The parallels of Aviation advances in teamwork with UK Construction

“The moment a flock of Canada geese hit the aircraft and we were forced to land US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, on January 15, 2009, I knew that my life would change forever…” These are the opening lines in the foreword to a fascinating book entitled ‘Beyond the Checklist – What else health care can learn from aviation teamwork and safety’. Captain Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger introduces the book and its concepts of crew resource management (CRM) and its application to the health care sector. What is also obvious when reading this book are the parallels in the teamwork dynamics within aviation, healthcare (the intended topic) and the UK construction sector.

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The authors of the book point out that it was a taught approach to teamwork that enabled the crew, which included pilot, first officer and three flight attendants, to land on the Hudson River that frigid January day and then safely evacuate 150 passengers without a life-threatening injury or fatality. There was a method behind this “miracle”, largely as a result of changes to aviation industry practices relating to teamwork, communication and co-operation among all members of the crew, regardless of rank or job responsibility.

Captain Sullenberger continues, “ Not long ago, there were captains in our cockpit who acted like gods… you questioned the captain’s authority at your own peril.” I think that we can all recall sites where the same is true of site managers or agents and the tense atmosphere that often results. Construction still largely remains the domain of testosterone and getting the job done, and I know best how that’s going to be done! The result is, that according to industry statistics this approach delivers 50% of projects land on time and 50% on budget (UK Industry performance report produced by the department for business, innovation and skills).

Aviation is now heralded as the safest form of transport, it is now considerably safer to fly in an airplane at 36,000 feet than drive a car at sea level. This has not always been the case and on December 29, 1972 eastern Airlines Flight 401 carrying 176 passengers and crew on board crashed resulting in 101 fatalities due to a burned out landing gear light. The crew inadvertently put the plane into a very slow shallow decent and eventually crashed in the Florida Everglades. This was despite air traffic controllers recognizing that the plane was going to hit the ground but only vaguely asking, “How’s it goin’ out there, Eastern?” The same question could be asked of the trades working on sites where they know that things are not progressing as they should but are unable to make changes to affect the outcome.

The advances in aviation safety has taken place over many years and decades and beyond the checklist argues that CRM has played an integral part in this. It considers the major building blocks and its application to healthcare but I wonder whether the same could be applied to construction. I have paraphrased these concepts outlined in the book and, although there is still much to be done to convert aviation CRM to better construction team performance I feel there may be something in it…

  • The captain is not king – and neither is the site manager?
  • Knowing the team – how many names of the people on site do we know?
  • Conducting appropriate briefings – concise and inclusive or none at all?
  • Establish a common language – Is that your riser 6 which is our riser 3 or the other one?
  • Inviting participation – I would but we haven’t procured them yet and you just tell them where to go and they get on with it anyway!
  • Manage the workload – I’m sure that we can fit that in as well…
  • Admitting error and asking for help – or find someone to blame
  • Training and recurrent training – commonplace now in health & safety but little else

As always perhaps the biggest barrier to implementing a teamworking programme for construction will be money and time it takes to implement. It is worth considering however that construction projects have delivered 50% of projects on time and budget for years now with little sign of improvement. Without doing something different it is unlikely to change the opportunity for recouping any initial outlay is considerable.

BIM is a recent addition, and seen by some, as the saviour of the construction sector and no doubt it will help. Without effective teamwork however technology alone will never be the complete solution. To finish on a final quote on technology, “in terms of navigational errors, automation enables pilots to make huge navigational errors very precisely.”

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The Design / Procurement Paradox

It will be widely recognised that over the last 5 years we have seen a slide back to ‘lowest cost’ dominating the procurement thinking in both Client organisations and, naturally therefore, contracting organisations.

Even for those organisations that philosophically support collaborative working, their systems and staff aren’t equipped with the tendering strategies for true collaborative working and aggressive market conditions have ultimately led to the ‘cheapest’ bid delivering most of the UK Construction Industry Work.

