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Process Perils & Profit | Pro Builder

Scott Sedam writes another great article on lean implementation in the building industry…

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Thinking Begets Thinking

A great Deming-ism I just stumbled across in my old notes  from a Scott Sedam article How To Get Smart from the 7/11/2000 issue of Professional Builder:

Deming lamented that our companies and our country were becoming so obsessed with job skills that we were turning every educational endeavor into a trade school. He had nothing against trade schools, but he said it is an insult to not give people the opportunity to learn, grow and develop by thinking — not simply teaching instructions and procedures. And this goes for people at all levels. Knowing the fact or the thing is usually less important than knowing how it got that way.

My favorite Deming example that he used to illustrate goes as follows: Take two kids. Give them each an assignment. Tell one to go find out the name of the capital of Wisconsin. Tell the other to find out why the capital of Wisconsin is Madison. Deming would simply smile and say, “Oh, what a difference.”

The difference, of course, is that student No. 2 would have to research, explore, think, reason — work his brain. And here’s the key. The next day, at his job at the Costco warehouse, Student Two would be much more likely to think of a better way to do a job. Thinking begets thinking.

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On the Importance of Building Solid Systems That Allow Business Execution

In the Critical Chain Project Managment Yahoo group that I am subscribed too I just read a great post by Michael Carroll that I thought everyone here might benefit from reading. The topic his post was in response to was How common is it to have "No plans"? (The emphases placed are mine.)

I have been helping my son train for his swim team. Most local high school teams follow a tradition of generating what you might call brute force to achieve their results by what would seem to be a wise strategy to work harder, faster, and longer than the other teams. Yet this approach is a tad bit frustrating for both the coaches and swimmers as academics standards must also be met. In each of these swim programs you will always have a few swimmers who are naturals and rise to the top and yet the rest of the team struggles. You can observe all of the other swimmers putting their might into swimming with poor technique struggling against the water going home each day discouraged because the long hours, hard work and efforts are not paying off. To make it worse the coach is sure to let all know that to be more like the top tier swimmers you must have a better work effort, more drive, and more dedication.

Why do I bring this up when talking about project plans? I do so for three reasons: Time, perspective, and tradition.

Time – The more pressure and organization has to perform a given task the more apt they are to roll up their sleeves and re double their efforts by working harder, faster, and longer. Why? Mainly because the technique has worked in the past. Yet on the other hand I think it would be fair to say business managers are wise and know that they need to think things out and generally will agree that planning is as equally important as taking immediate action. So attempts are made to plan. Often these show up as the daily stand up meetings like swimmers meeting with the coach each practice to get pumped up about how hard they are going to work, how they are going to change, and to discuss the upcoming meet. Fortunately swimming has an off season and the coaches will have a few months to create next years winning strategy. Unlike swimming teams most businesses don’t get an off season. More often then not, serious deep strategic planning is done in a shoot from the hip manner, for time pressures do not allow much of any thing else.

Perspective – Coaches study the tapes of Olympic swimmers over and over again looking to help their swimmers mimic the gold medal winning strokes. However there is a serious flaw in this. Swimmers swimming at max speed do not display perfect technique because they are swimming close to being completely out of control. Yet watch the great Alexander Popov and his practices sessions look nothing like his racing because he swims only fast enough to make his technique perfect. Yet watch most high school swimmers and they practice poor technique and swim at max effort. So when they get to race day and they push the engines hard they cross the line and the extra effort at race day only buys a minimal improvement in performance. Yet the great Popov’s muscles remember the perfect technique and allow him to stay in enough control to devastate the competition. Similarly in business, our perspective on the most successful companies is distorted because we watch the great organizations without seeing the disciplined approach to planning, training, and methodical execution. Additionally add in time pressure and inadequate training and the only thing left is the strategy of harder, faster, longer.

Tradition – Swimming has a long history of tradition and so do businesses. In fact most business leaders gained their first lessons in leadership in the sports arena. Most swimmers who make it to college level swimming are almost impossible to retrain. If they have defects in their stroke it can take years to erase because of muscle and nerve memory. The problem is even greater for men than women because of the tradition of using sheer strength to solve stroke problems. Do we not see the same thing in business?

As I apply these lessons to my own companies I am cognizant of how important disciplined project planning and execution is. It takes a conscious effort to set aside the appropriate amount of time to not only plan, but to build solid systems that allow business execution to occur not only during the slow cycles but to do so at race time when customers are knocking at the door in the up cycle and to do it without going over the edge of control.


Michael Carroll


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The people work IN a system.

From the website a good explanation of one of W. Edwards Deming’s lessons for us:


The people work IN a system.

The job of a manager is to work ON the system,

To improve it,


WITH their help.

Workers work in the system, which management created or allowed to continue. Management must work on the system to improve the process. With instruction, workers can be enlisted in this improvement.

