we’ll need to keep improving.”

What’s missing now is a metric of best practices, Goodrum said. “We need to measure the practice. That’s the next step.”

Do you agree? What do you do to increase productivity in your company?

—By Sahely Mukerji, senior editor, Glass Magazine


Anonymous said...

Lean manufacturing and Six Sigma are great tools to improve productivity. They also don't come cheap . What can small or mid-szed companies - that cannot afford Lean or Six Sigma - do to improve there bottom line?

Sahely Mukerji said...

If you're interested, GM did a couple of articles on Lean and Six Sigma:



Thank you.