ProcurementParadoxThe results are clear to see in UK Construction Industry statistics, with only 34% of projects delivered on time in 2012, compared to a pre-recession high of 58% in 2007, where two stage mechanisms dominated with a relatively nurtured supply chain. (Constructing Excellence & Glenigans)

Whilst transfer of risk in a ‘buyers market’ has led to high levels of cost certainty for clients, 2012 contrastingly saw Contractor profits being the lowest on record at 2.7%, with many organisations burning the last of their cash reserves to maintain this position.

In an attempt to squeeze margins out of projects, contractors have given commercial teams aggressive buying targets.

Contractor QS, and also Client PQS, have typically used the programme time to ‘play’ the market and sought new suppliers in an attempt to drive down contractor costs.  Before placing orders the commercial teams will seek to tie down designs and transfer risk back out to their supply chains.  Reality hits when orders are placed, the appointment triggers Change and redesign to accommodate supplier needs; frequently leading to increased cost and likely delay.

Building Regulations, the sustainability agenda, consultant appointment structures, acoustic standards, changing construction technologies, air tightness demands, renewable technologies have all generated a position where the traditional design team can only progress the design so far before specialist supplier input is required to conclude the building design.

With the advent of Building Information Modelling (BIM) this demand for early specialist input will only increase if the full benefits of BIM to the construction process can be realised.

In a lean world we advocate integrated supply chains and collaborative design and planning to eliminate waste in construction through improved quality, productivity and reduced cost.

In the harsh commercial world of lowest cost tendering the opportunities are limited and the commercial pressure to buy ‘cheap’ generates two key paradoxes:

  • How can the QS get design certainty at order stage on bespoke buildings without key suppliers involved in the design?
  • How can we effectively plan the works and identify and capitalise on programme opportunities if we are mostly procuring to the “latest start time”?

It is generally accepted that the market is starting to recover and with that there are already indications of a stiffening of resolve within the supply chain, and a change in attitude with regards to whom the suppliers will work with and what projects they will price.

Lean encourages us to maximise value added activity, eliminate waste and reduce support activity.  Traditional procurement merely pushes waste and cost from the Client to the Contractor on to the Supply Chain or up the other way, dependent on demand and supply metrics in the market.  Under conventional subcontract procurement routes the Main Contractor does not care how efficient the sub contractor is as long as he is cheapest and he gets the job done on time; this approach typically increases waste as both supply chain and main contractors try to reduce cost by reducing supervision and resource rather than focusing on eliminating waste and increasing productivity. One of the key indicators is the cost of poor quality in the industry, which research indicates is at least 5% of turnover when considering both pre Completion and Post Completion defects.  Real opportunity exists to reduce cost for all by true supply chain integration.

Lean philosophy and systems thinking offer an effective framework for the UK Construction Industry to excel in meeting the industry technological and legislative challenges; this change requires energy and leadership within organisations to implement the transformations.

The creation of new procurement methodologies requires construction businesses to move away from traditional silo thinking; traditional roles such as Estimator, QS, Project Managers and Designers should be challenged and construction managers encouraged to genuinely interrogate their supply chain and their supply chain processes and staff skills.  The tendering process should be considered a genuine preconstruction activity, not merely a mechanism to get work through the door; strategic supply chain relationships and the integration of complex subcontract packages in tender design development should be common place rather than the exception.  BIM will demand this.

If Clients and Contractors are to succeed in delivering projects and generating a sustainable business and industry, new supply chain strategies will be needed and organisations need to consider carefully how they integrate the supply chain early on in the project life and develop the trust and mechanisms to ensure they get a genuine market price.  The Industry needs to up skill the team, from Client to Supplier, to acquire the necessary hard and soft skills needed to work in a genuinely open and collaborative way to compete, consistently deliver and generate profit through the supply chain.

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Lean Training: The Start of a Journey

leantrainingAs an approved centre to provide NVQ in Business Improvement Techniques (BIT), we constantly debate among ourselves, how one measures the effectiveness of lean training we provide?

