Workforce Development: How to Stretch Your Supervisors to Use Them More Effectively

How often do you get asked for more guys on the job site? Or hear statements like: “If I could just have my ‘good guys’, we could have a successful project!?” In the current market situation, it is more and more difficult to fulfill these requests, plus the conditions are getting very expensive for your jobs. In this article, we will describe what is happening in the industry, why you are receiving these signals from your workforce, and how you can stay ahead and tackle these challenges by helping your supervisors to manage the work.

The industry is evolving, and we are all feeling it with accelerated schedules, manpower shortages, less qualified manpower, more paperwork, and not enough time to develop ‘good job leaders’. The fact is we are in the midst of the Industrialization of Construction® and the changes we see, and feel, are the direct effects of this process. Dr. Perry Daneshgari has identified five main indicators of what is happening to the construction industry:

  1. Market is changing. Our industry has shifted from an industrial heavy market to a commercial and residential market. Commercial and residential consumers have different needs and expectations in terms of time, cost, and quality.
  2. Less specialization is required. Due to the shift in the market, the type of work is changing and therefore the skill requirements as well.
  3. Unionization is declining. Impacted by the first two points, as well as the delayed response to and visibility of these changes, unionization in construction has continuously declined.
  4. Types of markets are changing. The overall market shift is also happening in the different types of markets; for example, datacenters and solar/PV were not even recognized markets 10 years ago.
  5. System Productivity is the main difference.
    The main driver to being able to differentiate yourself and stay ahead of the changing industry is the system productivity – not as much ‘good guys’ anymore. We will cover in the next section what this means for you.

The daily struggles your supervisors and job leaders are complaining about are real: ‘They don’t show up’, ‘They don’t know how to bend pipe’, ‘They want to get an atta boy for anything’, ‘I have to babysit everything I need to be done’, ‘I have to redo everything they do’. With all these challenges in mind, it might seem easier and faster if the supervisors just do the work themselves. But this is exactly what we, as an industry, need to change to compete in the industrialized future: we need to build a stable, effective, and productive project delivery system. Our companies’ success cannot hang on individual productivity and only rely on ‘good guys’.

What can you do about it? The construction industry is not unique and is not independent. We can, and must, learn from other industries that went through industrialization to know what comes next.

First, allow your supervisors to have the practices and tools they need to be productive. For a changing environment, our field-leads also need to change and learn to enhance their way of managing the work and workforce. Below are the needed techniques and tools we have developed at MCA, Inc. and proven in practice for decades, to help field supervisors stretch their knowledge and experience, and learn how to manage in the new environment:

  1. Create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS™) (see Figure 1 on page 32) from the Supervisor’s Perspective. Being able to ‘see’ the work through a WBS™ before the job starts is the only way to stay ahead of the job, see obstacles that are potentially hitting you, and identify open questions.
  2. In addition to that, the WBS™ helps to identify the different work activities and that the work can be managed, defining the ‘who’ does ‘what’, ‘when’, and ‘where’ before the work starts.
  3. By doing so, workers can be placed on the correct tasks for their skillset and level and can be used to their full potential. Taking the time to do the WBS™ and define these items is crucial to be able to stretch the supervisors over more work and ensure they can concentrate on their main activity: Managing the work.
  4. Simple checklists can be used to ensure the management of work happens appropriately. Figure 2 shows a checklist that should be used before starting the work. Checklists as shown here need to be supported by measurements that can show if any new practice has a positive effect or if more adjustments are needed. (For example, Figure 3 shows the positive effect on branch conduit by following a different work distribution onsite.)

Second, help your supervisors track their work with productivity measurement and tracking that takes the actual work into account (not just the estimate). The supervisors usually have a ‘feeling’ of how good the job is going, but with the Industrialization of Construction®, gut feelings are not enough anymore. Below you can find how to track your jobs with a method proven useful to field leaders:

  1. The ASTM E2691 Standard Practice for Job Productivity Measurement defines how to measure job productivity and how to identify your daily obstacles and make them visible. JPAC® (Job Productivity Assurance and Control) and SIS® (Short Interval Scheduling) are applications of this standard that help you to see how your job is performing on a daily and weekly basis.
  2. By tracking the job, as shown in Figure 3, the job supervisor and the project manager can identify any issues right away. With that, a plan can be created on how to solve the issue or how to counteract the lost productivity by increasing the Externalizing Work® usage and/or adjusting the composite rate.
  3. It is important to establish a feedback mechanism that ensures that the field leads get feedback on what they are reporting as well as help on the obstacles noted. If the tracking results are not discussed and reviewed with the field leads on a frequent basis, the likelihood to receive correct tracking and effective actions out of it, decreases.

Third, ensure the proper training is accessible to your field leads and supervisors. As stated at the beginning of the article, the industry is changing and to stay ahead, everyone in the construction industry must adjust and change as well.

  1. The tools and how-tos mentioned above are great applications if you can learn how to use them correctly. Therefore, your supervisors need to receive the proper training to enhance their management-of-work capabilities.
  2. The same holds true for your project managers. Becoming a project manager by title might be easy, but to be a successful project manager who knows how to manage the project from installation work, financial, and customer perspective during the Industrialization of Construction® takes more than just ‘good skills’.

This article explained why the need for good jobsite management is stronger than ever before. Figure 4 shows a summary of the main topics discussed. By applying the principles described in this article, it is possible to manage more work with your supervisors even if there are not enough ‘good guys’ available.

Dr. Heather Moore is vice president of operations for MCA Inc. and has taught numerous classes for the construction industry and contributed to several research projects for ELECTRI, MCAA, NHF and NAW. She holds a Ph.D. in Construction Management from Michigan State University and an MBA and a B.S.E. in Industrial and Operations Engineering from University of Michigan. She specializes in process design and operations research.

Sonja Daneshgari is field operations manager for MCA Inc. She has a Master’s Degree in Industrial Engineering with a specialty in manufacturing engineering, and a Bachelor of Industrial Engineering with a specialty in Mechanical Engineering from Otto-von-Guericke-University, Magdeburg, Germany. Sonja has experience working with the construction industry, the automotive industry (supply chain management, layout design of assembly lines, Toyota Production System), and is currently applying this knowledge by working with construction contractors and distributors across the country on process improvement and productivity measurement.

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