It's one thing to know construction productivity--compared with other industry sectors--is in a class of its own, notorious for its painful secular underachievement.
It's another thing to live it. To eat it, sleep it, breathe it, day after day, on job site after job site, in the trailer, and in the back office, and in the headquarters office drives many home building firm leaders to the end of their wits.
It's a pain point, but not in the management consultancy sense. It's a pain point in a visceral, almost personal sense to men and women in construction management who, in most of their lives and experiences, enjoy an elevated sense of efficacy and affirmation. Especially at a moment where
Watching it happen, again and again, seeing how building's value stream--construction workflows, and procurement streams, and operational models, and communications pathways, QC and QA measures, punch lists, and warranty issues--is each a set of routines that seldom go entirely as planned, and often collapse like a house of cards.
What's more, as we hear from people up and down operational chains of command, whether you look at the routines as a critical path or part of a critical chain of concurrent task flows, the dysfunction happens repeatedly. Trying to unpack it, and resolve it opens multiple cans of worms, interconnected "wrongs" put tenuously together to try to make a "right."
When building company management can actually see a "root cause" of an issue and address it, and improve the holistic process, and achieve a productivity gain that makes each individual team member's work more valuable, it's a rarity.
Fact is, many tasks in the start-to-completion process of building a home can happen in a single day, and some few of them can occur simultaneously. Best practices home building operators practice this in the field with discipline, and some are masters at it. Invisible to the naked eye, however, is that those best-of-breed operators know how to "gain an hour" for each day's routines by getting rid of clashes, communications dead-zones, lack of accountability or responsiveness, and other practices that do not directly contribute in that home or project's value stream.
A Level Homes test case, now a year in to implementation on its 40 different floor plans for 200 homes it builds in its Baton Rouge, La., operational area on a "single-source-of-truth" digital communications and coordination platform called Fieldwire, exposes how operators can create a micro-network of all their partners, gain that one-hour per day in productivity, shave three to five days off the build cycle, and make every individual's work more valuable at the end of the day.
Real-time information sharing on steroids, Fieldwire, connects a builder's ecosystem of players within the project timeline framework, so that each is responsive, each is accountable, and each can avail of opportunity to capture and document best practices, as well as to capture and document problems and issues, and prevent them from being repeated in another unit-in-process of the same floor plan down the block.
"The platform allows us to lay out build map--start through warranty--and once we get the project and all the different players and work streams loaded into the system, we can track every issue in real time," says Level Homes director of Construction Jack Pou. Pou and Level Quality Control Manager Phil Hughes have found the Fieldwire platform particularly helpful through quality control and assurance stages of their projects.
"We can generate 40 to 50 tasks from a three-hour quality inspection on our project, and with this system in place, we can shorten the turnaround time on addressing those issues, and give our customers the best care possible in their experience.
The Level Homes team, which has been working off Fieldwire's platform in the Baton Rouge market for a full-year cycle in 200 homes there, is about to migrate the system into the 100-plus homes it has modeled out for the next 12 months in the Raleigh, N.C.-market.
"We've now got power users in the Baton Rouge market that can come up and help us with the switch-over in Raleigh, but we also get a full support team from Fieldwire, that comes in on the ground and helps us bring vendors and trade partners online in the system," says Pou. "That way we can roll it out faster and clock in the productivity gains sooner.
Here are the four ways Fieldwire maps out--through its case study with Level Homes-- to get your distributed ecosystem of work partners on to the same page in your operations:
1. Connect your dispersed teams
When it comes to building a home, there are many players to consider: the concrete sub, electrician, plumber, tiler, carpenter, painter. . . The list goes on. Keeping all of these people on the same page is critical to the success of your project. If one player makes a mistake or causes a delay, the whole team fails, and the game runs overtime at a significant cost. That’s why it’s important to use field management software that connects all of your trades in one place with a single residential construction communication platform. With Fieldwire, construction managers at Level Homes no longer need to be on-site at all times to communicate with trade technicians.
“If you’ve got a technician already in that development, then you can relay that task to them and they can complete it that day. It can minimize travel time and they can easily resolve issues when they’re at the development instead of going back-and-forth.”
Phil Hughes, Quality Control Manager at Level Homes
Beyond communication, a field construction app that automatically updates blueprints whenever a change is made ensures each tradesperson works from the right set of drawings. Furthermore, being able to communicate from the field in real-time with contractors in the office helps projects progress quickly — shaving hours off your building process and moving homeowners into their new houses on-time.
2. Conduct punch on mobile
As you know, the sooner a residential construction punch list reaches zero, the sooner your client moves into their home. That’s why it’s important to have an efficient residential punch process and one that can be conducted on-the-fly. We’ve seen many residential home contractors use their smartphone or tablet onsite to dramatically reduce time spent on punch. Contractors at Level Homes, for example, use Fieldwire tasks on their iPhones to pin a deficiency directly to a plan, add relevant context or photos, and assign it to the right contractor in the field. Then, as building progresses, all communication related to this issue is linked back to the task, which prevents important information from falling through the cracks. Even more, Level Homes creates a template for each type of common deficiencies and duplicate the templates across locations that need a QA/QC review — ultimately boosting productivity and delivering homes on schedule.
“There’s a big push before the customer is going to walk in and see their home for the first time at the completed phase. Having that ability to get so many tasks done in a short period of time has changed the way Level Homes approaches that final push.”
Phil Hughes, Quality Control Manager at Level Homes.
Go paperless on the job site
Paper blueprints or plans are not only bulky and expensive to produce, but keeping track of incremental changes from multiple sources — including the architect and the engineers on the project — is a big headache. To avoid this problem entirely, Level Homes rarely enter a job site with a residential architectural paper plan at all, or with a pen, notepad, or spreadsheet. The only tool they need to operate efficiently in the field is located in their pocket. From any smartphone or tablet, they can add markups, annotations, and attachments to floor plans, and collaborate more effectively with contractors — even when they’re working offline!
This level of collaboration, achieved with Fieldwire, translates into significant cost and time savings for Level Homes. Money is no longer wasted on printing revised drawing sets, and lengthy email threads or phone calls are no longer needed to get missing information or the latest plans. Everyone can focus entirely on their operational mission, which increases the general productivity.
“We’re not walking into a house anymore with a notepad. I do my QC’s on my iPhone. We’re not paperless, but we’re moving in that direction.”
Phil Hughes, Quality Control Manager at Level Homes.
4. Communicate in real-time
It’s not enough to use a residential construction app to manage your plans or punch lists. As a home builder, you must also find a way to communicate and collaborate in real-time across not just a single job site, but many different sites, simultaneously. In contrast to high-rise construction, where a team often works on a single building at a time, in residential construction, you might be working on dozens of different houses in a new subdivision, all at once.
To help with the communication challenges that ensue, Level Homes use Fieldwire tasks to communicate in real-time with trades or vendors instead of sending an email or making a call. This ensures everyone is always on the same page when it comes to the status of a certain issue, and no work gets delayed by costly miscommunication. With real-time alerts and instant messaging, construction managers can finally focus on the work they need to do; coordinating projects, delegating tasks, and, ultimately, driving productivity. And with all communication being stored in one place, Level Homes can see who is doing what and when, to not only understand the building process but to hold all contractors accountable for their work.
Fieldwire is running a case-study webinar, based on its work with Level Homes this morning. You can register for it here.