Motivating the elephant in us

Every one of us have an elephant in us, big and strong that makes it difficult for us to change for the better. This is true in spite of us knowing the benefits coming from the change. A deeply inspiring book by researchers Chip & Dan Heath titled “Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard” talks about the challenges with any change and they suggest various steps of how to make it happen. They break the problem down into three interconnected steps.

The rider, elephant and the path..

The rider, elephant and the path..

Switching to the change is most effective when we can:

  • Direct the rider
  • Motivate the elephant
  • Shape the path

The title is most definitely inspired from one of these challenges faced with change.

I make no exaggeration when I say that we are faced with the biggest elephant there is and can ever be, on this journey of building useful, tools for construction to improve productivity. At Lean Station, it is the single biggest challenge till date and that which we are addressing together with innovating.

Motivation starts with setting the right objectives from the people at the top, however motivation itself needs to work at the working levels of the organization while the middle management sets the path for executing the change. This problem is more amplified in the construction industry than in other sectors due its nature being labor intensive. Across the world, there are huge efforts being made by governments and private companies including startups to create technology for improving the productivity in construction sector. On the other hand, a lot of money and effort has gone into training the worker class for creating a skilled++ workforce in this sector. There is a gap between these two and in that gap sits our big strong elephant which lacks the motivation.

Pull planning in construction management is the most effective way of dealing with this problem, It not only bridges the gap between the up-skilled labour and construction technologies, it also balances the quantum of work, reduces wastes, and improves quality of construction for a more peaceful evening with the family.

The problems of push scheduling in a labour intensive work is brilliantly illustrated in a particular scene in the 1950’s TV series I love Lucy. Watch the clip below before reading further.

Push Scheduling with people, always results in uncontrolled wastes

From a construction perspective, you can take both Lucy and Ethel wrapping the chocolates as subcontractors and the supervisor in the back to be the main contractor. The break down of the work sequences and all prerequisites like designs, materials and approvals needs to be made available by the main contractor (like the chocolates on the conveyor belt) before the work can be executed by the subcontractors (as in the wrapping of these). Push / pull planning determines how these work sequences are passed down to the subcontractors. As depicted, most of the time due to an unreliable plan and lack of coordination between the two the outcome is wasteful, issues are covered up and hidden (just like the chocolates) and quality going for a toss. Though the impact to safety and increase in risks due to unplanned work is not very obvious in this setting, but in a construction site it’s a big NO NO. Push scheduling works best with machines and automation where there is 99% guarantee of outcome in terms of completion and quality from one station to another.

Pull scheduling depends on commitments, commitments from real people who are subjected to not just skill and knowledge challenges, but also subjected to emotional and motivational challenges. Most of the times the latter takes over the rest. A reliable plan from the main contractor results through an iterative process of collaboration with the consultants, developers and authorities. The planned task are considered reliable if and only if:

  • Tasks are right sized — not big, but bite sized (a few days in duration)

  • Tasks are sequenced in the right order

  • Tasks are sound and can be executed without any hurdles — constraint free

The ability to convert these tasks into actual work is determined by both the capability and the commitments of the subcontractors (plus a lot of other factors like weather holding up etc). Capability in turn is a factor of knowledge and technology. Hence training and newer technology alone cannot improve productivity, commitments need to improve for a productivity improvement. These commitments need to be valid ones not false promises, not just a try. Watch this clip from the 1980’s Star wars where Yoda guides Luke who had given up before he even began, by doubting his own abilities.

Do. Or do not. There is no try! Valid commitments are most essential to construct as planned

If you aren’t a Star Wars fan or if Yoda does not impress upon you the idea, do this — You may be sitting on a chair or close to one, if not get close to one. Now, try to lift the chair up, go on try it. Remember, I am asking you to “try” to lift the chair up. As you realize, the outcome is either you lift it or you do not, there is nothing in between — there is no try. If the chair has to be lifted at any cost, if the chair is heavy and you are unable to lift, you will be sensible enough to get help from another able friend / neighbour to get the work done — this is commitment. Execution is thus — more a resultant of mindset than capability.

Getting the subcontractors to commit the planned work for the week, monitoring and measuring the completions and analyzing the reasons of variations are integral part of pull planning. Measurements like the term PPC (Percent Plan Complete) refers to the completion rates of weekly tasks. This is a strong indicator of reliability of the plan and the valid commitments in the project when used in conjunction with other indicators like reasons of variations and number of weekly tasks. The chart below, an extract from Lean PlanDo illustrates a real-life example of how variable these can be in a construction project.

Lean PlanDo chart showing Weekly PPC V/S Number of weekly tasks — good indicator for the reliability of the plan & validity of the commitments

Lean PlanDo chart showing Weekly PPC V/S Number of weekly tasks — good indicator for the reliability of the plan & validity of the commitments

We at Lean Station are taking a unique approach to this problem to boost the commitments up in construction industry. Apart from helping companies to adopt technology and build up a collaborative workforce, to reap the benefits of the cloud with real-time anywhere information through mobile apps or to provide actionable insights via smart data analytics focussed on continual improvement — we also partner with them to addressing the key challenge of mindset change in the people through Lean PlanDo.

Lean PlanDo is a very effective mechanism and tool to increase the reliability of the plans and improve the validity of the commitments. It engages the entire value chain involved in construction projects including the developers, consultants, main contractors, precast producers and the sub-contractors. its a tool built for a continual process of directing the rider, motivating the elephant and shaping the path. The mobile apps and the browser based apps play a crucial role in motivation, engagement and application of the LEAN principles. It gets the entire team aligned for a common project goal, a common weekly target and proves to be a valuable collaboration medium between the parties. All built with a purpose to make the elephant in all of us, to move and keep moving.

Lean Station

Singapore