Industrial Illusions

by kfrego

When a $1.6 billion construction project like Bath County is being constructed there are numerous unforeseen obstacles to overcome. The designers put their best efforts forward to come up with a finished product to accomplish the owners needs. Just making the transition from a project concept to project blueprints takes millions of manhours and several years. The blueprints tell you what you are going to build in detail. The construction team has to come up with the means to accomplish the building of the project. The Bath County Project from top to bottom had one of the best construction teams ever assembled on a single project. As a superintendent on such a project you have to constantly adjust your manpower, methods, and resources to the daily challenges. The best superintendents are the ones who make the right decisions, at the right time, to keep the work moving forward. All of your decisions are based on your knowledge and understanding of your work. Sometimes it’s a gamble which call to make. The most successful superintendents are those with the highest percentage of good decisions.

Virginia Electric Power Company (VEPCO) owned and operated power plants. Their team supporting the construction at Bath County was outstanding. Like everyone else they weren’t perfect. Somewhere along the VEPCO corporate chain a very smart consultant convinced them to implement an Industrial Engineering (IE) program on the project. The IE program would assign an identification number to every crew on the project signifying the trade, supt, and foreman. Every worker on the job would wear the numbers on each side of their hard hats. The IE department would employ roving observers to patrol the project and randomly observe every crew for productivity. All of this information would be incorporated onto a spreadsheet to tell how productive every foreman’s crew was over a period of time. A compilation of the foreman’s numbers would provide the productivity of the supt’s. The people doing the observations and compilations had no construction experience at all.

We soon learned to adapt to the IE program just like we overcame our other daily problems. The secret to good productivity reports was to recognize the IE observers. If an observer was in the area everybody had to be moving. Not productive, just moving. The observer didn’t know if a person was walking for a snack or walking for tools. As long as they were walking they were productive. If equipment operators were on equipment they were productive. The equipment could be idle, but it was being operated. When the IE program was introduced it was met with a lot of skepticism by field employees. I vowed my crews would learn to play the game and play it well. We always had good IE productivity reports and became very proficient at manipulating the program. I often wonder how much money could have been saved if all the IE program supplies, vehicles, and people could have been used to do something productive.

Good superintendents and foreman don’t need productivity reports……….you can see what they accomplish.