Case Study- Construction Site Decision Making

18 Jan

This is some of our previous research we carried out in the construction industry and recently written up as a case study…

Frequently, in a professional situation, we can find ourselves trusting certain individuals and teams to deliver more than others. But the people we trust more do not simply deliver more often. These people also problem solve, use initiative, innovate and require far less supervision. This not only produces more organisational learning, but the lack of supervision to produce these results, frees up management time, making the entire organisation more efficient and focused on forward thinking.

The goal of any organisation is to reduce this gap between those individuals and teams we trust to deliver, and those individuals and teams who we trust less. Sometimes the gap is a lack of experience and confidence, other times it is simple but effective “rules of thumb” which are particular to a high performing individual or team. But if we can discover what makes our best staff perform so well, and pass it on, the advantages can be significant.  Not only will performance increase in areas where it’s most needed, but top performing staff and teams will no longer be over loaded with projects. Problem solving, innovation and uncertainty management improve. And new, “novice” staff, will become experts far faster. Now, imagine if this can be achieved inside two days.

Our Challenge

A project manager at a construction company approached us with a significant problem. The project manager remotely managed a total of six construction sites. Each construction site had a site manager, totalling six site managers who all reported directly to the project manager. The problem was three of these site managers took up over 80% of the project managers time. These three site managers constantly encountered problems, and constantly contacted the project manager with “what should I do next?” questions. This greatly reduced the project manager’s capacity to work on forward planning, customers, and logistics. By contrast, the project manager talked of how much he “trusted” the remaining three site managers, and praised their ability to problem solve and use initiative. Our task was to discover what caused this disparity of trust among the site managers, identify the techniques and behaviours which led to three of site managers being so “trusted”, and then turn this information into a resource which would lead to immediate improvements in the targeted areas.

Our Solution

We were able to spend five hours with the project manager. During this time we used our Knowledge Capture Methods (KCM) to explore what “trust” meant at a practical, operational level. The purpose of the KCM was to capture the tacit skills, and techniques, which people use every day but find incredibly difficult to articulate. This is because tacit skills and techniques are embedded in experience and are often taken for granted. Using the KCM we were able to capture the tacit skills used by the three effective site managers, and also capture the behaviours and reasoning which led to the poorer performance of the remaining three site managers. The project manager, up until this point, had been unaware of the critical difference the KCM found. They had previously been focusing on formal management techniques, and attempting to improve their own communication skills. Highly commendable, but not the source of the problem.

The Results

The KCM discovered that the three effective site managers would arrive at a site and tacitly assess “what could go wrong” with the formal plans before starting work. This established early ground truth for the site managers, as they assessed how well a plan would likely play out in practice. The advantages of this approach meant that the effective site managers were able to anticipate potential problems, adapt plans, and put in place contingencies at the very outset. By contrast, the remaining three site managers would start work immediately, applying the formal plan with little or no scrutiny. This greatly reduced anticipation, failed to identify potential risks, and meant that problems were shutting the site down whilst they waited for the project manager to do the problem solving at a distance. The KCM produced a three question check list to be used on arriving at a site for the first time by site managers. This was a very simple solution, but it now meant all site mangers were using the same effective techniques, leading to greater levels of initiative and freeing up time for the project manager.

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