“Blueprints” is a Spark series exploring McKinstry’s core business philosophies from our leaders’ perspective. This is the second story in the series, from McKinstry’s President: Doug Moore
For decades, productivity improvement has been a foundational business driver in most industries. As of late, the construction industry is finally catching on.
That said, you can see in the below graph how significantly the construction industry is still lagging behind many of its peers when measured by an objective metric of actual productivity.
There are countless reasons for this stagnation, but making sure to accelerate productivity gains is a McKinstry priority. While many in our industry accept various inefficiencies as inherent parts of the construction process, we view this productivity situation as an industry opportunity.
This focus—of questioning everything, never settling, making efficiency paramount, and continuously improving—may sound like common sense, but it’s truly revolutionary within the construction industry. Really, the graph speaks for itself.
So, how does this revolutionary approach take shape in today’s construction environment?
The Manufacturing Mindset
Our approach to driving improved productivity, efficiency, and quality is something called the manufacturing mindset. Variations of this concept exist in many different industries, but McKinstry brings a unique approach to our construction work.
For us, the manufacturing mindset means comprehensively streamlining, standardizing, and speeding up our processes and work in the office, off-site, and on the jobsite. We’re believers in the “rule of half” which states that—if you apply your full attention to most processes—you can cut the time needed to accomplish them in half.
For Boeing, employing a manufacturing mindset enabled them to go from 71 to 37 days needed to assemble a 777, and from 20 to 11 days for 737 assembly.
For Amazon, sophisticated process modeling used in manufacturing unlocked a previously-unthinkable speed for progressing through the retail experience (finding, purchasing, and delivering a product).
For McKinstry, a manufacturing approach transformed a Seattle-area hospital construction project into a model of efficiency. Our project team created a way to move the bulk of our construction activity off-site for the hospital’s mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.
As a result, we delivered modularized system components to the jobsite, cutting out more than 60 percent of our expected time in the field and enabling significant cost savings for our client.
We’ve since applied the same principles to many subsequent projects, and our clients have reaped similar rewards.
Issues in the industry
Some construction companies won’t admit it, but there are significant inefficiencies inherent in day-to-day work at a jobsite. If everything is left to be done on the jobsite, there’s nothing except superhuman talent in the field that can make it go faster.
Off-site work, in comparison, has fewer complicating variables, uses superior mechanization, benefits from safer working conditions, and produces inherently higher-quality products. The less time we spend performing work in the field, the more efficiencies we can capture.
Even though the construction industry is beginning to focus heavily on moving work off-site, only 10 to 20 percent of the labor necessary to create mechanical and electrical systems is currently performed off-site—meaning about 80 percent is performed on-site.
In our opinion, the future of construction entails a complete reversal of those “80 and 20” percentages—with 80 percent of the work being performed off-site. The job site of the future will be “final assembly only” with modularized, snap-together systems.
Our ongoing priority is to rapidly move toward that future, continually moving more of our work off-site. Ultimately, the faster the building is built, the more value we can create for the client.
Unfortunately, the construction industry will be slow to adapt to such a wholesale shift toward a manufacturing approach. Even today, as most commercial and industrial buildings are designed uniquely, we often hear the inaccurate mantra that “You can’t use standardized processes to build a unique building.”
This line of thought is a barrier to innovation. The fact is—while a building can and should have unique dimensions and components—we can absolutely use a standardized workflow to deliver such a building. Standardized processes can, moreover, build unique buildings with incredible speed.
Make no mistake, our industry is headed toward embracing a manufacturing mindset. Soon enough, the only differentiator for companies will be whether you’re following or leading toward that future.
Doug Moore, P.E., is McKinstry’s president.