Our clients often ask, “How can I get my construction crews to be more productive?” That simple, straightforward, and important question rarely has a simple solution. Consider that, in FMI's most recent survey of contractor productivity, 53% of the construction companies surveyed reported that their productivity has been flat or decreasing over the past five years. Moreover, 81% of those surveyed said they could save more than 5% of their annual field labor costs through better management of productivity. The point here is not just to show how much can be saved, but to point out that contractors know that they could save 5%, 10%, or even 20% of their labor costs if they could just manage the process better. Doing nothing is like leaving bags of money around the jobsite and paving right over them.

The reason for so much wasted time and labor in construction is that getting that next 5% to 10% takes more than just issuing a command to the project foremen to get 5% more out of their finishing crews each day. That command might work for a few days, or even a week, but, without refining the process, it is a losing game. What the foremen need, rather than commands, is new management tools. One of the best approaches we have found to improve productivity at the supervisor level is the foreman's daily huddle (FDH). The FDH accomplishes three things: it sets production goals for the day, allows for discussion of opportunities for process improvement, and identifies safety hazards. The process is a straightforward, three-to-five-minute tailgate session between each foreman and his or her crew before beginning work for the day.

Each foreman assigns a goal captain and a safety captain for his or her crew. Each day, the goal captain surveys the jobsite to determine a goal the crew can reasonably achieve by the end of the day and sets a quality goal that corresponds to the production goal, keeping production and quality in balance. The safety captain is responsible for surveying the jobsite each morning and noting potential safety hazards to report to the crew leader.

During the FDH, the first thing the crew should do is review the previous day's work, focusing on what could be done to improve safety, quality, and productivity. Safety and goal captains seek advice and suggestions from other crew members. Then, they make specific action plans for the current day to ensure that ideas for improvement are implemented. Next, specific performance goals—for example, square feet of concrete placed or number of forms removed—are established. The crew leader is responsible for implementing changes, so once the team agrees on safety, production, and quality goals, the foreman must record the changes in writing while they are still fresh. At the end of the day, work completed is noted to track job progress, which is reviewed the next morning.

Although it seems so low tech and simple, the implementation of FDH results in fewer workers completing more work because they know that their productivity is being measured and they have a say in what is done each clay. Additional benefits include a reduction in rework because there is daily inspection of quality and increased crew member involvement in inspections. The increased attention to safety hazards will also reduce the number of accidents and the severity of accidents when they do occur.

The foreman's daily huddle is a proven technique to increase productivity. However, it has additional benefits that are more difficult to measure. The other benefits accrue because the safety consciousness of crews is raised, creating a team atmosphere where all crew members understand the balance between quality and productivity and they are involved in making suggestions for improving productivity and setting goals.

— Brian Moore is a consultant with FMI, Management Consultants to the Construction Industry. Brian works with contractors on various strategic, financial, and operational issues. Specifically, his work at FMI involves in-depth market analysis, strategic and business planning, and market planning for clients throughout the nation. He can be reached at 919-785-9269, or by e-mail at bmoore@fminet.com.