A scourge of this patch of the cycle is uncertainty. Peering ahead into 2016, one can be equally stumped by two one-word questions. Supply? Demand? Confidence, either in a steady stream of demand or an even flow of labor capacity to add new supply, is hard to come by right now. Trends prove fickle. We live in a world of onesies and two-sies, aiming at a model of mass personalization, but hardly ever getting to the benefit of scale. Every home completion tells a story of myriad moving parts, moving in directions or at speeds that unsettle the nerves. Every home sale is a marathon, part courtship and part concierge service
What comes to mind for many leaders in home building, as they try both to make their 2015 numbers and project forward to model business for 2016, is a need for and a breakdown in processes. This makes sense. Many--if not all--companies let go of many people during the bad years, from 2007 to 2011 or so. They tried to hold on to the ones they could not do without, the best and the most productive, and the most expert in their fields.
As recovery began to kick in a couple of years ago, organizations began to reboot, using that surviving talent base to jump-start the engines and get workflows for development, operations, and production back online. Hesitantly at first, and then with more urgency, companies started on-boarding new people to reinforce and secure operations at rising volume levels, with an eye to an eventual big jump once the housing cycle stoked itself into full gear. A challenge became apparent.
Put people into good ones, and it's a sight to behold when it comes to the complex of work-flows, decision chains, and interrelated, interwoven skills that make for a home building operation. A good process is meaning in action. It eliminates waste, ego, the inessential, and silences the noise of whim and personality without ado. It
Look at a company like Houston-based LGI. LGI's core processes emerged when the company was tiny. The company's founders forged them in hard times, and perhaps remarkably, those processes have ported across both time and geography as a set of workable disciplines and templates.
If your company is like ours, though, processes are a big pain point right now. They're taken for granted, but they're not being brought into play in many firms.
At issue, for one, is how much should process in 2016 and beyond look like the ones that served higher-volume eras in past cycles? Do companies, large and small, need to map new processes that avail of access to richer streams of real-time data, whether its discovery into "the who" of a potential customer base, the "when" of subcontractor crew schedules, the "what" of fire code compliant sub-flooring, the "how" of getting manufacturers to collaborate to develop new home systems ranging from kitchens to exterior finishes, to room comfort systems.
Simply, do you recreate processes from before, or is what home building companies may need now a total make-over in process mapping, identifying roles, responsibilities, interconnections, accountability, and performance metrics? What you don't want is for your coveted new talent pool to come in and get stuck in a rut of cross-purposes and reactiveness to the latest set of triage issues.
A process is a human developed resilience strategy. It protects an organization from the harm of circumstance--capital convulsions, labor shortages, climactic disruption, real estate scarcity, materials channel outages--and allows that organization access to resources that secure workflows on time and on budget.
Maybe you have the answer. Maybe you've hired a new associate recently, and you've got the documentation, the mentoring network, and the executional road-map for that associate to join your team and come out of the gate fast and productive.
Do you find yourself digging through the offline archives, looking for job descriptions, task lists, and process maps of the middle part of the last decade? Or is it better to throw all of that away, and start mapping processes that reflect both new human and new data resources and capabilities?