Take the Chaos Out of Construction with Labor Scheduling

A construction worker in a yellow vest working on his tablet.

Construction is not chaos.

One of the commonly misheld beliefs at contracting firms is that labor management and planning is inherently chaotic. Conditions change rapidly. Factors outside of your control kill a plan. A lot of times, it probably feels easier to throw up your hands and then, bear down and get the work done. 

Conditions do change rapidly. But the idea that you have to accept the chaos is a fundamentally flawed theory. There’s a better way to handle labor scheduling than knee-jerk reactions to project changes. It’s time you stopped letting the job run you and you started running the job. 

Stop Playing Musical Chairs With Your Labor 

When you don’t have a labor plan, you’re going to struggle with managing your labor. And that’s detrimental to the health of your company. 

Let’s talk about the game of musical chairs that you might be playing right now. Let’s say you have a project that’s going to take a year. So, naturally, you put one of your better supervisors on the job. At the six-month mark, you’re on track to finish on time. But then another project enters the picture—a high-profile job from a big general contractor that specifically requests the supervisor on your first job. You know you have to do everything in your power to keep that general contractor happy, so you pull the supervisor off the job halfway through and put him on the new job. 

You’ve just destroyed the job you took him off and there’s a lot of negative ramifications to the game of musical chairs you’ve now started playing. 

Cost of shifting supervisors in the middle of a project graphic image

What are the Costs of Shifting Supervisors in the Middle of a Project? 

  1. You’re destroying your bottom line. Shifting project supervisors can cause very real financial problems and put a project in jeopardy. You not only took away the supervisor, you’ve also lost all of the knowledge he accumulated on that project. Moreover, his replacement is likely someone less experienced. And you’ve just placed them in the eye of a firestorm. The new supervisor may have a different management style and they have to win over a crew while also trying to move the project forward. 
  1. You’re stopping your own growth. Your decision to move the first supervisor, while completely understandable, also cost you a chance to strengthen the overall team. By not giving the opportunity to another supervisor, you’ve lost out on a potential training opportunity and the ability to create depth within your company. You also shortchanged someone standing in line and hoping to advance within your company. 
  1. You’re eroding trust in management. Shifting supervisors in the middle of a project also sends a message to people in the field that management may not have a plan in place to manage all of the jobs on the docket. It’s the wrong message, one that suggests a lack of stability and can hurt morale. 

How Do You Stop Playing Musical Chairs With Your Labor? 

When you get a new job, you should fill out an organizational chart and create a labor profile. The organizational chart lets you know what roles need to be filled. The labor profile tells you about the mix of labor, your composite wage rate and a labor consumption plan (a bell curve that defines the labor management plan over the duration of the project). Together, they give you a picture of staffing and exactly how much a job is going to cost on a weekly basis. 

A quote stating "You have to make a commitment to a labor plan prior to putting people on a job." overlying an image of a construction worker.

You have to make a commitment to a labor plan prior to putting people on a job. When you commit a person to a project, that person stays on the project until their portion of the project is done. That’s how you hold on to momentum and knowledge, especially if it holds true for team members at every level from supervisors to tradespeople. 

Right, but you’re probably wondering how I would handle a conversation with the general contractor when they ask for a particular supervisor that I already have on another job. 

It’s simple. I would tell them that our company is stronger and deeper than a single individual. And we’ve already committed that supervisor to another job that is at a crucial point. However, we have someone who is ready for this opportunity and will have the complete support of our company. We need to be able to develop our bench to grow for the future. Also, our track record and reputation means that we’ll get the job done. 

Digital Workforce Management Leads to Better Forecasting 

While you need to think differently about managing labor, you’ll also need the tools to make that possible. 

A digital workforce management platform allows your labor managers to see your labor scheduling on a daily basis. And that daily snapshot is how you can understand the health of a job. You can see if a project is trending positively or negatively and ask yourself why you’re ahead or falling behind. 

Daily benchmarking and analysis also gives you time to react to situations and come up with a solution. As the days extend into weeks and conditions change, you can either stay with your estimated earned value analysis or adjust it to the realities of what’s happening in the field. 

Moreover, your forecasting will improve dramatically over time because you’ll have a historical collection of labor plans with real results that you use to predict the outcome of future jobs. Your data will improve your labor plans. You can pull resource profiles from your cloud-based workforce management platform and know exactly how and why a project was successfully managed. 

Construction is Not Chaos 

Labor management can and should be standardized. It doesn’t have to be chaotic. Workforce management shouldn’t be feared. Instead, like Prime Build or Mid America Contracting, Inc., you can apply solid construction workforce management techniques that will prove successful in the long run.  

You can grant your labor managers more time to train new people and devise process improvements, rather than chase their tail with administrative tasks all day. A digital workforce management platform also creates transparency by providing your management team with the same information in real-time, which will encourage collaboration. 

Stop playing musical chairs with your labor. Find stability that lets you manage changing conditions and unforeseen challenges. Reach out to us today to talk about what you’re facing right now.

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Sr. Workforce Advisor
Gary Fuchs is a Senior Workforce Advisor at LaborChart. Prior to LaborChart, Gary was VP of Construction at Westphal Electric. He and his wife Cheryl are proud parents of three daughters and 10 grandchildren. Gary enjoys woodworking, golf, hunting, fishing, and working with LaborChart. In his past, Gary was a volunteer firefighter and basketball official.

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