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Supply Chain Management 101: (Post 5) Integrated management of the supply chain and the jobsite.

In Post #2, we discussed an analog approach. The superintendent is doing a good job with planning and communicates the resulting demand signals to a supply chain manager [the project manager].   Now, we will focus on the interface between the supply chain and the jobsite.

In a phrase… It starts with Collaboration and Blossoms with Data.

Collaboration and Tech Integration

The first step is better collaboration across suppliers and contractors.  When I brought up this idea in a round table discussion last week, an architect actually scoffed and said “good luck”.  Refer back to post #3, where I emphasized the importance of partner collaboration.   Step 4 in the chart below is next for Touchplan, and Step 5 is where we are headed.

 

What We Can Do Now: Expectation Management through Smarter Forecasting

Your project requires a particular piece of equipment, and the request looks feasible based on what the supplier is telling you is a reliable delivery date.  What if your supplier is misinforming you because they aren’t actually forecasting?

The trade contractors doing most of the procurement typically act as go-betweens between the vendor and owner, and it puts them in a tight spot.  Owners do not like being told their project schedules are slipping because of things outside of their control.  However, a trade contractor could be able to do better expectation management by changing the conversation from “Well, they told me the lead for this vital piece of equipment is six months but they just told me it looks like it’s going to be another six months” to “The supplier gave me a lead time of six months, but looking at our own historical procurement data and a data set provided by the supplier, it’s likely to be more like 12 months,” and then provide a recommendation from there.

At present, you can use existing data to forecast with multiple regression or Monte Carlo. An integrated supply chain solution would automate projections of your supplier’s ship dates, continuously inform feasible production plans and adjust need-by dates and deliveries accordingly.

Systems That Talk to One Another

The next step is to automate the process through systems integration.  Imagine if your project team didn’t have to do all of the planning in one place, then go to a procurement log somewhere and update need-by dates, and then make a phone call or send an email to communicate the data you just updated in the procurement log.

The ideal end state is one where supply chains respond to the production plan, and gives instant feedback about what is feasible.

That is the problem we are trying to solve by working with partners like Intelliwave, BitRip and PLOT. If you’re a contractor, supplier, owner, or tech platform, we are interested in working with you to move the industry towards integrated management of the supply chain and the jobsite.  We’d love to talk.  Reach out to [email protected] to hear more.

Guest Blog: Stop Trying to Motivate Your Employees

STOP? Surely that’s a typo in the title?

In fact, no typo; completely intentional. My question is, why would you need to motivate your employees?

You employed the right people, didn’t you? They were motivated to accept your offer of employment, weren’t they?  When they walked through your front door on day one, they were motivated to do well, were they not? So, why do you now need to spend time, money, and energy on motivating them?

It’s not the role of leadership to motivate their employees but rather to identify the leadership behaviors that are actually demotivating them. And no, this is not semantics. Contingent on having employed the right people in the first place, staff are self-motivated, and if their leadership provides a climate that engages them, meets their needs, and provides the career paths that they are looking for, then they will stay motivated. Thirty years serving in HM forces taught me that, and in many companies in my 14 years in civilian life, I have had that opinion reinforced.

What I have learnt is that it’s the actions and inactions of leadership that demotivates staff. As a consultant, I sometimes hear business owners say that their staff needs to be re-motivated. This needs to be reframed as it’s my experience that sometimes businesses hire the right people but then turn them into the wrong people, at which point they lose the motivation that they brought with them to the job.

So, if you have a problem with staff motivation, look inward and not outward.

If you have demotivated staff, what can you do today to provide a culture that will sustain the motivation your people had when they first walked through your front door?

Dr. Anthony Kenneson-Adams is a partner and head of learning and knowledge at Project 7. He has expertise training, mentoring, and coaching senior executives to shop floor leaders in customer focused leadership of operational excellence and organisational development. He is recognized for building self-sustaining Lean and 6 Sigma cultures that engage leaders and teams to excel as corporate citizens. If you are interested in understanding in learning how to maintain a culture of motivation, you can connect with him on LinkedIn.

Leverage Technology to Better Manage Your Supply Chain: A Webinar Recap

Touchplan recently hosted a webinar that featured our Lead of Strategic Partnerships, Andrew Piland and Jeff Houtz, Supply Chain Leader at TritenIAG.

