Construction, from its fundamental nature is fractal. The overall complexity is the same whether looked at from a micro (weekly) view or from a macro (overall) view. What transcribes over the weeks has deterministic effects on the full scale project timeline. The effect is more often not realized as it is not measured with great accuracy and sometimes ignored leading to undesirable outcomes in the project.
For one to influence a construction project’s outcome, it becomes essential to understand its fundamentals — the rules that govern them at a micro level.
Why are the rules important? The rules are fundamental steps which guides the project weekly until it is completely executed. The rules are often influenced by external factors like weather and unforeseen situations just like the trees, but the main deterministic factors whether the project reaches a fruitful outcome are not the external factors, but these simple rules and how well they are followed by the people.
Who are the people? All the people involved in the project are governed by these rules. Each of them have specific objectives and are deterministic outcomes — which when followed in a systematic way at a micro level— will result in a desirable outcome at the macro level — a beautiful fractal project.
What are the rules?
Let us consider a construction project, a complex one — probably a construction of a factory that comprises of excavation, piling, structure — with both concrete and steel, heavy mechanical, electrical, plumbing works, architectural works including plastering, tiling, glass works, interiors, finishing works including facade works with a specialized fire proof timber canopy. Design timeline of around 8–10 months, construction timeline of 20–25 months. The biggest challenge in executing the construction works is not the work itself, but the flow of work among all these works — a large site, with around 500–800 workers working in multiple shifts, supervisors from multiple sub contractors, heavy trucks carrying heavy concrete, precast or rebar materials, 6–8 tower cranes at the site, along with heavy-duty mobile cranes for material lifting. Its a nightmare to manage the safety and manage all the work from the workers in such a dynamic environment where the work at the site keeps shifting day to day, week to week. The flow determines everything — whether the work at a location will be completed on time, will it be handed over to the next party on time, will the work be carried out safely without any incidents, will the project end on time? will it be done according to the budget ? and so on. These question play on every developer’s mind, every contractor’s mind?
You may ask — All this is correct, so, what is your point? what are the rules you are talking about?
In such a complex project environment, if you can chart out the entire complexity of the overall project and then zoom into any one week, the complex pattern of that week will look similar. Every week has a deterministic effect on the project outcome. Consider this:
In the above project duration of 25 months, there are 5,000 large level activities that could be mapped at a master planning level. Further, at a detailed planning level (look ahead planning stages of Lean PlanDo), each of these activities are broken down to an average of 10 tasks each. In effect, at the end of the project we have:
5,000 complex activities X 10 complex tasks = 50,000 tasks (micro-complex tasks) to be completed in 25 months
Linearly distributing this work for the sake of simplicity, we have
50,000 complex tasks/ 25 months = 2,000 micro-complex tasks to be completed every month
With 4 weeks in a month, we have:
2,000 complex tasks / 4 weeks = 500 micro-complex tasks / week
On a given day, assuming work happens 5 days a week:
500 complex tasks / 5 days = 100 tasks / day i.e,100 micro-complex tasks a day.
If there are simple set of rules to manage the flow of these 100 complex tasks in a day, to make the day productive, it is possible to make the project productive by repeating these set of rules every day for 25 months. This opens up the possibility of achieving more than 100 tasks in a given day with the same set of workers and machinery by simply removing the wastes between the tasks, by establishing a smooth flow between these tasks. This is the fundamental aspect of Lean PlanDo.
Sounds great but, what are the rules?