Train Foremen to be Field Managers

BY BOB MIODONSKI of CONTRACTORs staff LANSDOWNE, VA. Two quick and effective although possibly unpopular ways to improve productivity are to eliminate cellular phones and cigarettes on jobsites, said Kirk Alter, a professor in Purdue Universitys building construction management program. He advised the 26 members of the Essentials of PHC Project Management course sponsored by the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling

BY BOB MIODONSKI of CONTRACTOR’s staff

LANSDOWNE, VA. — Two quick and effective — although possibly unpopular — ways to improve productivity are to eliminate cellular phones and cigarettes on jobsites, said Kirk Alter, a professor in Purdue University’s building construction management program.

He advised the 26 members of the “Essentials of PHC Project Management” course sponsored by the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association Jan. 24-26 here to ban all cell phones from the jobsite except the one carried by the foreman.

“People do not need cell phones on the job, even for emergencies,” Alter said. “Emergencies have been handled for years without cell phones.”

He urged the company owners, project managers and others in the class not to allow smoking on jobsites either due to the lost production that cigarettes can cause. It takes seven minutes to smoke a cigarette, he noted.

“You can use this as a sales and marketing tool — that no one will smoke or leave cigarette butts on your jobsite,” Alter said. “Tell your employees that they can smoke on their own break time off the job. No chewing tobacco either.”

On the other hand, perhaps a more popular way to increase productivity is to encourage breaks from work.

“If you can take short afternoon breaks, your productivity will improve,” Alter said. “These should last at least 10 minutes but no more than 15 minutes. Safety is another issue to consider in taking breaks.”

Cell phones, cigarettes and afternoon breaks were just a few suggestions made during Alter’s session on how to control a project at the field level. The class was entitled “Fighting Fires or Managing Change?”

The emphasis in this session was on how management could do a better job of increasing the productivity of their crews on nonresidential projects. Poor management is directly responsible for 70% to 80% of all lost time on a construction project, Alter said.

“That’s great news!” he said. “Those guys in the field are only responsible for 20% to 30% of lost time.”

The ways in which management causes lost time include:

  • Poor site and pre-construction planning;
  • Poor material handling practices and wrong materials;
  • Too few, broken or wrong tools;
  • Too few gang boxes; and
  • Remote toilets.

Identifying lost time on a job generally requires a combination of methods including the foreman daily job log and the foreman delay survey, Alter said. A big step for contractors to take is to view the foreman as a manager.

“We have to train our foremen to be better managers and train them to what their role is in the company,” Alter said. “They’re your eyes and ears in the field.”

The foreman daily log is a good example of what training needs to take place.

“In our industry, as a rule, foremen do their daily logs once a week, on a Friday afternoon,” Alter said. “The problem is we haven’t taught them why the daily logs are important and what’s in it for them. They should understand it’s a process, not a product that they turn into their boss.”

Company owners and project managers should walk the job for a half-day with the foreman and do their own daily log. That way, they can learn together.

“Meaningful daily logs done everyday are a very effective way to document lost time and the causes of delays on an ongoing basis,” Alter said. “If they know you’re going to ask them about lost time every day, they’ll start to think about how much time they lose each day. They’ll start to tell you all the ways they lost time.

“These are things you can fix. Your productivity will improve.”

The foreman delay survey usually is conducted over a one-week period or on a periodic basis. Although not intended to be a time-consuming activity, it does require the foreman to complete a daily form to identify problems causing delays and the man-hours lost for each delay. The survey provides the owner or project manager with the foreman’s perspective of delays and productivity losses.

“On nonresidential projects, if you can save three minutes per man per day, you will drastically improve your productivity,” Alter said.