One common debate surrounds whether, through the “learning by doing” method, do we try to achieve a good output on a project that learners take on and out falls an NVQ? Or do we concentrate on delivering a skilled learner regardless of current project outputs?

The majority of our customer organisations want to put their staff through lean training with the objective of increasing productivity and improving project performance, with a reasonable expectation that real improvements will be realised on the current, on going project the candidates are working on.  This expectation can on occasion conflict with the timetable and the rigour of the training programme and requires the consultant to carefully balance training with project related work.  The danger of focusing on purely the project work is that the candidate has no theoretical context to relate his actions to. An important point to bear in mind however is that management development and training can be broken into two general categories: skill enhancement and behaviour change.

Lean skills and knowledge can be improved via training workshops and easily measured but behaviour change will take time to embed and presents some challenges to the candidates’ organisation post programme delivery. Training (short-term) is only a tool to achieve management development but should act as the catalyst for long term behavioural change, provided the environment persists to nurture that change after training is complete.

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Measuring management development is a multifaceted task, not only because of the number of management skills and behaviours to be enhanced, but also because skill and behavioural enhancement are different. It’s important to take into consideration that behavior can only change if conditions are favorable. For example, if work conditions do not allow or make it difficult for learners to apply new knowledge, this may stifle initial enthusiasm to improve and change behaviour. Or, learners may have taken in the teachings but have no desire to apply the knowledge themselves as they perceive current status to be too daunting to proceed alone.

For a lean training and development programme to succeed, top management, who put their staff through the training, must play a large role in paving the way for the application of new skills learnt. Then, we can start measuring the effectiveness of lean training through ROI for the organisation instead of just individual projects.

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Go See

1Whilst working with a team on improving a particular workstream, we spent days wading through data trying to make sense of it and analysing it, we process mapped, did Pareto charts on the data we had, used SPC, Mean Value Theorem plus no small amount of debate. After all this, we were still unsure what to do as we found quite a few errors and omissions in the data. In the end, we decided to just go and have a look and see what we can see on site.

2Not to put too fine a point on it, we found out that our detailed process map was definitely not the same as the process we observed, and that our Pareto charts were also telling a different story!

3Now, I’m not saying here to not try to analyse data or carry out process mapping, just that maybe its best to actually “go see” first. This is because very often there are “assumptions” about the way a process works and, also when process mapping, there is a really strong tendency to map what “should” happen as opposed to what “does” happen.

4Key Learning points

  • When trying to improve a process, spend some time up front at the “coal face” to see what happens in reality
  • Try to back this up with data and analyse the data with benefit of what was observed.
  • Very often small improvements can be made immediately following a direct observation exercise, so why wait?!
  • Don’t forget to involve the “process experts” (those being observed) and make them part of the activity. Their contribution is often gold dust!
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The Art of Collaborative Planning

The Art of Collaborative Planning

As ‘Lean Construction Consultants’ one of our common forms of intervention, and one lauded as instantly beneficial, is Collaborative Planning.

Collaborative planning seeks to capture the specialist knowledge of team members to create a coordinated, realistic, predicable and resourced construction plan.   Successful Collaborative Planning will create flow of resource in a highly coordinated manner.

The four stages of collaborative planning are:

  1. Master Planning
  2. Ready To Build
  3. Weekly Planning
  4. Daily Planning

For the purpose of this ‘blog’ I will mainly be discussing the Master Planning stage.

1One of the key benefits of Collaborative Planning is that you are agreeing with each supplier the appropriate resource levels for a specific activity, usually in a small area, or batch; this ‘batch’ can be extrapolated out for all trades across the whole project.

Why is this so important?  The importance of understanding resource is that most, if not all project periods, are not determined by a critical path of the process steps but on the flow of resource in a given sequence.

