Documenting, quantifying jobsite production

I’m still shocked in this modern day and age that so many contractors of all stripes are still not using even basic techniques to document and analyze actual field crew performance in relation to expected same as evidenced in the original estimates.

I’m still shocked in this modern day and age that so many contractors of all stripes are still not using even basic techniques to document and analyze actual field crew performance in relation to expected same as evidenced in the original estimates.

 It truly flabbergasts me that the “because this is the way it’s always been done and as long as we still make a profit at the end of the job, who cares” mentality is given as a the reason (excuse) by project managers and upper-end executives not to spend 1% to 2% of extra time during the day to write down information that could conceivably increase a company’s net by 10% to 20% over time, all for the act of actually giving a care.

I’m not talking rocket science here, I am talking about using a concept familiar to so many who read this column of using a modified approach to SABERmetrics that many who participate in fantasy baseball leagues know well. Instead of using accumulated historical statistics to analyze an individual baseball player’s and a baseball team’s probable future behavior by measuring in-game activity, we as project managers simply note on an employee’s time card or within the job’s daily logfile in Excel who did what and where and how long it took them and then transfer that data into a master file for use back at the office.

Actual SABERmetrics is about using information about a player in the micro and a team in the macro to predict what player or team will do best, or worst as the case may be, in a given situation, game or season. Using a modified version SABERmetrics to fit in with contracting practices is to simply record for the record what a given field employee does on a given day, with no negative or positive consequence for what they do or don’t do because of the documenting of such. This is the act of actually writing stuff down being more important than what was done on the jobsite by the said employee for that particular day.

If a pipefitter starting this morning runs a hundred feet of 2-in. steel pipe by the end of the day, then on their time card or within the daily job log write it down as attributable to them. But what if they’re working in an open space such as on a new slab-on-grade warehouse job, working in the clear off of a lift, as opposed to working in a cramped coordinated space on an upper story of a new hospital job, it wouldn’t seem to be fair to compare this apple with that orange?

Well, it’s not about comparison of one employee’s production to another similar employee’s production on different kinds of jobs. It’s about creating and establishing a company-wide policy that any labor spent on the job is written down and is transparent enough to be traceable to where both current problems and opportunities can be addressed and future trends of potential profitability can be exploited. When studying the data you notice that a given mechanic runs rings around others in hanging fan coil units in half the estimated time or produces double the amount of footages for 3-in. and above weldpipe, but is just average when running  2” to 1/2” and below or just has the magic touch when it comes slapping up smaller low pressure duct, but is barely adequate when wresting with larger high pressure duct, why on earth wouldn’t you take advantage of this knowledge?

I know that many in our industry still assign personnel to and run their field crews “by feel,” but in this day and age of literally not just trying to but needing to squeeze every possible dime of net from each job, you and the company need to create and reply on objective, not subjective, perspectives as much as possible.

When an estimator estimated the job they didn’t throw spaghetti against the wall to see if it would stick. Instead they used time-and-tested tools and methods to count the footages of pipe and the number and measurements of pipe fittings, the number and kinds of fixtures and pieces of system equipment, etc., and then assigned a specialized standard labor unit number to each individual component. This gives executive management a true picture of actual raw material and equipment costs and a very accurate within +/- 2% guess of the number of labor hours that would be needed to install a finished job.

I know for a fact there are many companies still out there even in the depths of this Great Recession that don’t bother to keep reasonably accurate daily snapshots of labor hours used to match up with unit labor hours estimated for the same and to that I just sit and scratch my head and wonder how can this be.

I’m not saying that any mechanic should be held 100% accountable to the original estimate’s highly accurate, but still, educated guess. What I am saying is that if your company does not have a policy and method of real-time documenting what you’re spending in real weekly payroll-dollar-field-labor hours, but your competitor does, then guess who will be the winner in the end as the relentless pressures of doing more work for less money and in less time continues to escalate and separate firms in the marketplace?

Kent Craig is a second-generation mechanical contractor with unlimited Master’s licenses in boilers, air conditioning, heating and plumbing. You may contact him via e-mail at: hkcraig@gmail.com.

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