Low job-site productivity is perhaps the No. 1 problem confronting any construction project.

Job-site Inactivity
Low job-site productivity is perhaps the No. 1 problem confronting any construction project. From a purely mathematical point of view, productivity is commonly measured by means of the following equation:

Productivity = Units or Dollars of Output (adjusted for inflation)÷Man-hours of Effort

Although this is a widely accepted definition, it could be misleading since man-hours is in the denominator. In other words, it’s easy to believe that the most dependable way to increase productivity is to put in more hours.

However, there are other ways to increase construction productivity by working smarter, not harder. Take another look at productivity — this time analyzing what goes on during a typical eight-hour workday. Studies I’ve performed indicate that 40 percent to 60 percent of the day can be eaten away by nonproductive time. An example of such a workday is illustrated in Figure 1.

The same studies indicate that this nonproductive time can be traced to management action (or more to the point, inaction). Far from being the fault of worker attitudes or labor work rules, it is the fault of bad management and can only be corrected by improving job-site supervision.

Nobody said construction was easy. Problems with the weather and the complexity of the building process are just some of the problems that most nonconstruction industries do not have to confront.

However, a tremendous amount of opportunity exists to improve productivity. Many of my same studies show that approximately one-third of nonproductive time can be traced back to the lack of management actions. Put another way, if construction firms already waste more than 30 percent of the day, they also have the potential to increase productivity by more than 30 percent! However, even a single-digit increase in productivity could double profits.

The onsite project supervisor must reduce or eliminate what we’ll refer to as the Seven Deadly Sins of Construction Management.

These sins tear at both the project owner and contractor’s goals of constructing a high quality project on time and on budget. Since they can be measured daily, they are nothing out of the ordinary for the traditional short-term management practices of the construction process.

One item of note that doesn’t fall so neatly into our categories is safety. Besides injuries that befall the individual, accidents hurt worker morale, negatively impact project time and cost, and increase workmen’s comp rates. Keeping jobsites clean, providing safety training, identifying and eliminating safety hazards, and recognizing personnel who promote and maintain safety are components of an effective safety program. Accident prevention should be the basis for any productivity improvement process. The goal should be to have zero daily accidents.

For the practices that follow, there is little doubt that there is a direct correlation between the number of such incidents and the failure of the construction process.


Idleness can take many forms on a job site. No production process is more characterized by one resource “waiting” on another than in the construction process. That could mean waiting for work, equipment — even a decision.

Waiting For Work: The construction process is dependent on a high degree of on-site craft hours. This labor cost may approach 40 percent of the total project costs. Most, if not all, craftsmen take great pride in their work and abilities. However, a dangerous time is when the worker has finished the assigned task. Many workers may view themselves as working for a job or union hall rather than for the company itself. As a result, workers may feel justified standing idle if they’re not assigned another task.

Obviously, no supervisor can stand over each and every worker every minute of the day. As such, workers have to monitor themselves. To do that, consider implementing the following steps:

  • Establish a line of communication that promotes workers’ searching out the supervisor to ask what to do next.

  • Workers need to be given more of a plan so they know what to do next if they run out of work.

  • Develop a team work attitude so workers motivate themselves.

  • Supervision must be present to minimize workers taking advantage of idle time.

Waiting For Equipment: Idle equipment has a much higher hourly cost than an idle worker. Equipment could cost up to $200 an hour to be at the jobsite. It’s all too easy to treat idle equipment as just “a piece of metal.” Any program that makes everyone aware of the cost of idle equipment would help. A daily program of recording production vs. stand-by time, or just making random observations, can reduce this inactivity.

Waiting For A Decision: Being able to spot problems early is the key to managing project time, cost and quality. Preparing a timely and accurate job cost reporting system is paramount to make on-time decisions. There is no excuse for late or inaccurate job-site time cards, daily reports or follow-up job cost reports. Individuals who abide by the objective should be recognized; those who prove to be a weak link in the reporting process should be reprimanded, retrained or eliminated.

Waiting of any kind can be significantly reduced by attention to timely and effective planning and scheduling. Prepare and regularly update a project master plan, and pay attention to a daily plan and a one- to four-week look ahead schedule.

Finally, make such “outsiders” as architects and project owners accountable for any nonactions on their part. Accountability forces responsibility and liability.


When it comes to handling material, many people help themselves more than once. I’ve performed studies that indicate, on average, material is handled three times on a job site before it’s finally used in construction. The goal should be to handle it once. More than once is not only wasteful, but it increases the chance of injury or creating defective material. Attention to a good job-site layout, timely ordering of material and planning for material placement can meet this goal.


Redo work adds additional project cost and time, lowers morale and may cause unrest with the project owners and designer. Avoiding redo work means doing it right the first time. Improved communication and pre-planning are keys to minimizing redo work. As simple a process as the supervisor asking a worker to repeat the supervisor’s instructions, or asking questions to assure himself that the worker understands the instructions can go a long way reducing redos.


Project designers often create a “punch list” of work that has to be “touched up” by the contractor at the end of the project. The contractor seldom budgets these hours in his estimate. The end result is a drain on profits at the end of the project. Admittedly, a punch list may be the result of an “over-inspecting” designer. However, pre-planning, training and communication are also keys to doing it right the first time, and minimizing poor quality work at the outset.


More often than not, neither the project owners nor contractor benefits from the uncertainty of any disputes, charges or claims. A program for preventing disputes can outweigh the disruptions caused by these events. Early detection, communication, identification of faults and establishing methods of resolution are key components to minimize these events.


Theft is a two-for-one sin. What’s worse — the greed that inspires theft or the envy left in its wake? Theft not only adds cost, but suggests that disarray, inefficiency and unethical practices are more than acceptable. Project controls should include a system for receiving, distributing, handling and returning materials, tools and equipment. Carrying insurance for theft is not the answer, it’s admission of poor control. Like accidents, zero incidents of theft should be the goal.