We programme projects with quantities and approximate sequence of summarised activities yet we manage them by deploying trade / discipline gangs in a given sequence.  For example we may show electrical first fix progressing ahead of boarding on a project Gantt Chart, however this apparently simple sequence will involve complex interaction between numerous trades and specialists in a given sequence and if not properly planned and managed weeks can be eroded without any realisation of the opportunity that is being lost.

The opportunity to improve and optimise productivity is in ensuring each trade starts as early as possible and then has continuity of work and completes each batch or zone as they proceed; ready on time for the next trade (The Next Customer).

2On a macro scale we know that the frame follows the substructure; the envelope follows the frame and the finishes follow the envelope.  Typically each of these main phases will be broken down on the Construction Gantt Chart to a level of detail that still includes long bars; the flow of works is represented by the overlapping of these long bars, indicating for instance that ‘Activity B’ starts about two weeks after ‘Activity A’ has started.

Collaborative planning of these key milestones that release the next stage, are of great interest to us. We seek to understand when earliest can this next stage be released and how to maintain the flow of resources thereafter. We are also greatly concerned with what all the process steps are to reach this milestone.

By focusing on this we are seeking primarily to eliminate ‘Waiting Waste’ by creating flow with resource. Collaborative Planning also contributes considerably to the elimination of other wastes such as ‘Defect Waste’, ‘Overproduction Waste’, ‘Inventory Waste’ and the waste of ‘Underutilising People Knowledge’, by capturing that knowledge.

Instead of a lone Project Planner or Project Manager building up a programme and imposing it on the team, the Collaborative Planning sessions capture hundreds of years shared construction experience around a table and apply that knowledge in building a programme which the team owns.

The need to focus on the ‘next customer’ and eliminate ‘waiting waste’ relies on batching the project into small areas to generate flow.  In simple terms halving the batch size will reduce the programme by about 40% – with the same resources!!!  The downside is it doubles the critical interfaces with the trades, which demands better management and better communication.  In other words it demands collaborative planning.

3Theory and our own experience dictate that the best time for Master Planning is well in advance of ‘cutting the sod’, with a mature design and all the suppliers and consultants available for the session.  This collaborative planning panacea is a rare flower indeed, one that will only blossom in the fertile soil of two stage collaborative working and with a Client with the wisdom and will to make it happen.

Even if it is the Client intent to engage his main contractor early in the project development stage, the main contractor or his commercial procurement team may not willingly enter into the same relationships with their supply chain. In the last 5 years the Industry has taken backwards steps with regards to collaborative working, with lowest price in an aggressive market place dominating.  Contractors with low margins feel the need to play the market as long as possible before appointing subcontractors leaving little opportunity for planning with the supply chain before starting on site.

With the active promotion of BIM by the UK Government, early engagement of the specialist supply chain may become more commonplace and 4D BIM construction models will demand a more integrated approach to the planning of projects.

The good news however is that there are still significant benefits in planning workshops with specialists no matter what the stage of the job. Within one hour of sitting down coordination issues, risks, opportunities and problems start popping out of the dialogue; matters that might cause a delay or quality issue if picked up later, which is invariably the case without a collaborative approach.

Accepting the constraints of current procurement methods, I have found through experience, that the Master Planning needs a series of workshops. The number of which depends on the size and complexity of the project and on the timing of suppliers becoming involved in the project.

Facilitation of the workshop needs to be carried out by someone who can ensure no single party dominates with all suppliers being given their say and an opportunity to raise issues, which should be captured with allocated actions and timescales.  All protagonists should approach the workshop in a proactive, open way and the facilitator should allow for mutual trust to be developed and nurtured.  In my experience I have found that most suppliers will participate in an open and proactive manner, irrespective of their contractual status, provided the main contractor encourages this approach.

Facilitation of the process is a skill that needs practice and the right attitude, one of objectivity and fairness to promote the mutual trust that is needed to get the right answers and the right plan.

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Lean Construction – Managing complex projects

The definition of a complex project, for this blog, will be a typical project fraught with indecisive client, design changes, many and long turnaround times for change orders and approvals, inconsistent sub-contractor performances and very challenging programmes.

