Let’s face it. Sometimes jobsite safety get’s overlooked to meet cycle time. Right or wrong, it happens.

But before quality, before cycle time, jobsite safety must come first.

If the quality slips, you can patch a little, spackle, repaint. If the cycle time slips, you can adjust the schedule, put in a few extra hours, work weekends, get caught up. But when safety slips, someone gets hurt and you cannot go back.

Watch — and protect — the people on your jobsites.

© April 2012 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

One advantage of your Building Partner Council Meeting is that your individual Building Partners will get to know each and form a relationship. You want to get to a place where your painter can call the crew leader for your drywall company and say, “Hey, your crew’s leaving too many boogers on the wall.” Then they solve the problem themselves.

To get there, you’ve got to move the problem solving away from the meeting room table and onto the jobsite. Get that painter and drywaller to meet together on the jobsite, walk the job and talk about root causes. Expect to play mediator at first. You may need to say, “We’re not playing the blame game” and focus their attention on problem solving.  

Often the first solutions proposed by a Building Partner is to add an additional inspection of some type. A crew leader will walk the house again or may even suggest that you walk it before he does. While a job completion inspection is not wrong, it’s not solving the root cause of the problem. And worse, it’s often not sustainable. Not only are you injecting waste into the construction process, the added inspection will probably fall by the wayside after a couple of weeks anyway.

One solution to eliminate recurring problems is to benchmark. If you have two companies in the same trade (for example, we use different framing crews in the north than in the south) get those companies to compare how they perform and complete their jobs. Each company is going to have unique strengths and weaknesses, tricks of the trade. If one is doing something right, get the other company to adopt that measure. If one is having a recurring problem, ask how the other company handled it. And make sure both companies are familiar with the other’s First Time Quality scores. A little healthy competition can be good for the corporate soul.

This personal touch is what will separate the small, private home builder from all the giant national behemoths. They incentivize their trades through production volume. And, if you can’t offer volume, offer efficiency.

© April 2012 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

It’s no secret: Those behemoth national homebuilders incentivize their trade partners, buy jobsite priority, and lower material and labor costs by offering volume. They can come into a community, negotiate a bulk lot purchase in a neighborhood, start 15 spec homes and tie-up the trade labor. Meanwhile, we’re still building and selling two homes a month. So what’s a small, private homebuilder to do?

If you can’t offer volume, offer efficiency.

That means that your trades can depend on your construction schedule being accurate, your jobsite to be clean and ready for their crews to begin when they arrive, and recurring problems that interfere with job completion are identified and eliminated. Obviously this starts on the jobsite itself. But utilize your Building Partner Council Meeting to take the improvement that much further.

In your Council Meeting, focus on recurring problems. Use photos that you personally took on the jobsite of work that is done correctly as well as incorrectly. Talk about why something is correct or how incorrect work can be prevented in the future. (Leaving the jobsite without sweeping and cleaning-up is a common occurrence.) Reward a job well done to encourage that behavior, but never publicly chastise or embarrass any trade for incorrect work. The point is achieving First Time Quality. Why is this problem occurring and how can we prevent it in the future?

Photo-taking shouldn’t be limited to the jobsite Construction Professional. Encourage each trade to take photos and to speak up about job-readiness issues or anything that’s interfering with their job completion. If a prior trade isn’t completing their job or is doing something that slows-down the following Building Partner’s crew, let’s bring it out into the open. We all know the electricians work impacts the drywaller. The drywaller’s work impacts painter. And just about every trade is affected by the framer. So share the information and foster communication.

If you use a 3rd party inspector for quality control, get him involved in the Building Partner Council Meeting. His photographs can have the strongest impact. He will not only see recurring issues within your jobsites, but will also be familiar with what is working or not working for other home builders in the area. We have an independent inspector review our houses at several stages, including slab, frame, stucco and one last time before the New Home Introduction. His input and photographs are invaluable, but he also reinforces our dedication to eliminating recurring problems to our Building Partners, and achieving efficiency through First Time Quality.