The two discussed how supply chain initiatives could be improved by leveraging technology and enhancing collaboration.

Some of the key takeaways from the webinar include:

  • Communication between parties is essential and can save a lot of time but also promote creativity. Communicating with the supply chain managers allows supers, trades, and owners to have transparency on when material will be delivered or what can be done if plans need to pivot.
  • Planning, particularly using technology, is the most beneficial part of better managing your supply chain. Yes, you can manually use Excel or a pen and paper to plan, but these tech platforms make it so much more integrated end to end and put your fingers exactly on what you need. It also compiles historical data to understand the trends of how teams are/were performing to make realistic decisions and commitments on what they can do moving forward, especially regarding the supply chain.
  • Understand ownership and expertise. Many supers think they know what to do and feel like they have to put fires out everywhere, but there should be a focus on what you can’t control instead of just having emotional reactions to everything that’s going wrong. With technology, you can identify the inefficiencies you didn’t even know existed previously, and you can also gain more creativity when working with others and focusing on what you can do now. With data, you’ll be able to recognize pain points and what can be done.

If you want to watch the entire webinar, you can find it on our website.

Supply Chain Management 101: (Post 4) Move Construction Activities from the Jobsite into the Supply Chain

Prefabrication and off-site construction are not novel concepts, but it has yet to be mainstream for commercial construction.  More sophisticated MEP trades and some wall panel companies are pulling the industry in that direction.

I recently talked with a superintendent who had seven weeks in his schedule for exterior framing and sheathing on a 50,000 SF green field church project.  By switching to pre-fab, the total on-site time was three weeks. He also cited the gains in safety due to less manpower required and removing the requirement for workers to hoist individual sheets from boom lifts. When you think about it, most of the time, doing sheathing on-site is a waste. The predominant activity is moving the lift to position material instead of fastening it to the studs.

Aside from the obvious time savings on the jobsite, there are higher-level and more strategic benefits to building off-site.  You guessed it; it has to do with the supply chain, and most of it deals with eliminating waste.

Why is this? Reference back to the intro to this series. There is a trade-off between efficiency and responsiveness. Efficient supply chains have less waste but are less resilient.  Remember the toilet paper crisis? Efficient, but not so resilient to a shock in demand. Construction supply chains have typically been responsive at the expense of efficiency due to the dynamic nature of projects. The trade-off requires the supply chain to allow for waste in the form of inventory.

Describing the Baseline Construction Supply Chain without pre-fabrication

The standard construction supply chain is a conglomeration of fragmented sub-supply chains that converge to the place where value is added. The unique bit about construction is that the final location where value is added is also the end product’s final destination.  The jobsite is the construction factory, and no two are alike.  Creating steady flow [efficiency] in such a system is nearly impossible.

From the superintendent’s vignette above, he mentioned the almost just-in-time nature of his experience with pre-fab resulted in a cleaner site and less inventory waste. Sure, the factory where the panels are made may have to maintain some inventory; however, due to reduced cycle time to build in the factory and installation on the jobsite, raw materials have less net storage time in the supply chain. In this case, up to four weeks less as the material would have sat on the jobsite until it was ready to be installed.

Every stakeholder in the value chain should care about this because it ties directly to the project’s bottom line.

Owners, if you walk out to your project and see stacks and stacks of inventory sitting on-site, you are paying for it. Regardless of the purchase price your project team was able to secure, there are secondary and tertiary costs associated with storing material.

What prefabrication will help us do in the future

Prefabrication is essential to building more certainly by eliminating waste associated with traditional construction.  Additionally, the benefits of safety and quality cannot be ignored.  One lesson from the pre-fab wall panel example above is that the superintendent knows he would have saved more time had he coordinated early enough to add waterproofing scope in the factory.  Doing so would have allowed for more certain quality control, reduced time having workers in lifts, and more savings to the schedule.

How prefabrication plus integrated technology makes project delivery more certain

Prefabrication alone is great, but it’s only one component of industrialized construction.  The next step is to couple prefabrication with technology, data, and analytics.  One platform that I am excited to see is Katalyst.di.  [[email protected]]  Their position that predictable supply chains generate predictable construction projects is spot on, and the way they are going about it is exactly right.  Enabling collaboration across supply chain stakeholders by integrating data and workflows is much needed in the AECO space.  Using a planning platform like Touchplan to forecast demand coupled with a supply chain platform like Katalyst.di is how projects will be delivered with more certainty in the future.

