Success Drivers

 HANK WITHAAR 01Here are some top drivers of construction productivity.   

By Hank Withaar

Manufacturing products like cars and televisions have seen incredible strides in productivity as a result of advances in automation, robotics and improved manufacturing processes. These industries have benefited greatly from streamlined processes, which have enabled them to standardize the design and manufacturing of several million copies of essentially the same product, thereby increasing output for their companies. 

On the flip side, commercial construction is very different, as each “product” is unique. Every project is designed to a client’s individual needs, with each one experiencing different site conditions as well as other outside factors that may affect exterior expression and finishes. If construction allowed for millions of copies of the exact same building, the ability to standardize and automate may be more of a possibility. However, this usually is not the case, so we must find creative solutions to improve productivity. Thankfully, our industry has seen major advances in recent years, which has contributed to greater efficiency in the building process. 

Some of the most innovative and impactful drivers include: 

1. Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and lasers are now commonplace on construction sites. These systems are used by surveyors, earthmoving operations and trade foreman, helping them to improve productivity and minimize errors. 

2. Prefabricated components are shop fabricated in a controlled environment away from the project and then transported to the construction site for installation. We have done this successfully with exterior building cladding, plumbing, light-gauge framing and other systems. This method allows for greater speed in the production of these components while allowing for a better degree of quality control.

3. Unitized systems allow for the installation of a framing system as a whole unit rather than needing to “stick build” in the field. Similar to prefabrication, this results in much faster field installation, ultimately improving project timelines. 

4. Organizing construction materials and parts on carts so they are ready for field installation increases productivity and reduces waste. Only the necessary materials are included, and workers can easily find what they need onsite. 

5. Prefabricated buildings are also becoming more feasible, and great strides have been made in both their aesthetic appeal and construction process. There are limitations with what can be accomplished with the technique, and when deviating from the standard sizing and finishes, it may not be the best option. However, in the right situation, prefabricated buildings can be a very effective solution.

6. New construction techniques, especially those involving structural steel and ground improvements, continually improve productivity in our industry. Oftentimes, these new techniques are developed and introduced by manufacturing companies. However, we also must consider that the complexity of buildings has greatly increased over time. For example, the inclusion of data/communication/AV/energy management systems have all contributed to the increase in man hours needed to construct a project. The building we constructed 30 years ago is not the same as today, so new construction techniques are an important part of helping to offset the time associated with increasingly complex projects.  

7. Building Information Modeling (BIM) and virtual design are now a standard for all C.W. Driver projects. These tools are used to coordinate all aspects of the design and trades, greatly reducing the risk of field conflicts and productivity loss due to a lack of communication and unforeseen complications. While innovations such as robotic masonry brick installation and 3-D printing of concrete and steel have not impacted the construction industry as much as many expected, BIM and virtual design are invaluable technologies that help improve productivity and accuracy. 

8. Lean construction techniques have helped our industry increase efficiencies and reduce waste. Leading this movement is the Lean Construction Institute, which promotes productivity-boosting techniques such as Last Planner, Pull Planning, Weekly Work Plan, Project Visualization, Daily Huddle Meetings and Project Incentives. These methods are standard practices for our firm, with the primary benefits being enhanced communication among installation personnel, increased coordination across trades and superior overall schedule management and adherence. The net result of these efforts is shorter timelines, less errors in the field and a team-first mentality.

9. Developing processes for continual improvement is one helpful technique adopted from the manufacturing industry. At the conclusion of every project (and sometimes mid-course as the situation dictates), we assemble the entire project team and perform a post-project review. In this review, we have free and open discussion on what went well on the project and, more importantly, where we can improve. No subject is taboo and frank discussions are held on every subject, including how to improve upon schedule/workflow, avoid delays and mistakes, maximize resources and increase profitability. The intent is to learn both from our positive behaviors and failures. At quarterly management meetings, the team leader summarizes this information to their peers so the lessons learned become part of our corporate culture. The emphasis is honest, open and meaningful dialogue.

While we as an industry may not be able to increase efficiencies as fast as others due to the customization necessary on each project, these drivers of productivity are helping to shorten construction timelines, minimize waste and stay on budget.

Hank Withaar is vice president of operations at C.W. Driver Companies, a premier California-based builder celebrating 100 years in business. Learn more at



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