© March 2012 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

Your painter requested that you add an extra day to the schedule for interior painting. It’s a reasonable request. As he pointed out, his crew is working sun-up to sun-down, rushing to get the homes painted, and there’s dead time when they’re waiting for materials to dry. So what do you do?

Adding days to the construction schedule is the easy, quick answer. But in Lean Homebuilding, our goal is to methodically reduce our build time, not increase it. And once a day is inserted into the schedule, it will be very difficult to remove it in the future.

Before agreeing to any request (whether it’s for additional time, a price increase, a change in materials or construction practices) walk the Gemba. Preferably with the Building Partner. If you do, you’ll often find that the request asked for isn’t really the request being made.

Huh? Say that again.

The Painter doesn’t really want to spend an extra day on your jobsite. (No, really, he doesn’t…) He’s adding mileage and drive time, additional payroll and overhead, loading and unloading equipment, ladders and heavy paint cans. If he’s not losing money, he’s certainly reducing his margin. He wants to get into your house, finish his job and then move on to his next paying job.

So when he’s asking for an additional day, he’s actually telling you, “Hey, I don’t want to have to work sun-up to sun-down, rush to get the home painted and have dead time on the jobsite.

As a Lean Construction Professional, you should be hearing,  “I’m having job readiness issues and/or job completion issues.”

When you walk the Gemba, you’re going to get to the root cause of the schedule request. And by the root cause, I don’t necessarily just mean the Drywaller — but it could be. Or it could be another trade that’s not completing their job. Or it could be a lack of light in the closets and bathrooms. Or there could be a scheduling error and the interior paint activity is happening too soon in the schedule. In this particular case, customer upgrades in trim and chair railing add about an additional half day of hand brushing and caulking. So he wasn’t actually asking for the standard construction schedule to be changed – he was requesting additional time on houses with specific upgrades. There’s a big difference.

In fact, when you think about it, that’s what separates the Lean Construction Professional from the old school superintendent. The Superintendent looks at the problem from only the surface level, makes a snap, on-the-fly decision and moves on. The Lean Construction Professional analyzes the request, walks the Gemba, and asks the questions that get to the root cause.

© March 2012 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

Posted by: JC Gatlin | February 17, 2012

A History Lesson about Horses’ Rears (from Myers Barnes)

I’m reposting an article written by the new home sales guru Myers Barnes. In this story he illustrates the importance of asking “why?” It’s such a simple word, but it makes you hit the pause button and think. Most times, we do things the way we’ve always done it that way because we don’t think about it. Asking why forces you to think about it. Thanks for the great story, Myers!

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A History Lesson about Horses’ Rears

by Myers Barnes Published March 12, 2007

The US standard railroad gauge, which is the distance between the rails, is 4 feet, 8.5 inches, which is an odd number. Why was that gauge used?

Because that’s the way they built railroads in England and English expatriates built those we have in America. Why did the English build them like that?

Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways and that’s the gauge they used. Why did “they” use that gauge then?

Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing. And why did wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing?
Because if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So, who built those old roads that had the wheel ruts? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe and England for their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

And what about the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in wheel spacing. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot, which was built just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses.

Now, to update the story, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank on a space shuttle. These are solid rocket boosters (SRBs). The SRBs are made by Thiokol at their factory at Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make them a bit wider, but the SRBs have to be shipped by train from the factory to Cape Canaveral and the empty, washed ones returned by railcar to Thiokol’s Utah facilities. The railroad line from the factory runs through a tunnel in the mountains so the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track, as you know, is about as wide as two horses’ behinds.

So, a major space shuttle design feature on the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horse’s rear. Although there have been opportunities along the way to gradually make changes, bureaucracies live forever and so do out-dated ideas.

The next time you need to approach a problem from a different angle, use the try-angle. Try something new. Break the mode of responding the same way just because it’s always been done that way. Apply good old horse sense instead of the other part of its anatomy.

Visit Myers Barnes’ blog at www.myersbarnes.com.