There is no doubt that difficult and complex projects will usually be manned by the organisation’s best. Heuristically, the team will go about doing their utmost best to manage the “complex” situation. Most commonly, these teams will already have good practices from lessons learnt in place e.g.

  • Detailed design programmes
  • Detailed construction programmes produced by the planners over the past year on the project
  • Plans to conduct weekly site meetings
  • Multiple risk management spreadsheets
  • Audit trails of accountabilities e.g. RFIs

As discussed in an earlier blog, complex projects are characterised by the multitude of interrelating variables within a project system i.e. client organisation, project team, supply chain etc.

The chaos (read earlier blog on this) that ensues from managing complex project (managing interrelated variables, overriding and overwhelming amounts of information over time) most often stem from the unsystematic way, or “pick and choose” method of managing the project system, hence just good tools & techniques is secondary to following a robust framework if the goal is NOT to make waste more efficient.

Often the prescriptive process tools within a contracting organisation are not the best tools to effectively managing the flow of works or the project complexity. (More on this in a future blog)

Often the commercial procurement routes adopted are often given priority over the project planning, flow and quality which are seen as site issues to manage and in many organisations are divorced from the procurement route of the supply chain.

The lean approach

Understand the bigger picture, investigate the process in detail, use a team based approach to identify and eliminate wastes, then generate actions for sustainability.

Example application in a bigger picture (the whole project)

At the start of a project, before jumping into action haphazardly (gut feel, economic pressures or pressures from different stakeholders shouting loudest) prioritising and dealing with issues, the lean approach suggests understanding the bigger picture, as a team before jumping into problem solving mode as the industry tend to like doing. A good choice of tool, reflecting the lean approach, to use at this point may be Hoshin Kanri (Compass needle), or better known as a 1-page plan. This is like a business plan for a company. If a small business needs a business plan to show the way to achieve success, why would bigger projects not? Projects operate very much like a short term business with a single place of work having to discharge all the obligations of the company at a single short term place of work; such as legislative, contractual, procedural, social and commercial.

This activity rounds up all key stakeholders of the project to explore individual agendas, external and internal risks to the project and identify potential opportunities to achieving the common goal of achieving project success. The structured activity will provide information in a way to populate a 1-page plan inducing accountability, giving focus areas (key actions), area champions, programme of works for tackling areas and SMART measures for performance. This can act as an overall framework to be monitored against and regulated using strategic flexibility (see Dorner’s Logic of Failure). Focus areas e.g. change process, new construction technique, construction programme, 3rd party authorisations etc. will then decide on, and encompass the good practices already available, plus other tools and techniques available for use. A second tier Hoshin may be necessary dependent on the project.

Example application on a smaller picture (the construction programme)Hoshin Photo

Regardless of pre-existing or levels of uncertainties of the projects, once on site, the show must go on.

Using a team based approach, seeing the bigger picture in this case will be the construction programme.  There is now need for the team to diligently and aggressively identify constraints both in the bigger picture to give an overview. Potential suitable tools to adopt in this case may be FMEA on zonal/package analysis or any other Q, C, D risk analysis techniques.

hoshin-questionsAs importantly, and not to be skipped, investigate the details in a 4-8 weeks (dependent on the level of “complexity”) look-ahead programme, to give urgency to specific matters. Employing an activity, labour and resource-scheduling tool, such as collaborative planning, at this point will help give the look-ahead plan more accuracy.

The above two will give feedback and help prioritisation by the management team in making it “ready to build” down the line.

The identifying and eliminating waste phase involves rigid adherence to the “ready to build” principle. Most projects forego the ready to build step and focus just on the weekly plan in their “pick & choose” method. Rework is inevitable when a task commences without the premises being ready. This difficult step however, needs strength to follow through due to the tug for progress versus following the principle of only freeing work when ready. The ready to build protects the weekly plan. Hence, simultaneous and comprehensive communications throughout the team is essential.

