Construction by its very nature tends to be messy and chaotic. But much of that can be overcome by getting organized and insisting on staying organized. That’s what L.L. Geans Construction, Mishawaka, Ind., has accomplished, leading to greater efficiency and higher productivity and safety. “I have found that I thrive in a structured environment,” says company president, Rocky Geans. It turns out that so do most of his workers.
To develop what you might call the Rocky Geans System, he starts with the 5S System:
2. Set in order
5S originated in Japan as a system for organizing manufacturing processes with five Japanese words that were later converted to English words also starting with S. Geans follows the system as described in 5S for Operators: Five Pillars of the Visual Workplace, by Hiroyuki Hirano (published by Productivity Press and available from Amazon). The ideas are simple, and with his approach, easy to apply, except that maintaining the rigid organization to make the system works requires great discipline and perseverance.
In this system, everything — whether in the office, shop, or field — has its place and that place is clearly labeled. Likewise, every task, even down to how to load paper into the printer, has a procedure and a checklist. L.L. Geans’ accountant, Wendy Kuseske, says, “I’ve been doing this for 15 years, but it still helps me to look over the checklist to make sure I haven’t missed anything.”
“New workers like the efficiency, but it can expose any weaknesses,” Geans notes, and even includes himself. “We have no place to hide our inefficiency and it makes us face up to our own opportunities to improve. The system holds my feet to the fire.”
“When we started this, we literally took everything out of the shop,” Geans says. They cleaned everything and put it in the best locations. “Our desire to maintain the system increased when we saw small successes and how it worked in the field.”
This even extends to having agreed-upon names for everything. Take form ties, for example. “I told the guys I didn’t really care what they called them as long as they all called them the same thing. I prefer that they use the names Symons uses, but now everyone knows exactly what you mean when you say 10-inch flat wall tie.”
To fulfill the need to “standardize,” he uses only one brand of each type of equipment, selected after careful research from industry friends and after consulting with his workers. “We buy the same model, if it makes sense,” he says. Then, for each piece of equipment, there is a service tub that includes everything needed for performing regular service, plus the part numbers and where to get more. A field service kit goes to the jobsite with the equipment. It contains the parts most likely to fail in the field, such as a rope pull on a gas saw. This eliminates most field emergencies that would require a trip to the shop for minor repairs.
Geans drums this system into his office, shop, and field crews. That is embodied in his STOPP slogan: Stop, Think, Organize, Plan, Proceed. Following this simple creed, workers are able to increase safety and productivity. Daily load lists for the crew trailers are created with these steps in mind.
When experienced construction workers arrive on the jobsite in the morning, they’re ready to get to work. But not on an L.L. Geans project until after the morning Daily Huddle, which lasts from five to 15 minutes. “It brings everyone together on the same page,” he says. “When the guys get to the jobsite, everyone goes directly to the board to review the day’s goals.”
Among a long list of items, the Daily Huddle includes:
- KPI goals for the day
- Load list for the next day
- Safety concerns
- Equipment condition
- Coordination of any subs
Job Close Out
There is a procedure, of course, for closing out a project, which is encompassed within the Job Close Out List. The list includes simple reminders to apply curing compounds; pick up tools, stakes, and barricades; return rental items; and review the job with the customer. It ends with a quality audit where the crew leader and foreman rates the project on a scale of 1 to 5 for things like straightness of joints, the quality of the broomed finish, cleanliness, and slab flatness. Geans and the field leaders review this and look for ways to adapt the system and improve on future projects.
“This business is all about the people who work with you and the system is a support net for them,” says Geans. “I visualize it as an upside down pyramid with me at the bottom and the foremen and field staff next and the laborers at the top. We are very fortunate at L.L. Geans to have such good people working together.”
For more on the contractor in this story, visit www.llgeans.com.