Optimizing Workflow on the Job Site

Job site efficiency results in faster, higher quality―and ultimately more profitable―installations. However, achieving high levels of efficiency is by no means automatic. It takes a dedicated effort to assess and develop productive work habits. Perfect efficiency is unattainable, but continuous improvement offers great returns.

Workflow is a key component to job site efficiency. Specifically, workflow is the sequence of steps that have to be performed, start-to-finish, to complete a job. The sequence can vary, but can affect time and thoroughness.

Optimizing workflow in the field has special challenges. Unlike a manufacturing facility, where most set-ups are stationary and an assembly line dictates much of the sequence, the field has many variables. But while job site workflow is not an exact science, it can have order. By assessing two basic work fundamentals–role assignments and motion effectiveness–your workflow will fall into place.

Role assignment helps efficiency in several ways. Obviously, it divides the workload, but it also reduces crowding and allows individuals to flourish by giving them responsibility rather than just a to-do list.

I’m reminded of two installers, Ricky and John, that I hired as a package from their previous employer. Both were equally skilled and conscientious. They had worked side-by-side for many years prior, but had developed a habit of needlessly sharing almost all tasks. Their intentions were good, but this was unproductive. The two men combined had the effectiveness of one and a half, if that.

In contrast, when two cooks are preparing a Thanksgiving dinner, they essentially work at opposite ends of the kitchen, each preparing several sides, timed accordingly, as the turkey roasts in the oven. Then, it all comes together as a grand, hot feast. The cooks have to be separate to be effective.

By separating Ricky and John, and assigning them completely different roles, their productivity improved–a lot. They even showed more ambition. They took ownership of their roles and suggested ways they could be even more effective, separately. Obviously, there was some necessary overlap at times with shared tasks such as carrying a heavy window, or deciding where to eat lunch.

Role assignments are not always obvious, especially with equally skilled workers. To avoid confusion and disruption, decide the roles ahead of time and be clear when assigning them.

When I am moving the same heavy window more than once, picking trash off the ground that I dropped or climbing a ladder numerous times due to poor planning, I question my motion effectiveness.

Simply put, motion effectiveness is a goal to maximize manpower and to minimize footsteps, backtracking and unnecessary repeated steps. There’s a lot of research in this area, but let’s look at some general guidelines we can apply in the field:

  • If walking any distance, is there something you could/should be carrying?
  • Clean as you go, and drop trash in wastebaskets, not on the ground.
  • Plan ahead for needed supplies and possible snags to avoid disruption.
  • Organize tools, equipment and supplies so you don’t waste time searching.
  • Consider “clumping” same tasks. For example, for the same room, remove all windows, then prep all openings, then set all windows, etc. That said, make sure you don’t get too spread out.
  • Consider how role assignments affect motion effectiveness, and adjust as needed.
  • Use natural ability. Recognize that everyone works differently. What may be effective for some isn’t for others. Adjust accordingly.

Combined, role assignments and motion effectiveness can look like this: A crew of three, replacing numerous full frame units. Andy, inside the house, is removing the old windows and prepping the rough openings. Bob, in the garage, is unwrapping and prepping the new units. Charlie, the youngster, is shuttling the old units to the trash and returning with the new units to the room, while also moving furniture and vacuuming after each room is complete. Bob also caulks exteriors as time allows.

This is theoretical, but not unreasonable. There would likely be minor adjustments as the day progressed.

By defining roles and using common motion effectiveness guidelines, productive workflow on the job site will find its way. Discuss this among your crew, perhaps in a brief morning meeting each day, and find what works for you.

Backed by two decades of extensive hands-on experience, Jim Snyder is a technical writer, trainer and project/product consultant for the fenestration industry. Always seeking best practices, he has journaled and cataloged many years of fenestration-related activities and is an active member of AAMA, FMA and WDDA. His weekly blog at windowjim.com ties field-related topics to the rest of the industry. Write him at jim@windowjim.com.