Supply Chain Management 101: Managing the Supply Chain (Post 3)

How do we operate in today’s supply chain environment? Collaborate and think outside the box.

Collaboration

The trick to collaboration is realizing that no single person has the right answer.

When a construction project has to call an audible to get around supply chain issues, more than one person has to be involved.

  1. The designer
  2. The supplier(s)
  3. The project manager
  4. The installer

Imagine getting all four of these personas in a room together to solve a problem.  Although it does happen, it is the exception to the rule.  A project manager must first align everyone on the principle that the owner’s satisfaction is the ultimate goal and then facilitate productive discussion. It is similar to a Last Planner System® approach, but instead of talking about coordinating hand-offs between trades, we are aligning conditions of satisfaction across stakeholders.

This is uncomfortable, and most organizations collaborate well intra-enterprise.  The graphic below is an example of a supply chain maturity chart, with collaboration on the x-axis and performance on the y-axis.  As it turns out, supply chain performance is directly related to how well organizations work together.

Supply Chain 101

From what I have seen in the construction industry, my sense is that we are, on average, somewhere between levels 1 and  2.

Here’s a quick excerpt from Charles C. Poirier et al. called Diagnosing Greatness: Ten Traits of the Best Supply Chains: “To Progress from level 2 to level 3, a firm must surmount a formidable cultural barrier.  The idea of sharing valuable information to establish an inter-enterprise network with external parties – the central tenet of level 3-is alien to upper management in many companies. Accordingly, they resist attempts to extend supply chain improvement efforts beyond their internal four walls.  The innovators find a way to overcome that resistance. They poke through the four walls by working with one or two key suppliers….”

Perhaps your organization is at Level 2, and you want to go further. Building a close relationship with some key partners and including them as negotiated contractors is a good start.

Thinking Outside the Box

Here’s a quick and broad vignette.

Last month, I was at a data center construction conference, and an electrical contractor told a story about how they could not get a particular electrical component in a suitable amount of time for an upcoming project. The lead time was more than six months, and there were no alternative suppliers.

What did they do? They reverse-engineered and manufactured the component themselves and got it UL certified. They then built a business to sell components to their competitors by establishing this manufacturing capability.

The first thing that this electrical contractor did well was to identify the shortfall before the project started. They likely used historical procurement data to identify items with long lead times, but then they followed up by validating at the beginning of the project. This does not happen enough, and it ties back to one of the themes of this blog series: Project managers are supply chain managers, and supply chain managers have to know the status of their supply chain.

Collaboration and thinking outside the box both carry risks.  It is not like we just start doing these things, and everything gets better overnight. Other industries have far exceeded construction in their capability to build collaborative and integrated supply chains.

As the Chinese proverb states, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

If you missed either of the two previous posts from this blog series, they are available at the links below:

Supply Chain Management 101: Managing the Interface between the Supply Chain and the Construction Site (Post 2)

I learned early on as a young U.S. Marine logistics officer that operations drive logistics.  I had to be proactive and actively collaborate with my supported units during pre-execution to ensure timely and accurate support.

It is a similar concept in construction.  Project Managers are the logisticians of the jobsite, and logisticians have to understand demand signals.

How does a project manager better understand demand signals? The real pros will validate the project’s procurement log against a superintendent’s six-week lookahead once a week and have a daily 15-minute procurement sync with the team. Check out Jason Schroeder’s podcast on the topic, #398. His take is spot-on.

How do we begin to match demand signals with the supply chain? Let’s start with ‘Role 1’; focus on the interface between the supply chain and the construction site. This refers to a better understanding of what, when, and how requirements are to be delivered.

Forecast as far out as possible, as detailed as possible. The effectiveness of a forecast is directly proportional to the amount of planning done on the front end.  A proper phase planning session will get you there.

As lead times start returning to normal, the contractors that can forecast instead of relying on bulk buys will reap the benefit. The proof is visible if you look at any construction project in your area. Project managers are locking in price and predictability early but at the expense of the jobsite. While this approach may look like the best financial decision on paper, there is never a zero-cost solution to bulk procurement due to the amount of time it takes to sort materials and get them the last 100 yards to the final destination.  Not to mention the risk of damaged material.  Good luck getting a warranty on your roofing system if the material has been in the weather for two months. As we move away from having to do bulk procurement upfront, project teams will have to go back to the basics and resume (or start) managing procurement forecasts.