© February 2012 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

Posted by: JC Gatlin | February 11, 2012

Leadership without Vision is just Management

Yesterday at the International Builders Show in Orlando, I had dinner with the “Leaders” of one our benchmark builders. I call them leaders because they have accomplished the goals they set out to achieve four years ago. In 2008, they were a company about our size (maybe a little smaller) in a handful of communities closing about 50 homes a year. Today they are building over 700 homes a year, have over 60 employees in 40+ communities and took in over $90 million last year. And, they grew to this level in one of the worst housing recessions this country has seen — ever.

During dinner, we discussed leadership, to which I was reminded that “leadership is not a position, it’s an action.” More to the point, leadership is vision.

Great organizations convey a strong vision of where they will be in the future. Great leaders communicate this vision to their team, constantly, every chance they get.  Back in 2008, this home building President set goals and priorities to personally develop what the organization would look like by mid-year. Then painted the picture for 2009. At the time, he wasn’t sure how or if it would even be possible. But he never expressed that to his team. As far as his team saw, he absolutely, passionately, believed this was where they were going. He maintained a high-level energy and always displayed a positive attitude. Conversations with his team dwelled on their achieving personal goals and objectives, and what their success would feel like. He wanted them to not just feel it, but to see it, smell it and taste it. This was crucial. People need a strong vision of where they’re going. No one wants to be stuck in a dead-end job, going nowhere. Or worse, working for a company headed in the wrong direction. They want to be part of a movement. They want to belong to a winning team.

“Our sales people don’t just sell a house to our customers,” he told me. “They sell a lifestyle. If you buy our home in our community, this is what your life will be like. It’s the same for leaders of a team. They are telling their people that if you buy this vision, and work toward achieving it, this is what your life will be like.” Often it’s just a few words that separate the great companies from the average ones.

“Average to above-average companies tend to have great managers,” he continued. “But the great companies understand the difference between Leaders and Managers.”  Management, as defined by the US Army, is “keeping a grasp on the situation and ensuring that plans and policies are implemented properly. It includes giving instructions and inspecting the accomplishment of a task.” Leaders balance management with leadership, but they do not confuse the two roles. Management, in and of itself, is not leadership. Management lacks vision.

Vision is crucial to to the health, wealth and success of an organization. It’s the horizon we’re moving toward. It’s the picture of what the organization will look like in 6, 12, 24 months from now, provided that everyone does their part and goals are achieved. The company leader is always pointing toward the horizon, tirelessly identifying and moving the team toward the next milestone. Leaders cannot push their team. They cannot pull. They certainly can’t dictate. They simply say, “This is where we’re going. If you do this, we can get there together. Can I count on you?”

It’s not easy, especially during these tough economic times. But it is possible. That was proven to me at dinner. And, as I left the restaurant and headed west out of Orlando, I thought, “They did it. So can we.”

© February 2012 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

Any Plan-Do-Check-Adjust project that ties the problem back to dollars wasted has a strength and credibility that often sets it apart from other projects. In these tough economic times, every dollar saved is a dollar earned. And, even though it’s a savings of less than $20 per affected home, that dollar amount starts adding up as production increases. PDCA and Kaizen are about small, incremental improvements. Saving $20 here and $20 there adds up to larger savings in the big picture, and ultimately affords the small private homebuilder the advantage.

© April 2011 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

Posted by: JC Gatlin | March 27, 2011

When did Accountability become Modern Taylorism?

We talk a lot about “accountability”— why we need it, how to get it, what it means. But I don’t believe accountability is what we’re really looking for, not in a lean organization anyway.

Accountability is a middle management term: You are not doing your job so I’m going to make sure you do it. Many organizations have a layer of management making sure employees complete their work and achieve their goals. In fact, accountability reinforces the Management/Employee relationship. Every company has “employees,” “staff,” or “subordinates” at some level. And traditionally, the lower the level, the stronger the need for accountability.

What if “accountability” is the PC term for the modern Taylorism? And what if that struggle to find and define accountability is actually a symptom of a company’s move from a traditional hierarchy to a lean organization?  If so, I would say that it’s not accountability that we’re looking for, it’s ownership.

