By Steve Rizer
On the heels of a report indicating that productivity in the non-residential construction sector continues to improve but at a rate that is slowing, an official with FMI, which released the report and provides management consulting and investment banking to the engineering and construction industry, has provided additional insight into the survey’s results through an exclusive interview (Construction Advisor Today, Feb. 22, 2012, “Rate of Improvement in Construction Productivity Reportedly Slowing”). The official, research consultant Philip Warner, also commented on the effectiveness of a two-year-old ASTM International standard that was designed to improve construction productivity.
During the phone interview with Construction Project Controls and BIM Report, Warner made the following comments:
CPC/BIM: What was the methodology for conducting the survey?
Warner: Basically, that was an electronic survey, and we sent that to our client list, and the responses are generally almost exclusively from presidents, [chief executive officers], and vice presidents.
CPC/BIM: Which 2-3 results from the survey surprised you the most and why?
Warner: I would say that none [of the results] really surprised us. The fact that more people are using prefabrication as both a productivity and efficiency tool is a continuing trend, so I won’t say that surprised us, but it confirms what we’ve seen in other surveys, so that’s an important trend. I think we’re always a little bit surprised that more people don’t spend more time on productivity… [W]e think generally, before the recession, that [construction professionals placed productivity] low on the list…. Productivity has become more important [to them] as the recession tightens….
CPC/BIM: In your opinion, how effective has ASTM Standard E2691, which addresses the way productivity is measured in the construction industry, been (CAT, Aug. 18, 2011, “Progress Reported on the Use of ASTM’s E2691 Construction Productivity Standard”; CAT, May 26, 2010, “New ASTM Construction Productivity Standard Released”)?
Warner: [After consulting with report author Scott Kimpland] Generally, … we have have not run into this [standard] very much, if at all. It’s still a fairly new standard. I’d say, generally, this [standard] likely agrees with many of the practices we’ve been recommending for quite a few years now and that it will be potentially, in time, a good thing for the industry to try and get closer to a standardized way of measuring productivity.
CPC/BIM: So the new standard has not contributed significantly to the increase in construction productivity?
Warner: Not yet. From what I know of it, and we haven’t studied it or run into it much, it looks like the right idea, but I don’t think it has been adopted or used widely at this time in the construction industry. It hasn’t been out very long, I don’t believe. It’s a step in the right direction. We’ve tried to get people to do these things to get better measurements so that they can affect productivity. That’s something that I think we do on a regular basis.
CPC/BIM: With the release of this report, what recommendations, if any, is your organization making to industry professionals and/or policymakers?
Warner: I don’t know if it’s going to affect policymakers in general, [but the report] is another piece of information they can use to look at ways to reduce costs and improve productivity. More and more [lawmakers and] companies are recommending the use of BIM [building information modeling].
However, contractors have been some of the earliest adopters of BIM for clash detection, for one thing, and it’s generally more effective for them to use it. So, it’s not becoming a new thing anymore. It’s pretty soon to become kind of a standard that everybody needs to be using.
CPC/BIM: When will the next report on this topic be released?
Warner: We do this report biennially, so we expect to do this again in about two years.
CPC/BIM: Other comments?
Warner: I think, generally, productivity has become a lot higher on people’s lists now…. What we’ve seen in our NRCI is that productivity has improved since the recession, largely due to downsizing, but you can only go so far with that.
CPC/BIM: The construction industry has lagged behind other industries in productivity. Is the gap closing?
Warner: They get a lot of bad press about productivity as being like an antiquated industry. I think a lot of that is not deserved; some of it might be. It doesn’t compare with computers and manufacturing because it’s done in different kinds of environments, and it’s a whole different market…. [However,] more standards, better measurements, and more attention paid will bring them closer, and there’s more software being used now in the field to track things, so they’re improving considerably. At least the potential is there for the construction industry to improve to get closer to other sorts of industries.