Ready to build tools exist in some form in many organisations, such as Information Schedules, Procurement Schedules and RAMS Schedules, these often live with separate disciplines and are rarely all brought together in a single ready to build tracker and rarely interrogate the supply chain ready to build. (For example how often do contractors get visibility on the services contractor procurement status?)

Generating actions from all of the above in a long list is easy. But, for sustainability and for them to work means closing these actions. In this instance, adopting Covey’s circle of influence and concern may be prudent. Actions should be separated into things within the control of the team and things not within the control of the team and worked on separately.

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Lean Construction – Not just for fair weather projects

In line with number two of the five lean spirits “Do it now, no excuses!”, there will never be a perfect project to apply lean. 6ix have encountered many occasions when customers have professed that they need to find a suitable project to apply lean and some have commented that certain projects are not suitable as they are too complex and plagued with issues.

“Suitable” projects, with the usual bit of clients changes, design issues, bad weather, not the best quality sub-contractors, etc. can relatively easily be overcome with a dash of collaborative planning, a touch of the visual workplace (VM & 5C) and some sprinkling of problem solving if and when necessary. Having adopted lean, these projects will usually be delivered better or within the predicted programme and client requirements.

What about “complex” projects that are plagued with issues, where the end date and cost is not in sight? In a greater scale, the likes of Millennium Dome, Channel Tunnel, Wembley Stadium etc.

It is projects that are complex and plagued with issues that will benefit most from applying lean. With complex projects, sometimes the objectives may not be to deliver on time, adhere to budget and to the requested quality but to minimize loss and manage risks.

Complex projects have many interrelated variables where management of the process is not over a single moment but over time. Their processes are not transparent and we cannot see all we want to see and neither can we know or see all the inter-relations between all the variables.  With the project plan being uncertain and ‘events’ leading to outcomes different from the originally intent; without collaboration, detailed interrogation of the value chain, management of flow chaos can ensue.

How can lean help? 

There are many debates as to which are actual lean tools or not. For example, brainstorming, problem solving, process mapping etc. These are hard tools and techniques, which from a lean point of view does not matter if it is a lean tool or not. Lean advocates the search for the right tools and techniques required for the situation to achieve right first time. What lean differs from others, is the philosophy and as importantly the structure and methodology to adopting fit for purpose tools and techniques.

Most construction projects are heuristically managed. On even the most efficient construction projects that adopt a whole host of very good tools and techniques (or a strong bullish PM), there are many that lack the structure, methodology or logic of application. These projects can still have very good outcomes, but they may be missing out on great. However, most will just be contented if it didn’t go too bad.

Complex projects are characterised by high volumes of information generated by project complexity and task interdependence. Without a structure or methodology as a framework, team fragmentation, poor decisions/prioritisation, errors and degrading communications can accumulate resulting in additional coordination and rework down the line resulting in project disorder and confusion. This in turn affects the morale and motivation of the project team.

Lean construction provides the structure and methodology required to harness the best of the situation and its unique visual workplace toolset provides a way of communicating the plan, the project status, team and team member performance in a range of project critical areas.

The next blog will dwell on ways lean construction methodology is applicable to “complex” projects.

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Advanced Site Management Course

Advanced Site Management Course is now being delivered by 6ix across the UK

Click below for more information…
www.6ixconsulting.co.uk/asm/

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Advanced Site Management 10 October

Course date now released
10th October Midlands Region.

We have been training and facilitating the practical application of lean thinking in the UK now for over 10 years. We find that time after time we end up using similar tools and techniques.

Click below for more information…
www.6ixconsulting.co.uk/asm/

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Advanced Site Management

We have been training and facilitating the practical application of lean thinking in the UK now for over 10 years. We find that time after time we end up using similar tools and techniques. We have designed a training course that incorporates our learning and experience over this period. Over 5 days delegates will take part in a simulated construction project, where they will apply best practice techniques to deliver the project. Some of these are “just good management” — some are counter-intuitive and taken from our experience of Lean Construction.

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