Ownership is a mindset and suggests Teamwork and personal responsibility. While every company may have “employees,” not every company works as a Team. In a Team, every player has a significant role that he or she is personally responsible for not only executing, but improving. That improvement may be in strategy or it may be in personal growth. Either way, Team Players see themselves as solely responsible for the execution, completion and success of their role. And Teams execute on a coordinated level that makes it appear that if any one fails, the entire team risks losing.

An employee lacks this level of personal responsibility for execution. An employee knows that when he or she punches the time clock at 5:00, a Manager will ultimately be responsible to complete the job. That Manager may delegate it, but someone else is responsible. For an Employee, the worst that could happen is an earful from those holding him accountable (or possibly having to go find another job). But in a Team environment, the worst that could happen is you let down those who are depending on you.

Clearly, ownership lies in that Team Mentality. So the question becomes, how does a company move from a staff of employees to an organization of Team Players?

© March 2011 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

The standard organization of our Building Partner Council has, through some trial and error, started falling into place.

Based on direction from a fellow home building company and the advice of our Lean Consultant, we broke our construction schedule into two halves, allowing each meeting to “zoom into” the activities within that half. One month, our meeting focuses on the activities from slab through frame. Then the following month, we focus on frame through Quality Inspection. Our fellow lean  builder broke their schedule into 3 parts, and they cycle through their entire schedule each quarter.

Setting our meetings to rotate monthly, we next standardized our basic agenda structure. A standard agenda keeps each meeting on track and value-added. A quick Google search shows that there’s a wide variety of agenda formats and samples — some seem very complex. For our structure, we wanted to keep things simple.

1) Builder information (Upcoming communities & starts, Construction Professional locations & contact info.) If for no other reason, Building Partners return just to stay in the loop with what’s going on with their Builder client.

2) Building Partner goals . For us this year, our Building Partners wanted to focus on improving plan corrections/redlines and allowed lead times. This is their opportunity to address those goals.

3) Builder goals. As the lean home builder, our goal this year was to improve our cycle time. We’ve been focusing on getting the duration time for each activity inline with the expectation.

4) Recurring problems on the jobsite. We go over waste, return trips and rework found on the jobsite during the past couple of months and how to prevent those issues from recurring. Our 3rd Party Inspector generally leads this topic, as he is a neutral party. But individual issues are recognized by the jobsite Construction Professional prior to the meeting, by our First Time Quality Program and by the Building Partners themselves.

Building Partner participation in and commitment to the concept is what will make or break the Council. Traditional “Trade Partner Councils” have a Building Partner team organizing and running the meetings, and we looked into implementing this component into our Building Partner Council format. However, in today’s environment, we found having Building Partners take turns leading the meeting has been more productive and better received.

© March 2011 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

Posted by: JC Gatlin | March 13, 2011

“Rewalk Meetings” sabatoge our reputation

In the closing process for most home builders, they provide a New Home Introduction (some call it an “Orientation” or “Walk Through”) followed by a Rewalk Meeting. It’s standard in the industry: the home buyers walk the home, put blue tape on defects, problems and corrections, then the builder fixes everything and “rewalks” the home with the buyers before the closing. In fact, within the industry, builders EXPECT the home buyer to find problems — and even sets-up their New Home Introduction with the expectation that this is the buyer’s  opportunity to find corrections.

Why would we do that?

For a lean homebuilder like us, we deliver the home 100% clean and complete at the New Home Introduction. In fact, to ensure the home is delivered at that standard, we have a 3rd Party Home Inspector walk the home to find any last minute touch-ups before we present it to the buyer.  So, if the buyer finds defects, problems or corrections at the New Home Introduction, it should feel like a slap to our ego. It’s a blow to our reputation.

But it happens.

Sometimes, because there’s a paint or drywall scuff. More often than not because we set the expectation that they’re going to find defects. In fact, we’re so certain of this, we actually pre-schedule a “Rewalk Meeting” at the same time we schedule the New Home Introduction. Have you ever heard of a self-fulling prophecy?

If you really believe in the quality of home you’re delivering and the competency of the Construction Manager who built it, set the proper expectation for the New Home Introduction, then schedule it without prepping the Buyer to have to return to double check your work.

© March 2011 Homebuilding Partners, Inc.   twitter-logo

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