Construction business owners are used to receiving advice about everything from digitizing, to getting lean, to finding and on boarding new talent, to having the best equipment, winning more jobs, meeting more deadlines, and so on. Of course all this is important, but sometimes, it’s nice to wallow in the truth: construction is hard work.
Every Project Is Unique
Although we’re all being driven toward work systems and processes that are replicable, repeatable, tech driven and automatic, the truth is, construction is fundamentally not any of these things, is it? Writing for Fieldwire, construction management and safety expert, Jim Rogers, points out that while of course the lessons learned on every jobsite can inform work on the next, no two projects are ever really the same:
In construction, every project is essentially a prototype. It’s unique. An architect and team of designers has created a facility or structure that is meant to fulfill the needs and desires of a particular client, with a particular budget, building on a particular site. As we, the construction team, take on these projects, we are highly unlikely to ever see two identical projects. Even when we work building so-called “repetitive” structures, the site-specific conditions always bring unique solutions. For example, I worked building mini storage facilities for U-haul for several years. I supplied materials and services to dozens of these projects, all over the U.S., all designed by the same team for the same client. However, each was unique owing to variables such as site conditions, lot size, zoning restrictions, and anticipated demand.
People Are Unique Too
Along with the inherent truth of construction–every project is a first–is the reality that as a whole, the team of people performing the work is never the same. While some people may continue working together, and thus carry shared insights and approaches forward, it is very unusual for an entire project team to remain the same. Rogers points out that of course the team of people involved impacts the work:
Take the same structure and attempt to build it in several different locations, and one thing is almost certain. You will have different people building each structure. This makes it incredibly difficult to learn, grow, and scale up, and there is very little we can ever do about that. The owner can hire the same General Contractor, but the personnel on the team is likely to change. The General Contractor can attempt to hire many of the same trade contractors, but…the overall team is still different. There will always be new trades in the mix that are required to work side by side with each other for the first time. Even the repeat trades are unlikely to staff the project with all the same personnel as the last project, and work practices tend to vary from office to office, even within the same company.
What’s A Contractor To Do?
Another truth at this moment in time is that as the field of construction works to digitize, improve safety, diversify, and generally “change for the better,” investing in education is a must, as Rogers sums up:
We have to start by teaching the people in the industry about the alternative ways of thinking; why they are important and why they should care. We need to teach people not only how to use the new technology that we are adopting, but how they can leverage it to reduce re-work, increase safety, and improve their bottom line. As we are training and upskilling our management and our workforce, we also need to be developing a culture within our companies, and on our job sites, that supports decentralized decision making and separates the complicated processes that we can outline and checklist, from the complex processes that need to be solved collaboratively in the field, at the project workface.
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