United Group Services

Productivity: Understanding the Past to Build the Future

In January 2021, U.S. construction spending rose by nearly 2% — an all-time high. While markets and spending over the past several months have been impacted by the coronavirus, there is no reason to think that growth in the industrial sector will slow. In fact, most economic projections show increased industrial spending for the foreseeable future. Now more than ever, continuing to improve our processes and practices that lead to successful project execution will be crucial to ensuring that United Group Services continues to be the contractor of choice in the marketplace.  While there are many things that we are working on to accomplish this, the single most important initiative is productivity improvement. 

Since the 1960s, non-construction related productivity has risen over 150%, while the construction industry has seen a decline of nearly 43%. In fact, recent studies show that the daily global average “time on tools” for tradesmen is 40%. In most situations, a lack of production is not the result of tradesmen not wanting to work, but the result of not having the resources necessary to accomplish the work in the field (materials, tools, information, access etc.).

To counter decreasing production trends, the construction industry continuously attempts to improve productivity through the use of new planning techniques and technology. While the industry (United Group Services, specifically) benefits from these tools, productivity on construction projects continues to be the greatest barrier. A large reason for this is that the construction industry has taken a “top-down” approach to fixing the issues. Solutions that are developed and designed by management are driven down to the field with the expectation that meaningful change will be achieved. The flaw in this approach is that the most important element of production improvement is completely omitted.  Tradesmen that are doing the work in the field have little to no input in the creation of solutions. Nearly every productivity solution that has been conceptualized or implemented in this industry suffers the fatal flaw of not being a “crew-centered” solution.

Several years ago, United Group Services recognized this critical issue, and began to develop and implement different productivity improvement practices. These practices place the focus on the tradesman in the workforce. We know our craft professionals want to come to work and effectively perform their tasks in a safe and productive environment. Unfortunately, we were fighting this battle alone. 

United Group Services clients hadn’t “bought in” to what we were trying to accomplish. It seemed that project after project, we encountered the same issues: design problems, schedule delays, lack of information, lack of access and missing materials. All of these issues impacted worker productivity. Simply put, you can’t do your job unless you have what you need, where you need it, and most importantly – when you need it.

To overcome these obstacles, United Group Services has focused on low-tech, crew centered production planning with project management and field supervision and AWP (Advanced Work Packaging). We’ve deployed elements of these processes on multiple projects over the last three to four years, building on successes and learning from failures. Additionally, we continue to push our clients to embrace these project execution methods, and the benefits they bring with them. 

I am happy to say that some of them have listened. Currently, United Group Services is working on two large capital projects that utilize crew centered production and work packing concepts in a collaborative environment between the client and the contractor. Additionally, we were recently awarded a project with one of our long term clients that is a 100% collaborative project execution strategy between all contractors and the client, utilizing our planning and work packaging methods.

By now, many of you have been involved in a project that has had some element of these tools implemented. Hopefully you have seen improvements in your ability to accomplish your work in a more predictable environment. Are the tools perfect? No. Will we continue to improve upon them and learn lessons from every project? Absolutely. What we are trying to accomplish in changing our execution methods will not be an overnight change; it will be a journey. A journey that we will take one project at a time. As we move forward you can expect to hear and see many of the concepts I have discussed begin to trickle into all of our jobsites.

When we started down the path to improve productivity and project execution, we developed a vision statement of what operational excellence would look like in the field.

“Every day, every crew completes a quality daily work assignment & production goal effectively & efficiently in a safe, well prepared work zone without incident or defect.”

Think about what that statement really means, discuss it with your peers, your supervisors, and your project staff. Ask yourself in all that you do, are my actions contributing to that vision?  

It is an exciting time for the industry and for United Group Services. Let’s make it count!