If You Had a Million Dollars to Invest...

June 9, 2016

The PHCC Educational Foundation’s Creating Super Foremen Workshop came to the Viega Training Facility in Nashua, New Hampshire June 8th & 9th, 2016.

Instructor Kirk Alter, opened the workshops by asking attendees a simple question: "If you had a million dollars to invest, would you be better off buying stock in Google or putting it to work in your own company?"

Most attendees put more faith in investing in stock of a company they have no control over versus their own firm.

It’s not surprising, as construction is one of the few major industries where productivity has actually declined since the early '60's. Resistance to change, 2016 Foreman Workshop at Viegalimited availability of skilled labor, a lack of automation and other factors have restrained progress seen in other fields.

The good news is that better planning and communications can have a massive impact on productivity and profitability for plumbing-heating-cooling contractors.

Alter took the attendees through rapid-fire discussions on how to plan better, what causes lost time, and practical ways to fix communications issues. Here are some of the ideas and action items coming out of the foremen workshop.

Creating Super Foremen Workshop – Productivity and People Management Tips

  • Managers (including foremen) cause most of the lost time on the jobsite. Causes include poor site planning, poor material handling practices, wrong materials, missing materials, missing/lost/broken tools, poor communication, etc.
  • On average, each piece of material is handled 4 to 6 times. If you can reduce that to 3 to 4 times, you will experience a significant increase in productivity. Stock materials closer, pre-bundle materials that are to be installed in a specific area,
  • Reduce time spent walking from here to there and back. Put gangboxes and portable toilets on each floor of a large job.
  • Find ways to have employees manage themselves. For example, institute a Yellow/Red card system for jobsite personnel management. Every field employee is issued a yellow card every six months. All the jobsite rules are printed on the card. If that employee is late or breaks a jobsite rule (smoking onsite, not wearing a hardhat, etc.), they must hand over their yellow card.

    If they break another rule before the next set of yellow cards are issued, that employee is issued a red card and is sent home without pay for the day. Every hourly field employee has the power to enforce this system, including pulling the foreman’s card if warranted. If an employee gets more than 3 red cards in a year, they are fired and cannot be hired back.
  • Avoid overtime. For every consecutive week that field labor works 5 ten-hour days, you lose 5% productivity. Working 4 tens is far less (about 7%) productive than working 5 eight-hour days.
  • Avoid loss of time to smoke breaks by prohibiting any use of tobacco on the jobsite.
  • Tool Hoarding hurts the productivity of the company. Someone has to call around to find that needed tool, wasting time OR the company buys a new one and is overstocked in duplicate tools.
  • Create Foreman Contract Hot sheets - two page summary of contract rules of the game.
    Includes: - Scope your company is responsible for, exclusions, schedule requirements, who is responsible for cleanup, how change orders are to be handled, if you can be directed to do work, etc.
  • Instead of asking “What did you get done today?,” each day the foreman should ask the field crews “What did I do or not do that got in your way or made you lose time today?” The foreman is then responsible for telling the crew what they are going to do to fix that issue so the crew does not have to deal with it again. That ask helps to quickly identify problems before they can get too big and the responsiveness helps to build trust. It also makes the crews more aware of tracking what might be causing loss time throughout the day.

2016 Foremen Workshop


With these tips and dozens more in hand, the foreman attendees learned how they can have a tremendous impact on productivity by making a few simple changes in how they approach managing their crews and job sites.

Every day, p-h-c business owners have a massive investment at stake in their own company, sometimes running into multiple millions of dollars annually. Using better procedures, smarter communications and a thoughtful approach to managing field labor can help to make that investment pay much better returns. And unlike Google, that is completely in our control.

The Foundation can bring this session to PHCC chapters or even individual companies. Just call us at (800) 533-7694 or e-mail foundation@naphcc.org.


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