To illustrate my point, here is a chart from Ruben Vrijhoef and Koskela’s paper I highlighted in the first post of the series.

Sure, per unit price goes down with higher volumes, but the cost to manage site logistics goes way up.

The first step to proper forecasting is to know the project. More often than not, you are going to have your master schedule, and then you are going to have what is happening on the jobsite. Your planning space is how you proactively generate and communicate demand signals. From a supply chain perspective, your master schedule is useful to help build the procurement log, but it has to constantly be validated by what is being planned and executed. I can’t say this loud enough. Superintendents: use Touchplan religiously to manage your lookahead because it impacts more than just what your trades are doing. Trade and GC PMs plus Owners need to understand how planned work is tied to the procurement forecast.  Pro Tip: Use a custom field that links directly to an item on the procurement log or, even better, to a supply chain management platform like SiteSense by Intelliwave.

You might have late deliveries that result in a late project if the team has to wait for a bi-weekly schedule update to understand and act on demand signals—plan and track progress on weekly and daily intervals. Your job will flow not only because your trades are aligned but your supply chain as well.

If you missed the first post in this series, you can read it here.

Construction Supply Chain Management 101

Supply Chain Managers have to be able to understand demand signals. That means knowing what, when, where, and how things need to be delivered. It’s easy for Amazon; they know the ‘when’ is always as soon as possible, the ‘where’ is always as close to the house as possible, and because of their detailed analytics, lead times might start approaching negative figures soon. Packages could one day just show up at your door, and you won’t even be mad about it.

As a general principle, there are two trade-offs in supply chains. Efficiency and responsiveness. An efficient supply chain has a predictable, steady flow and is typically achieved with high volume and predictability. Take the petroleum supply chain, for example. Save for significant world events; consumption is more or less predictable.

Large capital construction projects are traditionally on the other end of the spectrum. With several interdependent activities frequently subject to unforeseen conditions, forecasting dates for materials, equipment, furnishings, etc., is difficult at best and is seldom delivered in a just-in-time manner.

Supply chain risk occurs at both ends of that spectrum. If overly efficient, any interruption carries with it a risk of starving a production system. If too responsive, it becomes difficult to manage. Balancing the push from the procurement schedule with the pull from jobsite operations should be every construction supply chain manager’s goal.

How do we frame this problem? Dr. Ruben Vrijhoef and Dr. Lauri Koskela outline the four supply chain management roles in construction. They are broken out as lines of effort between the supply chain at large and the construction site.

Construction Supply Chain 101_Post1

The industry’s challenges are much bigger than anything a single company can handle. The key word is collaboration, and your supply chain initiative has to start with forming partnerships.

Over the next few weeks, we will talk about some practical ways to think about the construction supply chain and how to leverage Touchplan to help make your supply chain work for you.

Ref: Vrijhoef, Ruben & Koskela, Lauri. (2000). The Four Roles of Supply Chain Management in Construction. European Journal of Purchasing & Supply Management. 6. 169-178. 10.1016/S0969-7012(00)00013-7.

Collaborative Pre-Con – How Digitizing Design & Phase Planning Enhances Project Success – A Webinar Recap

Touchplan recently held a webinar that discussed how collaborative planning is essential before breaking ground on a construction project.

Moderator and Senior Customer Success Manager Carly Griffin was joined by Adam Nelson – Director, Planning & Scheduling at CRB, and Tom Nye – Principal Consultant at Jacobs.

The three covered a variety of topics that centered around using planning software during pre-construction to enhance collaboration, keep track of moving parts, and stay organized around crucial decisions and design challenges.

Some of the key takeaways from the discussion include:

  • Collaboration is the number one key to succeeding in these projects. It should not be a command and control industry anymore; teams must always have transparency, honesty, and respect. When everyone feels a part of the process and can work through problems together, they understand the expectations for the team and the project and can do their job efficiently.
  • A digital platform is not meant to waste their time; it is a resource, and in implementing it, leaders should meet the teams where they’re at to understand its importance and use case. You are not creating more work; you are creating more efficient work to help them in their daily lives.
  • With a digital platform like Touchplan, you can work with anyone, anywhere, at any time. Challenges may arise. However, using a digitized system forces accountability to be part of the conversation. This is a key component in planning meetings to foster transparency and understanding of who will get what done and when.

