Tackling Problems in Your Construction Business
Last time, we talked about When Solutions Become Problems. As promised, now we’re diving deeper into one proven method for finding and resolving problems in your construction contracting business.
The first step, Defining the Problem, is borrowed from the car manufacturer, Toyota, and has proven quite successful for them. The other steps are:
- Reformulate the problem
- Devise solutions
- Evaluate alternatives
Defining the problem
Now is a good time to borrow the method used by Toyota which identifies their manufacturing issues. It is called the “Five Whys.” Don’t let the number five confuse you. It may take only “Three Whys” to get to the bottom line, or it may take more than five.
In short, you begin by stating the problem, then asking why until you get to the real root of the problem. For instance, the general contractor tells you he sees your crew sitting around doing nothing for large pieces of time each day.
Ask, “Why isn’t the crew on task during working hours?”
The answer might be that not all the materials or equipment needed were on site.
Ask, “Why is that?”
You see how this is going. There can be several different responses.
- The trucks were improperly supplied
- the chosen vendor is often low on stock
- the foreman frequently forgets to order the right materials
- or we only send someone to get stuff when we need it
At each junction, you ask, “Why is that?”
When you get to the bottom line, you have the opportunity to fix the problem for good.
Rather than a lazy employee problem or a we-don’t-care problem you may have an organizational or time management problem that begins with management and drips down to the crew.
Remember, it is important to distinguish causes from symptoms.
Reformulating the problem
Now, it’s time to question the questions. One way to reformulate the problem is by creating “How might we . . .” statements.
Let’s look back at the crew, wasting time on the job site. And ask this question, how might we . . .
- make sure the crew is on task most of the time?
- assure the vehicles are properly loaded every day?
- overcome low vendor stock?
- better train foremen concerning their duties?
- be better prepared for obtaining supplies?
Now you have some jumping-off points for devising solutions.
Sometimes, depending on the original problem, this is a one-person operation. But more often, the devising solutions stage is better practiced in groups. Whether it is leadership alone, a group of stakeholders, or the entire crew, getting ideas from more people is often the key to finding the solution.
One way to get the group on board is to begin the session by stating the problem, then asking the “how might we. . .” question, and then saying, “Please only mention very bad ideas.”
Yep, bad ideas. The reason is twofold.
- It takes the pressure off. You know. Who wants to be the crazy guy who, when asked for a great idea, comes up with the dumbest idea on earth? Sometimes the tension is palpable.
- Putting a new lens on the problem (unlikely solutions) may indeed produce some quite likely and grand solutions. At any rate, once the ball is rolling, there will be many ideas to toss about and roll around to get to the great idea.
This last step may be the one most left out when tackling problems. After all, you found solutions in the previous step. You can pick one and run with it.
Or you can evaluate the alternatives.
While there are likely several ways to tackle a problem and many of the ways may achieve the results you would like, there are two important metrics that will aid you in choosing one most likely to succeed.
The first is ease of implementation.
The second is the potential size of the impact.
Using the example above, let’s say the problem you’ve found is that the foreman isn’t taking care of his duties properly. One solution would be to hire a different supervisor. Another might be to train the foreman better. Which is easier to implement?
While finding a mature and knowledgeable foreman would be nice, we all know there isn’t a line of trained men knocking on your door. Yet, if the present foreman isn’t up for the training . . .
When considering the potential size of impact in this scenario, you must keep in mind the big picture as well as the details. Does the crew have a good working relationship with the present foreman? Is there another foreman who is willing to spend time training? Are there classes or courses your present foreman can attend?
How disruptive will either solution be?
What secondary problems might be created by implementing one or the other solution?
Remember, there isn’t a method, approach, or process that will achieve the results you’re looking for if you’re solving the wrong problem. Think about the five whys. Have you drilled deep enough? Most often, spending as much time (or more) determining the problem as solving it will allow you to generate truly valuable solutions.
We desire to familiarize you with business concepts, which will make it easier for you to be a better commercial construction business owner through our blog posts. Some are new ways of looking at things, and others are refreshers.
Schulte and Schulte Provides Accounting, Contract Document Management, and Advisory Board Level counsel for small to medium commercial construction subcontractors.
So you can Run With the Big Dogs! Call us 866-629-7735