Waiting is Costing Construction Companies Dearly

Waiting is an over looked but waste in lean, but a critical key to lost time that can be combated with good communication.
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In the last post, we shined a light on how poor jobsite communication contributes to overproduction. For this next installment, it’s time to tackle another waste: waiting. While it doesn’t seem as obvious as doing the wrong thing and then having to perform rework to fix the mistake, waiting is one of the biggest drains on efficiency in the construction industry. Let’s take a look at why workers end up waiting and what can be done to eliminate or reduce this. 

In an article titled “Construction Workers Waiting at the Job Site Saps Productivity and Profits,” the Trekker Group stated that, “getting stuck waiting around is a nearly universal problem in the construction industry.” They went on to cite a study from the University of Michigan’s Center for Construction Engineering and Management that investigated how long various kinds of tradespeople wasted on waiting in an average workday. Here’s what the authors concluded: 

  • Bricklayers: 45 minutes
  • Carpenters: 62 minutes
  • Roofers: 75 minutes
  • Electricians: 80 minutes
  • Plumbers: 83 minutes

It doesn’t take a mathematics master to figure out how quickly such delays can add up when multiplied across entire crews. Simply put, the larger the project and the more workers on site at any given time, the greater the cumulative delays and costs that will result from waiting. 

Why the Wait? 

It’s not as if plumbers, bricklayers, carpenters, and other skilled tradespeople are sitting around on site for no reason. Their time is valuable, and they want to crack on with the task at hand so they can move on to the next one. So what is it that’s causing them to wait? The Trekker Group article identified equipment downtime, inventory/materials shortages, jobsite inaccessibility, and late or absent coworkers and supervisors as typical trouble spots. 

We could class each of these as uncontrollable and outside the workers’ sphere of influence. However, there are also some contributing factors that are avoidable and can potentially be fixed so that people aren’t stuck waiting around when they could be utilizing their time productively. The top reason for jobsite downtime (according to the Trekker Group) is waiting on assignments or instructions. We could expand this to also include those occasions where information is missing, incomplete, or wrong. 

The most obvious consequence of waiting in the construction industry is that it takes longer to complete a task than it should. But as an article by Machine Metrics states, it isn’t quite that simple as delays have knock-on effects that ripple across the entire project: “All waiting costs a company has in terms of direct labor dollars and additional overhead costs can be incurred in terms of overtime, expediting costs and parts. Waiting may also trigger additional waste in the form of defects if the waiting triggers a flurry of activity to “catch up” that results in standard work not being followed or shortcuts being taken.”

These are some of the reasons that the 2020 National Construction Payment Report: Spring Spotlight on Jobsite Coordination found that less than one third of contractors finish a job on time and within their original budget, 80 percent say that coordinating field work is challenging or very challenging, and two thirds state that they spend 25 percent of their time or more waiting for work to be completed. 

One of the primary reasons for such issues is the tangled web of communication that exists between field and office staff (particularly as there are more project managers working remotely than ever before due to COVID-19 restrictions, as we explored in a recent post). Ideally, everyone on a jobsite would show up knowing exactly what they should be doing and when based on complete and up-to-date information. This could be presented through a unified system that offers a “single pane of glass” view of the project. Yet in reality, data is dispersed across many platforms, most of which don’t synch with one another. As a result, construction workers often have an incomplete and out of date view of their upcoming tasks, which inevitably leads to delays. 

Untangling this knotty ball of yarn is daunting but not impossible. If a platform could receive information from all relevant systems and stakeholders behind the scenes and present the relevant pieces to the people who need it in a timely fashion, then processes would flow much more smoothly, rather than being stuck in a start-stop-start cycle that wastes time and money and causes knock-on delays. 

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