Risto is the responsible foreman on a construction site. His closest colleagues are foreman Mikko and construction engineer Emma. The whole unit is supervised and controlled by site engineer Pekka. Risto is responsible for the production phase, ie from day 1 when the hoe hits the ground until day x, when the residents move in. This blog post is the story of his journey through the entire construction phase, focusing on schedule, site management, and other day-to-day issues. This story is just an anecdotal example of how everything could go – everyone can equate their own experiences with this in any part they feel like.
Risto receives a broad schedule for the construction site from accounting, production planning or procurement department. This may be a contract schedule including milestones with delayment fines and a mandatory completion date. The schedule can also be a general schedule defined by the line management, defining time frames for larger construction entities, such as foundations, frame erection, and interior work. This kind of timetable often serves as an aid to accounting in predicting and recognizing the situation on construction sites. In other words, an important document that is not changed for any frivolous reasons. It might be that Risto has been getting wishes about the site’s schedule goals and mentions about takt scheduling, but most likely not.
Risto, Mikko and Emma have the help of the company’s process model for weekly site planning. Sometimes the process and related tools are readily available to the project team, sometimes not. In most today’s construction sites, this phase is solely in the hands of Risto and his colleagues, and they make the best use of the ways and tools they have. Risto distributes the tasks by apartment, layer, block, or progresses from start to finish. Site management either leads the work on the site, or just follows. Communication about the schedules to other construction organizations is done on paper, email, whiteboard, or some digital medium. Quality control, which is strongly linked to the schedule, is often also in the hands of site management, and the recording formats are quite freely selectable. This, too, is often not monitored regularly, but is “hoped” to be done by “someone”. Deficiencies in documentation are often noticed only at the handover or even only during warranty repairs.
Also, the procurement is rarely completed at the very beginning of the contract. In general, most contractors are not confirmed, and material purchases are in progress. As a more detailed work schedule does not yet exist, it has been impossible to agree on the exact delivery of the goods. If the materials for some miraculous reason have been ordered, the batch sizes and delivery locations have still not been confirmed, but the order is a bulk that must be adapted more closely to the progress of the work.
Risto could ask himself:
• What kind of schedule do I need and why?
• What needs to be scheduled?
• Can I use a universal schedule?
• How easy is it to do?
• What is an adequate level?
• How do I divide tasks?
• How do I control quality?
Daily life on the work site
Risto and his colleagues start planning the work on the site. Sometimes the planning is done with contractors, sometimes not. In several stages of the work, they think about the course of the tasks without a contractor and try to communicate their wishes to the workers once they get to the site. At this point at the latest, some form of practices for scheduling communication are starting to take shape on the construction site, it’s inevitable.
The general way is to go through the following weeks in mixed groups and record the deviations mainly on the whiteboard. That is, often the original general schedule is followed, not actually lead. The overall schedule serves as the framework for doing the work; Work is started step by step from one floor, finishing that floor and moving on to the next. Inspections usually take place floor by floor or step by step, after which the errors are corrected. To correct errors, the next step often has to wait for the other ones to finish. Otherwise, there is a risk of errors being covered. As a result, the next contractor will be released more work at a time than he is able to do.
The schedule is somehow involved in most of the site communications. The focus at the site meeting is usually: how we are doing schedule wise. In weekly meetings with site managers, the schedule and upcoming weeks / work steps are a critical part. In meetings with subcontractors, managing the subcontract with schedule and quality requirements is an absolute priority number one.
And how will everyone know what to do? And where? And when? Everyone takes turns checking in on the whiteboard or taking pictures of it and sending them on Whatsapp. The schedule and week planning are purely in the hands of the management. The schedule and goals are not seen as common but given from above. After a few weeks, no one will know what the current situation is. And when the snapshot disappears, no one really cares anymore. If the schedule is not updated and the work is planned together based on the real situation, there will be fires to be put out. No one is going to do the missed task from last week. Controlling and prioritizing work is hugely difficult. The success of a site and work is purely based on the skill and ability of work management to make decisions one incoming problem at a time. Communication is one-way and obtaining situational information requires a lot of footwork from the management.
All the data stored and to be stored on the site is in several different places. Matters related to schedule, quality, procurement, finances, and security are all in different places. Between these, it is difficult to form a complete picture of the situation in which everything and everyone are in sync.
• How easy is the schedule to edit, update and communicate?
• What is the situation on the site?
• Does everyone know the situation?
• Is everything all right?
• What would be the most important next step?
Towards the end, week by week
The days and weeks on the job site go by at a tremendous pace. The building must be erected and protected the weather to prepare for the massive set of interior tasks. Contracts have been signed with the contractors, and there are more than 50 of them on the site, ready to work. Risto, Mikko and Emma have their hands full of work.
Materials arrive on site according to original orders, sometimes on a schedule suitable for the job, sometimes not. Materials often remain at the unloading site or need to be stored in a temporary location due to lack of resources and/or space. Ordering was done in last minutes and the site must wait for the materials, but what can you do? It is what it is.
In weekly meetings, half of the time is spent on updating everyone on the general situation. After that comes things like how to proceed and what tasks are critical. This conversation might be documented and possibly sent to the project managers, who may communicate it to their authors. Or maybe not.
When the handover is finally nearing, let’s see what has been done. Recently, the inspections have been somewhat lacking due to hurry, and there is a lot to hand over. Most of the contractors have left the site, which is slowing down the rectification of deficiencies. The handover phase of a site is also often a part for which no time or money is set aside; after all, there should be no such phase of remediation. However, it is, and the work needs to be done anyway. Everyone hopes that no additional problem such as water damage will occur.
• How are we doing?
• How about last week, what about next?
• What are our biggest problems, what is critical?
• How do the messages deviate, how are they designed together?
• Is everything all right?
The building is finally ready. There we some problems, but they were solved. So, let’s see what we have…The project wasn’t as profitable as had been thought, but the main thing was to get rid of it. The contractors were challenging to manage, and at least some of them need to be replaced for the next project. So, there’s always a promise; let’s do it right next time, so you don’t have to fix and redo so much.
But how did we do then? Most of the contracts had additional work. How long it took to get them done right, no one knows. And why couldn’t those extra jobs be considered beforehand? How would we remember this next time to be able to do better? And the quality, it should get better. Now there were far too many recurring quality errors that slowed completion. A part of the project had to be done in a hurry, and more mistakes happened. And money. In fact, it’s terribly hard to see where it went and how much time was actually spent on the work steps. The biggest problems can be broadly defined as “too many problems”, “bad contractors” or “too much time to dry”. Oh yeah, and “plans had to wait”. Well, better luck next time.
All the data that was collected from the site is in different systems, in different formats, and not easily overlapped. It’s hard to see the connection between quality errors and a busy schedule, for example. It is difficult to capture the lessons learned and utilize them directly in the planning of the next project.
• How did we do?
• How much time and money were pent?
• What were our biggest problems?
• How will I take advantage of this site in the future?
• How could I improve?
Is this your current situation? Contact us and let’s talk!
About the Author
Customer Success Specialist at Fira Smart, Tuomas Hakulinen brings his expertise to his words from the sites. Tuomas has work experience of over 10 years from construction sites in site management, where he drove forward operational development from within the site. On his last pipe renovation sites, Tuomas took part in developing the schedule management system Fira Sitedrive, and eventually moved on to continue this work full time in the Fira Smart team. However, a huge part of his work time is still spent on jobsites – nowadays in the role of training and consultation to help sites deploy digital solutions.
Contact Tuomas – he may very well pay you a visit, as well!