Takt production is already familiar on many construction sites of today. It’s quite well understood that it’s not about working harder or faster, but about doing things in a controlled manner, doing them right the first time, and this way, getting more with less effort. However, the productivity of the industry hasn’t risen much, and schedules tend to be long and unreliable. The reality is that takt production has stalled into one-time prototyping in project-specific planning and production. The collaboration between main contractors and subcontractors leaves much to wish for, and sites lack a common model of operation that all players could collaboratively invest in.
Traditionally, the aim has been to adjust jobsite schedules so that subcontractors could use their resources as efficiently as possible. This leads into long intervals between the task start dates, as well as large work areas and uneven production rates – in other words, long-lasting construction projects.
Takt production is centered around pacing the entire production system so that the production is seen as an entity instead of looking at it only from the viewpoints of what benefits single work groups. When the production is planned and organized so that all works progress at the same pace, it becomes possible to shorten the duration of the entire site significantly. Takt production does not aim at optimizing the efficiency of each individual worker by adding time buffers and finding spare areas on the site, but instead, the focus is on reducing variation within the entire production as well as shortening the overall lead time, in a way that puts the common good before partial optimization of a single worker or subcontractor.
The issue WITH THE CURRENT STATUS OF TAKT
It’s fair to say that nowadays doing it with takt is understood well in theory, but how are we doing when it comes to the realization? Takt production does give us the possibility for even pace and better predictability also for the workers, but how well do we succeed in turning the possibilities into a reality?
In the current reality, organizations are regrettably often re-formed around every new project, and the production process is planned and established almost always as if from scratch. In addition, we have this settled procurement method of going for the cheapest one-time purchases, as it is easier to chop a complex work into small pieces, and try and find each piece at the lowest possible price, than it would be to find a best solution for the overall budget. Further, these prevailing operational models and the mistrust between the parties forces subcontractors to go for overbooking their resources.
As a consequence, too often the main contractor ends up being an unreliable partner for its subcontractors. Schedules aren’t met and the subcontractors can’t commit to the constant changes in them. In this environment, it makes sense for the subcontractors to overbook their resources. This practice of course leads back to the unreliable schedules. The main contractor ends up causing uncontrolled production spikes for its partners, and at worst, the main contractor can’t even control the even use of its own resources.
To top this, we have the common problems faced in takt production, like starting the takt planning too late, having the procurement done before the takt planning starts, and the earlier created general schedule differs significantly from the takt schedule.
Construction sites lack a common model of operations that all parties could collaboratively invest in. Teams and partnerships can’t flourish, learning together isn’t supported. Whenever someone tries to push forward development actions, the results of the improvement efforts are often unclear and difficult to measure. As a result, there is no long-term commitment and investing in the development work.
HOW DO WE MAKE IT BETTER?
Evening out the production pace – takt production – continuous production that flows from project to project, together with persistent collaboration and a steady organization will make the operation of the main contractor predictable, and allows sticking to the schedules. The main contractor becomes a reliable partner for the subcontractors, which enables for the subcontractors to use their resources in a planned and optimal way, leading to cost efficient and reliable operations. Even-paced and predictable production enables resource planning by all parties.
Once the production finds its shared, even pace, the next step is to reduce the variation among the different works. Reducing the through-put times of construction sites, even significantly, does not require for any employee to run any harder, but instead, the requirement is on eliminating the disturbances and the improvisation. When there is no more mucking around, there is much more time for completing the actual tasks.
The focus of takt production must strongly be in the system and in the process, not in any single part. In addition, a flowing takt production requires changing the main contractor – subcontractor model so that the goal is not to try push all risks of the project to the subcontracors, but instead, effort is put into making them visible and solving them together to reach the common goal.
In the end, it becomes possible for us to create a common model of operation – a model that all parties can invest in. Teams and partnerships can be built with long-term commitment and learning together becomes the normal. Results can be made clearly visible and measurable, enabling developing the model consistently. We still have a long way to go and many lessons to learn before we reach that, but if we can work together with common goals, we multiply our chances to succeed.