Authors: Taylor Davis & James Gordon
Maintaining alignment to a plan and motivating performance among construction crews on large capital projects is a formidable challenge. Doing it right, complete with superior performance indicators that leave no doubt about the excellence of results, is harder still.
The proof of both axioms was amply demonstrated in a recent pipeline build involving RLG International, a Vancouver-based performance improvement consulting company that specializes in large-scale industrial projects.
Last year, RLG’s methods helped three major construction contractors shorten completion schedules and reduce the cost of a high-pressure gas transmission pipeline in Australia. Employing a workforce of 1,200 at its peak, the build involved more than 1,600 miles of high-density polyethylene pipeline and 1,100 wellheads connecting to major gas processing facilities.
RLG helped the contractors establish a weekly ‘game plan’ for project managers and front-line crews building the pipeline. The goal was to improve results in four key work areas: safety, quality, environment and progress.
Following the introduction of the game plan, daily construction progress increased by 43 per cent and safety improved by 20 per cent. The performance improvements helped trim completion schedules by 10 months, saving the contractor $36 million.
RLG Vice-President Taylor Davis said the company’s Weekly Game Plan model ensured that project execution teams were better connected with the detailed, high-level plans of the overall project.
Simply put, the Weekly Game Plan helped forge the link between planned and done.
“The supervisors, planners and engineers who clearly understand the work and timeline are best positioned to develop the plan,” Davis explained.
“What we provided was the ability to better communicate the plan to the front-line crews in a simple format that supervisors could share directly with crews in a clear, visual manner.”
RLG also introduced two complementary management systems to improve project leadership, accountability, ownership and performance: Operating Rhythm, a series of key interactions between leaders and front-line operations, and Theoretical Maximum Performance™, a process for engaging crews and contractors to determine the best way to execute a plan.
Communications enhanced across departments
RLG laid the groundwork for process improvements by having its staff work directly with pipeline project managers to help develop leadership skills. The process then moved to the field by introducing managers to the Weekly Game Plan system for supervisors and 35-40 construction crews.
“The client had mature and established systems already in place, which we enhanced by strengthening links between project managers in the office and the supervisors and crews in the field,” explained RLG Project Manager James Gordon.
“Communication was enhanced across various departments and a greater awareness of expectations was realized as the Weekly Game Plan was implemented.”
The Weekly Game Plan included scorecards for crews to grade their daily performance around the project pillars of safety, quality, environment and progress.
Crews were also able to discuss what went well and what did not, and to plan ahead on how to best co-ordinate work with others.
“At the start of each shift, every crew met to identify potential hazards and issues for the coming day, review work assignments and performance expectations, and grade the prior day’s performance,” Gordon recalled.
Daily results were rolled up once a week for supervisors and crews to review performance and identify opportunities for improvements in the coming week.
Each week, senior managers made a point of directly participating in reviews with supervisors and crews.
“The primary achievement of the Weekly Game Plan was the ‘ownership’ that engineers took in setting the daily targets and getting a week’s worth of work in front of the crews,” said Gordon.
“Likewise, the crews then had ‘ownership’ in discussing among themselves how they would achieve those goals, including tracking and monitoring their daily progress and providing written feedback to the engineers on identified opportunities for improvements.”
For example, performance-tracking boards were installed in construction offices to facilitate consistent, disciplined communication and follow-up on safety and process results, and to update equipment and manpower resourcing.
Teams engaged to identify risks, opportunities
Two Theoretical Maximum Performance (TMP) events were staged to fix scheduling and resourcing conflicts that would have affected the pipeline project deliverables.
TMP seeks significant performance improvement by engaging teams to identify risks and efficiencies for attaining performance closer to perfection. “It’s very much like how a racing team achieves choreographed high performance in a very safe manner,” Gordon said.
The first TMP event focused on mitigating schedule impacts associated with wellhead completion processes; the second optimized the schedule for the work-site transfer process.
RLG’s onsite presence also helped to deliver results by providing direct support to construction project personnel who managed front-line crews, Gordon noted.
“We were embedded on the front line, right out there with the supervisors every day of the work. We stood next to them and let them know we were there to help.”
The client was more than pleased with the results delivered by RLG International.
“RLG introduced their Operating Rhythm™ to provide the key interactions necessary to create a result-oriented culture,” the pipeline project’s deputy director said.
“With RLG embedded in the project, they kept an eye out for ‘pinch points’ that could affect the project’s schedule or cost.”
The team engagement program proved highly effective in improving performance in the key areas of safety, quality, environment and progress, he added, noting that introducing a common approach to safety and progress reporting encouraged collaboration and best-for-project outcomes. It also led to better overall project performance and provided opportunities to involve the entire workforce.
“RLG has the proven potential to be used in both operational and capital projects environments.”
The construction contractor’s experience with RLG’s systems prompted it to fold those same systems into its overall management culture. The company is sold on the results of streamlining connections between leadership and front-line personnel and breaking down larger plans into more manageable weekly units, Gordon noted.
“The Weekly Game Plan is a tool that seems obvious, if you don’t have it,” he said. “Once you see it in action, you see that you need it.”
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