The Lean IPD Superintendent – Part 2

I discussed the evolution of traditional or typical superintendent and trade partner roles, responsibilities, and behaviours in The Lean IPD Construction Superintendent Part 1; in Part 2, we’ll pick up where I left off on the topic of how Lean and IPD have changed schedule management.

I closed that blog post by saying that, in the IPD model, schedules are no longer dictated by superintendents. Their focus is now fully on empowering trades to plan their work with the other trades to promote flow on their projects—because flow shortens overall duration of work without necessarily decreasing the duration of any one trade. This is done by removing some of the space between the work. Rather than start-stop-start-stop, work is planned as start-stagger-start.

So, how is this kind of planning achieved? As with everything, it is through a consistent and continuously improved-upon process.

Conducting Daily Huddles

The “schedule” (the pull plan) is adjusted every day in a huddle, facilitated by the superintendent. Area pull plans can be facilitated by assistant superintendents, but all plans are facilitated every day to (1.) understand what planned work may have been missed, and to (2.) devise a countermeasure to get that work back in line. These huddles should ideally last only 15 minutes; if a longer discussion is necessary, it can take place after the huddle and with only the people who need to be involved.

Creating Confident Commitments

Pull planning, or weekly work planning, is managed by the commitment—that work will be accomplished as indicated on the sticky—of one trade to another. This is so crucial to the success of the project that the trade making the commitment must write the commitment in his/her own handwriting and place it on the board as a physical representation of their commitment to their team.

Construction is complicated, and projects involve literally thousands of commitments. A commitment is not valuable unless it is fulfilled; likewise, it is not valuable if it is not believed. Therefore, it is helpful if the superintendent explains the behavioural construct depicted below in a very linear way to ensure that people (1.) trust that they can make commitments, and (2.) trust the commitments that are made.

Trust Commitment Process

As illustrated above, trust is imperative to valid commitments. Trust can only be established with collaboration over time where everyone is fully transparent, and all commitments are visible. It is impossible to collaborate in an atmosphere of unstated objectives or hidden agendas.

Streamlining Problem-Solving

The Lean IPD construction superintendent writes, completes, and turns out zero reports. None. Why? Because reports are “re-work” in the sense that they recast the past, recount things that have happened, and tend to create a skewed view of the history of the project. RFIs and SIs are also eliminated (or at least minimized). Instead, when problems arise, the superintendent or assistants go to the workface with the design rep (the CA, usually) and they solve the problem with the assistance of the relevant trades.

This is akin to the andon cord, a cord available to every Toyota factory worker. Pulling the cord notifies the team of a defect or a problem in the work. Toyota has several countermeasures for this: obeya (swarming to focus on countermeasures), jikota (stopping the line completely), and going to the gemba (“the real place”) to see and solve issues in person.

The most important piece of all these tools is noticing that something has happened and standing down until it is fixed. Typical projects would start an entire series of RFIs that could take weeks to resolve. Going to the gemba—”the real place,” or the place most relevant to the problem—promotes rapid resolution. Documentation, if required at all, is limited to confirming RFIs. There is no circular process for RFIs and Site Instructions; instead, they are issued verbally, once issues are resolved, and may be reported in confirming emails.

Strategic and Constructive Authority

Superintendents used to “old school” construction will likely have to flex new muscles and stretch their perspectives of what maintaining authority and control looks, sounds, and feels like on the jobsite. This requires social skills (sometimes called “soft skills”) that are not usually trained into superintendents by their organizations.

Superintendents must not only measure progress by KPIs (or Key Performance Indicators, such as percent plan complete, variance resolution, and percent work made ready), but also by KBIs (Key Behavioural Indicators), which are revealed in the attitudes and actions of the team. Examples include noticing that a teammate:

  • Continuously strives to improve and learn, and asks for help
  • Seeks opportunities to collaborate or share information, and encourages others
  • Cares about following rules and policies and maintaining site safety
  • Accepts responsibility and is receptive to feedback
  • Effectively communicates and tries to understand the perspectives of others
  • Contributes to a positive culture, and is trustworthy

Disruptive individuals, back-biting, gossip, and other ways of undermining the team’s morale are dangerous problems that are corrosive to a project’s success.  We should recognize, however, that some problems are also teaching opportunities. Difficult conversations should be held in the open so that learning occurs across the team. These conversations should not be personal or disrespectful, but they need to be direct and yield results. That said, superintendents continue to have the authority to remove anyone from the site. Because they are responsible for the safety—both physical and psychological—of all workers onsite and oversee the progress of the work, their judgment on stay or go cannot be questioned in the short-term.

Lean IPD construction superintendents are servant leaders, which means they are focused on empowering and uplifting those who work for them. It does not mean weakness; it means power and respect through the facilitation of great work. Similarly, bringing the team together to collaborate is not a form of surrender; it is using the power of multiple brains and perspectives to solve complex problems. Multiple brains and perspectives are better than  one brain in almost every instance.

In Conclusion

Traditionally, we applaud the superintendents that save projects when they get in trouble—but this “trouble” is often the product of mismanagement, or the reliance on tools that do not work. The superintendents we should exemplify and celebrate are those who are adept at and welcome teambuilding, who enjoy and know how to build consensus, and who know the differences between cooperation and collaboration. They are the ones that make it look easy to deliver a project that meets every value determinant of the owners, the community, the trades, and those that will eventually occupy the building, within a reasonable timeframe and for a reasonable cost. And the good news is that these superintendents can be present on any kind of project, IPD or traditional; they don’t need a certain kind of contract to deploy the behaviours and beliefs that can bring out the best in everyone on their jobsite and deliver a project truly worth celebrating.

By Dick Bayer
Chairman, ReAlignment Group, Ltd.

Dick Bayer, The ReAlignment Group

Dick Bayer is the Chairman of the ReAlignment Group, Ltd., President of the ReAlignment Group Canada, Ltd. and an Adjunct Professor at the Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management within the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver. He is currently living in Ottawa working as the IPD/Lean Design and Construction Adviser for the Centre Block Rehabilitation Project, a proposed 12-year project to improve and renovate the Centre Block of the Canadian Parliament building campus.

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