We invite you to watch the entire webinar here.

Improving Prefabrication Efficiency – How Manufacturing Processes Can Translate to Construction – A Webinar Recap

Touchplan recently hosted a webinar that discussed the value of prefabrication and how it can be applied to the construction industry.

Host Noah Baker was joined by Marc Roberts, Chief Operations Officer at BBI Services, and George Hunt, Corporate Lean Director at IPS-Integrated Project Services. The three discussed what can be learned from manufacturing production systems to reduce waste, improve quality, and drive continuous improvement on construction projects.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the webinar:

  • Collaboration from the start is a critical mindset to have because the tasks involve multiple people. Beyond this, having the designer included from the beginning helps build the plan so that it’s ready for construction and eliminates problems earlier, rather than getting to the site and having to re-frame the design and prefab plan. This efficiency and collaboration can be achieved with a digital solution because you can view tasks in real time wherever you are in the world, and everyone has a visual understanding of what needs to get done.
  • Owners’ buy-in from the very beginning is critical to a successful project. They are your ultimate customer, so keeping them in mind and ensuring they understand the process and telling you they want it to be minimal time and money will help you identify your own process that is both efficient and collaborative.
  • You can take principles from production and manufacturing and apply it to construction. While there are significant differences, it’s really about understanding the variables and that everything is a production process. It’s also not about making everything automated; it’s about keeping flow and producing valuable, quality work for the customer with minimal touch and the highest degree of certainty and confidence. 

We invite you to watch the entire webinar here.

Under Construction: School’s Off-Season Session is a Barn Burner

It can’t be done.  Not in that timeframe, not with the existing supply chain issues, not with that team, building, site, or fill-in-the-blank.  Not possible.  This is a common refrain in the construction industry.  Common long before the pandemic and supply chains became a thing that was widely understood by adults and children alike.  “What do you mean we don’t have toilet paper?”  A new understanding that things came from a place before they arrive at Amazon.  Legendary they may be, mass producers of all our planet’s goods they are not.

As a serial renovator of my own homes, I am fond of asking these naysayers if they have ever heard of the pyramids.

“The pyramids?”  They ask.

“Yes, you know those 3D triangular structures in Egypt,”  I respond.

“Well, yeah, hasn’t everyone?”

“Perfect, you know them.  They built those with a chisel and no power tools, so we can certainly figure out how to build this with all the technology, tools, and ingenuity at our disposal today and do it despite the challenges that you outlined.”

If you are a member of the Capital Planning, Design, and Construction, or an Annual Projects and Differed Maintenance Divisions of a college or university, you have likely heard that “It can’t be done”, heck you may have been the one saying it to the leadership of your institution, but then you do the seemingly impossible, and delivery a completed project in that sliver of time that separates spring semester from fall.  A precedent is set, and the 14-week schedule becomes 13, 12, and then 11, 10, and gulp 8, and the terms Summer Slammer and Barn Burner begin to make sense.

Aggressive summer schedules make sense for many reasons, including that campuses are often populated with fewer students, professors, and visitors.  Buildings can be made vacant, construction can be carried out in three shifts, and work that might otherwise be phased and take two to three times as long can be completed in a single summer.  Second and third shift costs take the place of and/or are offset by the elimination of demobilization and mobilization over the course of multiple summers.

Hyper-speed schedules come with their hurtles and aren’t for everyone.  Like Algebra, there is a certain sort of builder that loves the challenge of a fast-track project, the pre-planning, the troubling through constructability approaches that deliver efficiency and craftsmanship, and the development of contingency plans for the inevitable barriers that will be placed in their path.  They are the sort that says yes to a competition.  They take pride in achieving what others think is impossible.

If summer school were in session and a fresh cohort of builders had set their sights on being the next and the best at barn burners, they would likely learn that building it is the easy part.  The real secret to success is in the planning, the materials procurement, the communications structure that is established and followed, the decision-making schedule, and the approvals matrix.  It takes collaboration, shared vision, grit, grind, and an agreed-upon commitment to success.   When the last nail is slammed into place, the fire is out, and the report on the card is an “A,” it’s all worth the effort.