“What do you expect from me?” A superintendent asked me this the other day, and I thought it was a great question for two reasons. One, because my expectations are those of just one stakeholder’s, and two, because he recognized that a Lean superintendent on an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) project may need a different approach, a different skill set, and a different set of metrics than he has experienced on other jobs.
Let’s look at the context: what have superintendents been asked to do in the past?
Construction Before The Lean IPD Superintendent
- Be responsible to their company—not to their client or their client’s project.
- Develop and own the schedule & budget—but without having been involved in the creation of the company’s contractual commitment.
- Achieve that schedule by any means necessary—including motivating, cajoling, threatening, and back-charging trades, or by demanding increased manpower, additional shifts, or more and faster work from trades.
- Focus on Critical Path Management / the longest path of construction, rather than on employing a flow of work that makes a variety of areas “critical” at any given moment.
- Act as the logistics manager for the site, deciding what gets delivered and where and when, who has access to the crane, how much “stuff” gets stored on site, how clean the site is and how safe the site is, and so on.
- Manage the company’s staff, all onsite workers, and trade partners.
Speaking of the trades: what is typically expected of them?
- Deliver their own contract because the foreman of the crew is (like the superintendent), responsible only to his or her company.
- Deliver to a schedule that they didn’t develop, didn’t agree to, and to which they should not be bound. In some cases, the schedule is not even delivered before the bid.
- Deliver to a schedule where durations of work are always under attack—now the focus is no longer on releasing work, it is on “negotiating” durations.
All of this perpetuates an “us” vs. “them” mentality, pits every stakeholder against every other stakeholder, and is ultimately destructive to the flow of work and the project.
Critical Path Management (CPM) Constraints
But these are not the only things that hamstring construction projects. For example, in my observations over the years I’ve also noticed some superintendents are not focused on making work ready because CPM does not have a process for anticipating work or for making sure that work is ready for installation as scheduled. CPM also does not have a resources management system—that system does not see the benefit in the ability to effectively manage the flow of multiple resources. Instead, we have relied on trades to make sure their work is ready, and this has not proven very effective.
Furthermore, the (inevitable) schedule deviations are noted monthly, and then the superintendent and staff pore over a 25,000-activity P-6 schedule to find the anomaly and create a path to get back on schedule. This usually involves focusing on one trade—but when that trade is caught up, suddenly a bunch of work is released to other trades…and the bottleneck continues, like a rat going through a boa.
Lean IPD Construction
But Lean and IPD are transforming the way we think of teams—and the way the superintendent participates on the team. So, what has changed?
Most significantly, because all parties are “partners” in the IPD delivery of a project, the superintendent’s loyalty should now be to the project and not to the company that pays their salary. (Hopefully, his/her company has empowered the superintendent, so there is no concern of job longevity or loyalty to the company if decisions appear to hurt their short-term interests.) Because the superintendent’s salary is literally being paid by the IPD project funds, the superintendent should always be asking himself: would I be willing to pay for what I just did? If the answer is no, then that activity is a no-value-add.
And because the superintendent is no longer a 40-hour-per-week billing machine, they have to document their time and how it was spent on timesheets. More than 40 hours? Clock it. Less than 40 hours? Clock it. Work should be detailed as simply as “plan/install trailers; crane pad pour supervision, 7.3 hours.” Time sheets are their daily journal, and any information usually included in a journal goes into the time sheets.
The partnership aspect also means that the superintendent now needs to know and respect the forepeople on the job. The trades have been partnered in IPD from the shoulders up as well as the shoulders down: thinking and working. They are the ones that develop and deploy the tactics that accomplish the superintendent’s / project’s strategy.
This also means that schedules are no longer dictated (how and when work is done) by the superintendent. Instead, they concentrate on promoting flow, and this can only be done by empowering trades to plan their work with the other trades. Flow shortens overall duration of work without decreasing the duration of any one trade. This happens by removing some of the space between the work. Rather than start-stop-start-stop, work is planned as start-stagger-start.
I’ll talk about how this is achieved, and delve more deeply into this aspect of The Lean IPD Superintendent’s role, in part 2.