November 11, 2008

What is your process?

It’s a simple question, with complicated implications. Almost every company I work with has a “process” for how they get work done, and how their business runs. What I am finding is that although these processes are unique to every situation and company type, there are certain themes that are shared across the board. The main one I want to discuss today if the age, or maturity, or the process.

I find that many companies have a process for getting work done that is based on traditional tactics and workflows. Example; take a look at the picture below and ask yourself; does my office look like this?
I bet the answer is yes; there is at least one corner or cube with a similar layout somewhere in the building.

So the next question I have for you? When do you think this picture was taken? Would it surprise you to know that it was 1986! That’s correct; 20+ years later, and I’d wager that this office still looks the same today. The reason: process.

The process for design, for creating plan sets, documentation, and specifications is the same today as it was twenty years ago, dare I say 40 years ago. The only changes over the decades are the tools used to create them. We’ve gone digital, yes – word processing for the specs; computer aided drafting for the plans; excel spreadsheets for the estimating. The challenge I believe we are mired in today is that the process, the workflows, the way we do the design, the way make ideas a reality in the built world, has not changed. And because it has not changed, neither has our efficiency or profitability. I’d also be willing to bet that it’s gone in the opposite direction.
Here we see a study done that compares the productivity of the construction industry to all other non-farm based industries (Aerospace, Mechanical design, Electrical engineering, etc.). Note the problem; the construction productivity index, represented as the orange line in the chart, has fallen roughly 20% in the last 40 years!

I have several theories for this fall; AEC industry is one of the most heavily regulated, and we’ve seen a dramatic increase over the past 40 years in laws, codes, and regulations for construction. Consequently, this industry has a large amount of litigation ties to it as well; any owner that just paid their insurance premiums can agree with that. But I propose that a large amount of this productivity loss is due to our process – the fact that we haven’t changed that process in over 40 years.

So I challenge you to think about this; what part of my process could I change to be more productive? What new workflows, new techniques, and what new technologies can you take advantage of to increase your productivity, to make me more efficient, and ultimately, make me more money?

More to come on this, but in the meantime, I’ll give you a little hint:


Hans said...

You're so right - worker productivity hangs on 'how' the work is done, i.e. the work process. In construction, the process is usually taken for granted: "we have experienced people in the field" is what you often hear. However, there remain many inefficiencies that seem to be accepted by owners, constructors and crafts alike. Unfortunately, productivity is often misunderstood as working harder and longer, instead of smarter. I have, as a consultant, for over two decades analyzed the use of labor resources on large and complex construction and industrial maintenance projects, and propose managers and executives focus on the work process to make work flow more efficiently and make work easier for workers to carry out. There's a number of papers on my website FYI:

Hans Picard

Da Govna said...

Thank you Hans for your insight and affirmation that there is an issue in our industry. I am curious to know if you see technology playing into the issue, and if so, to what effect?