Successful projects focus on required rates of production

Those managing construction projects today have to deal with copious amounts of data, from Primavera P6 schedules with 30,000 or more lines to a large volume of metrics and KPIs in monthly reports. As project leaders diligently try to investigate this extreme detail, they often lose their focus on production rates—such as linear feet of pipe installed per week—that determine the schedule and productivity.

This loss of focus on production rates tends to kick in as soon as the first detailed project schedule is built. Schedulers, who normally have limited experience with physical construction, use the detail accommodated in the scheduling tool to build thousands of individual activities, each with a duration that reflects a certain degree of optimism. In isolation, all these activities look achievable but once they are rolled-up produce an unachievable outcome.

See Figure 1 below for an example. On one project, there was a large disparity between what a contractor’s P6 schedule produced (gray line), and what, when pressed, the contractor said was a reasonable and sustainable rate of piping production (blue line). The difference between the original schedule and what could be achieved delayed the completion of the project by four months.

There can be a similar loss of focus on production rates in engineering. Engineering plans are often optimistic because they are based on engineering production metrics such as the number of isometric drawings produced per week, which cannot be achieved. The unrealistic engineering schedule that results leads to unsustainable construction starts, or crews mobilized with insufficient engineering completed to work efficiently, leading to lower productivity for the project.

Moreover, construction packages are being defined earlier and in greater detail through, for instance, advanced work packages, which limit the flexibility of front-line construction leaders, and causes them to lose sight of the rates required and, ultimately, accountability to deliver those rates. Building these detailed construction packages effectively, especially on mega-projects, requires experienced construction people to sit in the engineering office for weeks, working in front of a computer and providing input into package development. Often, the most knowledgeable people are unavailable or unwilling to spend sufficient time on such tasks.

Our view is not that detail is bad, or that advanced planning isn’t worthwhile, but that these cannot be done without consideration of what can physically be achieved, nor in a way that dilutes accountability. We therefore recommend that three aspects should be considered in order to better leverage the potential of today’s tools and take into account the reality of what can be achieved:

  1. Understand the production rates required for engineering and construction, test for achievability, incorporate them into the plan, and track them accordingly.
  2. Require contractors to demonstrate how they can achieve the rates required before selection (e.g., sufficient, tenured craft/trade leadership).
  3. Hold engineering and construction front-line leaders accountable to meet the required rates, and let them make the final decisions on how to achieve them.

For more insight on how Westney helps clients account for the required rates of production, take a look at our information on production-based planning.