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Engaging Our Workforce via Kaizen to Improve Productivity

Source: Mark Breslin – Breslin Strategies, Inc

When it comes to productivity, the disparity between manufacturing and construction continues. As you’ll see in the graphic here, manufacturing sees an average of 88 percent productive time, while the construction industry lags behind at an average of 43 percent.

The key to effectively breaking this cycle will not come from a major initiatives push for improvement. For many years, manufacturing suffered from the next big thing or program of the month efforts. Programs most often were imposed on those who performed the work, and improved results, if any, were short lived before it was back to business as usual. This changed with the recognition that there are no quick fixes; improvement comes from consistent incremental efforts – evolutionary versus revolutionary. The construction industry has yet to learn and effectively practice the critical need to engage those who perform the work in the productivity improvement effort.

At Faith Technologies, our advancements in electrical construction productivity over the past nine years – from 39 percent to 66 percent productive time (value-added time the customer pays us to complete) – haven’t come from some revolutionary major initiative or quick fix. They have come through a relentless focus on engaging our employees and working with them to incorporate basic productive work habits, focused on maximizing the time spent on productive work, that have changed the culture of how we perform work. We train our people into a culture, not just a job. This continuous improvement has become the Faith way, giving us a productivity edge.

Make no mistake, we also use technical tools such as Building Information Modeling (BIM), and Robotic Total Station (RTS) measuring devices, as well as improved processes such as the Lean Last Planner System pull scheduling process. These tools or programs alone do not replace the need to fully engage those who perform the work, nor do they change the culture and the need for incremental continuous improvement.

Our current focus is on further engagement with the crews who perform the work using Kaizen methodology, an approach based on small incremental changes to improve efficiency. The combination of Gemba (meaning “go and see”) and Kaizen (Kai meaning “to take apart or change” and Zen meaning “to make good”) recognizes that the employees who perform the work every day are the best people to identify the need for improvement.

Faith’s productivity team has initiated small Kaizen events. Those who perform the work, along with the project leaders, are engaged to identify opportunities for improvement, with a focus on recognizing the need, as well as participating in the improvement process.

Initial time studies have revealed opportunities for improvement. Once the improvements are agreed upon and incorporated into the process, additional time studies are completed. A comparison of the productive time spent before and after the changes is made to show improved productivity for the task, and this process reinforces the importance of following basic productivity principles:

  • Having the task set up ahead of the employee doing the work
  • Planning the process before initiating work
  • Having tools and materials located for immediate access
  • Ensuring the person performing the work has material handling and layout support

The key to the program’s success is engaging and involving the people doing the work, making certain they understand they have the authority and the expectation to identify opportunities for improvement and make change. This requires our project leaders to take a non-judgmental approach that encourages their crews to make change. Next steps include incorporating video into the process for more concise analysis.

As productivity leaders, our role is to coach, teach, and reinforce these basic processes so that our employees will continually incorporate improvement changes they recognize. When those who perform the work are the decision makers, they take ownership and good things happen. People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.

At Faith, we work to fully engage our employees in continuous productivity improvement, beginning with our new apprentices before they even get to a jobsite, knowing these efforts will yield major continuous improvements well into the future.