Saturday, May 30, 2009

Short Attention Spans

If you want to see people sleep, just put a bunch of construction folks in a classroom.  We can't help it, but we're just more prone to stay awake when we're building something or pounding a few bottles of Shiner Bock (that's a Texas beer, for those of you having the misfortune of not living in the Lone Star State).  We're just not house-cats, if you know what I mean.  That's why I was happy to come across this article from the incredibly, incredibly, incredibly useful Gemba Pante Rei blog:

Basically, a one-point lesson is just a quick 5-10 minute learning opportunity focusing on a single topic (either basic knowledge, an improvement example, or a problem example).  I think this is an ideal format for developing people in the construction industry.  On construction sites, we're trained to "stay busy" and move from one task to the next.  With this mentality, we need to have an efficient and focused way of training our associates.

P.S. Be sure to check out the free template that is provided in the "One-Point Lesson" link above; it's a good one.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Old-School Vertical Hierarchies

As the saying goes, I wasn't born in Texas, but I ran here as fast as I could. When I arrived, I found that the Lone Star State produces some fine beer, specifically, Shiner beer...

While I could go on all day about the merits of Shiner Hefeweizen compared to the original Shiner Bock, that's not really the point of the above photo.  What I want to discuss is how folks on large-scale construction jobs view the relationships between the prime contractors, secondary contractors, sub-contractors, and so on.  

Typical Construction Industry Approach

In case you haven't figured it out yet, the construction industry typically views sub-contractor relations like the above photo...with each contractor dominating the one below it and being subservient to the one above it.  An old-school rigid, vertical hierarchy.  This is based on standard construction practice, which typically involves a contractor doling out aspects of the work to sub-contractors.  In this arrangement, the contractor is viewed as the customer and the sub-contractor is viewed as the provider of the product or service.  This is an external customer relationship, and it's repeated over and over again at each level of the hierarchy, so you can have dozens of external customer relationships on a job site.  How fun!  A bunch of people showing "respect" for their boss man above them.  Old school mentality.

The Lean Approach

From a Lean perspective, I would say a collaborative model would be more effective than a rigid vertical hierarchy.  If you've read Gemba Kaizen, then you know about the inverted pyramid that places management below the gemba (the place where the real work is done) in a support role.  Essentially, the gemba is viewed as the internal customer of management, and I would say that prime contractors should view their sub-contractors as their internal customers.  They should support them, not threaten them with punitive actions.  They should identify and solve problems, not pass the buck just because the contract says they can.

Your thoughts?  I'd be interested in learning if other traditional industries are as "old-school" in their relationships with vendors/suppliers.  How would you rank your industry's level of collaboration on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being a rigid, vertical arrangement and 10 being a progressive, Gemba Kaizen-like approach?

All I know is that until the construction industry embraces Lean thinking and begins working more collaboratively, we'll be doomed to mindless obedience and endless frustration.  Thank goodness we have beer.