Too often when problems are discovered on construction projects, it is too late to correct them. That's because most management tools analyze historical information and are typically used to place blame on the responsible parties. A good example of this is the job-cost information that most construction companies use to analyze performance on their jobs. In most cases, this information is at least one to two weeks old and allows managers only to react to problems rather than avoid them.
To be proactive in solving problems, management must instead focus on the inputs to each of the processes involved in building the project. In other words, management should be looking at and measuring the quality and consistency of pre-job planning, construction planning, and post-construction planning at all times. If these are done correctly every time, then the outputs will be optimum. Obviously, this involves having good project management processes in place and continuously improving them. Also, it involves consistent correct behavior by the people performing the processes. For example, a quality pre-job planning process consistently performed by project managers will prepare field managers to efficiently construct a project. Management's emphasis should be on ensuring that the behavior of project managers is correct every time. Adherence to processes can and should be measured. Good processes used inconsistently will not produce good results. Managing inputs of systems is the key to producing the desired outputs, and it eliminates the need to cast blame after the fact. Blaming creates fear, which reduces improvement efforts and morale. Studying the process and managing the inputs creates information and knowledge, which encourages improvement efforts.
Improving project-management processes and involving employees in this improvement is fundamental to increasing speed, quality, and cost in building construction projects. Many construction companies are now involving their employees in teams to analyze and improve processes. This involvement has many benefits.
Groups of people exchanging ideas openly, listening to one another, and striving towards a common goal stimulate creativity. Different people look at things differently. To create the best solutions and the best processes, you need good minds looking at a given situation. Rarely can one person at the top level come up with the best solution to a difficult problem or the best process to accomplish a task. Even if they do solve the problem or establish a process, they may have difficulty influencing employees to use the solution or improved process. If employees are involved up front, they are more likely to use what they create.
Involvement of employees as a team to improve a process is motivational. It's exciting to be part of a team that is accomplishing something. This excitement is something that begins in early childhood. As youngsters, most of us were excited about becoming part of a team because we enjoyed the social aspects of it. Also, teams enjoy celebrating success together, and they may endure losses better together. They also develop friendships as a result of the team activity. People working together as a team toward a common goal have fun in achieving success and making a contribution. Individual members of a team generally try to perform at their best to reinforce their self-esteem through team accomplishment of a common goal.
Employee involvement through teams provides a forum for communication, which is often lacking in construction firms. Communication is usually more efficient in group discussions because more questions are asked and more answers are clarified. When communication improves, morale generally improves.
Employee involvement in improving or developing new processes creates a sense of belonging and recognition of individual contributions. When employees' fingerprints are involved, they are more committed to making things work on a permanent basis, whereas, if it's “someone else's idea,” it's likely to last for only a short while.
— 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.