Today’s workforce shortage has recently dominated the construction industry news. The title of this article is a question that can easily relate to the shortage issue. So what is the correct answer to the question?
If you are an owner who built the business from the ground up, you have a pretty good idea of how to answer. The first condition to test is how much work can get done? Are there any conditions that will limit the quantity of work to complete that day?
For example, we have 3,000 square feet of sidewalks to place but because the brick mason is still completing its work they are blocking us from getting the full 3,000 square feet completed and only 500 square feet can be done. That’s going to impact the optimum size of the crew.
Other conditions that can affect crew size may be trying to do more than it is capable of and risking quality. The weather can also be a contributing factor. On a construction project there are many limiting conditions that can affect our work on a daily basis. Many times I have seen foremen/superintendents who want to maintain the same crew size because they are a team and the number of workers on the team is not considered when planning work. This way of thinking can create profit-robbing results.
The best way to answer the question is by establishing a production measuring system. A production measuring system starts by looking at the cost codes you use in your job-costing system. Each one needs to have a unit of measure, such as square feet, linear feet, or each. For each of the job cost codes you will take the completed measurement (for example, square feet of sidewalk) and divide it by the total number of hours expended and this will give you the production rate. If you do this exercise on every job the production rates will build in your history and can be used for future reference when bidding jobs. But the most powerful result of establishing and benchmarking your production rates is to determine the answer to how many workers make up the right crew size.
Taking our previous example, the chart on the left was used to establish the production rate for the 3,000 square feet of sidewalk needing to be completed. First, we looked at production rates from past jobs (in blue) to compare to when bidding the example job. We established a target production rate (in orange) based on factual accomplished goals. We even established a company goal (in green) that all crews can strive for.
The foreman/superintendent bought into the budgeted hours because he trusted the numbers used to establish the goal, since he realized that a lot of the numbers used were goals accomplished on jobs his crew had previously completed. Once everyone understands the units of measure of each cost code we can use the production rate to determine the correct crew size.
The table above answers the question for the foreman/superintendent that has a brick mason holding him up and only allowing him to complete 500 square feet for the day. With the brick mason’s restriction on the work needing done, the best they can do will only allow for him to use a 5- or 6-man crew to get the 500 square feet completed. If there are more men on his crew, he should be looking for other work where they can be used profitably and planning accordingly. In the past he would have scheduled all the men, not realizing the reason for the negative effect on his production rate.
As you can see, if this practice of production measuring is mastered then the profits that can be realized are enormous. What is even more incredible is at the end of the day every worker has a basic question answered for them, “How did I do today, Boss?”
So to answer the question in the title, the correct number is based on the obtainable production rate, which is based on job site conditions. Every day, every job is different, but having a tool like this will help the team determine the most profitable approach in planning around these conditions.