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Ensuring Construction Workers are in the Right Place at the Right Time

The waste of transport is about unnecessary movement of items. The waste of motion, on the other hand, is about unnecessary movements of people.
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In the previous installment of this series, we explored the consequences of vehicles and equipment not being where they’re supposed to be. Now we’re shifting our focus to another misallocation waste that plagues the construction industry: when workers are put in motion in the wrong direction. 

The writer of a blog post for MacroFab states that, “The waste of transport is about unnecessary movement of items. The waste of motion, on the other hand, is about unnecessary movements of people.” This article goes on to state that the 5S practice created by Toyota as part of the original lean manufacturing system can go a long way to preventing this all-too-common waste. 

The Problem With Constant Updates

The five phases of 5S are seiri (sort), seiton (systematize), seiso (shine), seiketsu (standardize), and shitsuke (sustain). In construction, the stages that often create the most difficulties are sort and sustain. The sort phase is where projects are planned and detailed. In some industries – like car manufacturing – assembly lines stick to the original plans, which are largely static until a model is updated on an annual basis or sometimes overhauled and relaunched (the new Ford Bronco, for example). 

In contrast, the sort phase in construction is comparatively fluid. Plans are revised, new versions of blueprints created, and specifications altered as the project gets underway and while it’s in progress. As a result, a house that’s two thirds of the way through being built might be the seventh, eighth, or ninth iteration of the original architect’s plans. Such amendments, additions, and changes are often unavoidable and sometimes desirable, at least from the customer’s perspective. But for the people responsible for the project itself, version control is often a big and ongoing problem. 

A chief reason for this is communication – or, more often, the lack of it. A supervisor might believe that crews are working off the latest specs, when in fact, they’re using an old, outdated version. Perhaps the revised plans weren’t sent to all stakeholders. Maybe they were, but some left the message unread. Or the sheer number of changes have confused people. As a result, construction workers may arrive to do tasks that are no longer needed or might go to the wrong site at the wrong time. They may also do things that are incorrect and require time-consuming rework. This is the waste of motion made manifest.  

Taking Extra Unnecessary Steps

An insightful article by Fieldwire identifies other ways that this efficiency can be brought to bear in the construction industry: “Motion waste is a result of extra steps taken by people to accomplish their work. This includes time spent looking for a tool or file, as well as walking extra yards due to a poorly designed work area.” The writer goes on to suggest that up to 70 percent of a skilled tradesperson’s day can be frittered away on coordinating their work in the field. 

Most of that time is connected to inadequate or untimely communication. Construction workers can only go about their business and perform the tasks they’re trained for in a timely and efficient manner when they’re kept up to date about where they should be, when, and what they need to be doing. As we shared in a previous post, they also need the equipment and vehicles to be available as needed. This cannot happen when messages are flying back and forth across disparate platforms that don’t integrate with each other and pertinent data remains stuck in siloes. 

The easiest way to tackle the waste of motion is to consolidate communications into a single channel. If construction crews were able to see the precise information they needed at the very moment it was required, they would not be wasting time and energy on excessive or misdirected motion. The ability to tag certain tasks and people within a real-time stream would ensure that construction crews were doing what they were supposed to and would also keep supervisors up to date with on-the-ground developments. This would go a long way to resolving the offsite/onsite disconnect that is at the heart of so much wasted motion and other lean construction wastes. 

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