A leader, by virtue of his authority, has obligation to make changes in the system that will lead to improvement.

The problem is not in the people but in the system. People are doing their best.

You cannot control quality–you have to produce quality. Culling defects and punishing workers adds no quality. Quality comes from improvement of the process.


What I find particulary interesting is "The people work IN a system" and "The job of a manager is to work ON the system," in that that is at the core of the message that Michael Gerber talks about in his books The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It and The E-Myth Contractor : Why Most Contractors’ Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It and Susan M.Carter writes about in her book How To Make Your Business Run Without You.

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As part of the continuing Theory of Constraints Learning Process and the Lean Journey

As part of the continuing Theory of Constraints Learning Process and the Lean Journey my companies and the companies I consult with are on, I came across another interesting (PDF) article as part of some research I was on. The article that I found dusted off recollections of a topic that appeared in the Journal of Light Construction Business Strategies forum last winter entitled Is Our Industry Antiquated?

The contractor who started the topic off first wrote:

Just watched a TLC program about the largest Cruise Liner ever made, Voyager of the Sea. From start to finish is was completed in two years. 1020′ long (3 + football fields in length) , 157′ beam, and 214′ high (20 – 25 decks ?), and it’s not the longest ship either; an oil tanker is about 1600′ long, which is more than 5 football fields in length. And this cruise ship is like a hundred houses in one.

My point, and I guess question, is if such a ship with the tremendous challenges to build it, yet accomplishing that task is only 2 years is incredible compared to the result of a huge high end house that would take us two years. Seems what we do is nothing compared to what’s being done in ship yards as far as efficiency of resources.


Royal Caribbean Cruises – Voyager of the Seas

For the most part I thought the responses from other contractors to the topic were really either lists of excuses as to why we can’t do that in our industry:

"Yeah Sonny, but does their client keep changing the color of the ship? or the locations of the windows? or the cabinetry?") or explantions as to

Or explanations as to why they were able to accomplish such a tremendous production effort because they had the extra money to spend on it!!

"Am I antiquated with regards to that? You betcha. Does it cost my bottom line? Nope. We all have room for improvment in just about anything we build. Is that the point you’re trying to get across? Could I better keep track of inventory? Sure, by hiring someone like the shipyards do just to do that all day. Can I keep the men better supplied and ahead of the game at all times? Sure, I just need someone to oversee that on a full time basis. Can I afford these luxuries like the union ship yard can? No way. Do I have a crew of tool men keeping track of who needs what and keeping all the tools in repair at all times. Nope. The ship yard does. They can afford it."

Wow talk about really not seeing the forest through the trees!

However in defense of some of some of my fellow contractors there are some out there who I think either "get it" or are beginning to "get it".

Builder Allan Edwards wrote:

"If 80% of the projects are coming in behind schedule, then I would say that’s the norm. Isn’t’t insanity described as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? Seriously, scheduling is something we should give more attention to. "

And contractor Rick Westmoreland wrote:

"Of course, 80% of the schedules could be unrealistic to begin with."

And Estimating Consultant Bob Kovacs wrote:

"The benefits of fast-track are incredible if it’s done correctly."

Looking back at that topic I was surprised to notice that I never said what I really wanted say there in response to that "They can afford it." comment was essentially what Bob Kovacs was getting at in that the Because the work is well designed thought out and is done in a continuous FLOW process it is by far LESS EXPENSIVE! It’s saving money! The truth is we can’t afford not to do what they are doing!

We (our industry as a whole) have to stop making excuses as to why we can’t innovate and improve if we are ever going to fully realize the potential for achieving and harnessing greater profits.

Well, getting back to where I started the PDF article I discovered today is entitled TOC in a Commercial Shipyard by Daniel P. Walsh from the website. Well worth reading.

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Peter Senge author of The Fifth Discipline on “Creative Tension”.

Peter Senge author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization on "Creative Tension".

Creative tension : When we hold a vision that differs from current reality, a gap exists, which the author calls, " creative tension ". This tension can be resolved in two ways. One option is to take action to bring reality into line with the vision, while the other way is to lower the vision downward. Individuals and companies often choose the latter, because it’s easy to "declare victory" and walk away from a problem. That releases the tension . But these are the dynamics of compromise and mediocrity. Truly creative people use the gap between what they want and what is, to generate energy for change & remain true to their vision. c) Commitment to truth: This does not mean seeking the "truth", it means a relentless willingness to uncover the ways we limit and deceive ourselves from seeing what is, and to continually challenge the ways things are. It means broadening our awareness and understanding the structures that underlie and generate events. (my emphasis)

The principle of creative tension is the central principle of personal mastery (Senge, 1990). Creative tension is not emotional tension or anxiety. Instead, it is the awareness of the gap between our personal vision and our current reality. That gap is the source of all creative energy

There are three components of creative tension: the vision, current reality and the gap….

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