Construction Productivity and Dreaded Rework

Posted on February 13, 2012


Rework is almost a four-letter word in design-build. Rework is when work is put in place on a job and needs to be redone. This can mean tearing out and completely redoing, or going back to further and more accurately correct work to an acceptable level.

Rework is one of the most insidious causes of price increase on a job because it costs the job time both in doing the task a second time, but also in delaying the schedule of work to follow.  In addition, more manhours (actual and supervisory) and materials are needed. And the aggravation factor also cannot be ignored. No one likes to redo work, from the jobsite laborer to the office CAD tech. It destroys morale.

Rework primarily occurs because information such as design intent or specific detailing direction was not adequately communicated, and work was allowed to proceed without the required information. Integrated design-build avoids rework through industry-leading communication. This is done with actual meetings and tools like BIM, which help coordinate field work correctly the first time. Accurate detailing in a BIM model allows subcontractors to know exactly where and how something is to be done. Giving someone a real perspective view of a corridor plenum on a hand-held computer versus a hard-copy plan is far superior in avoiding rework. One thing Haskell works hard at is pre-coordination meetings of major trades before they get started. Decisions are confirmed as final. Expectations are set early, so when the craftsmen are cut loose they only do things once. These are empowering tools.

Sometimes rework is required because the quality is simply below standard. Construction productivity gets a bad reputation because a lot of people think of government road contracts where one person is jack-hammering, one person is holding a “SLOW” sign, and six people are standing around drinking coffee. It is true:  construction productivity is one of the biggest factors affecting construction cost. If productivity could increase, manpower could be cut by a large percentage, work would get done sooner, and projects would cost a lot less.

Like the average office worker, outside of the tools used, much can be tied to motivation. Most people are motivated to do good work, and do it once. That’s where avoiding rework comes in. With rework out of the way, the focus is on doing good work.

In the field, work is often repetitive. Conditions are not always favorable, which is why a lot of construction outfits are gravitating toward prefabrication (mass assembly off-site in controlled conditions and brought to site for quick installation) as much as possible. Excluding prefab, productivity comes down to getting the most from the men and women doing the building on the jobsite.

As Barry LePatner relates in his book Broked Buildings, Busted Budgets, piecework is a powerful and underutilized tool for increasing productivity. With piecework, a laborer is paid by the number of (acceptable) pieces put into place. A mason might, therefore, get paid by the block or course or wall. For repetitive work, this works well. Some installations and tasks are more difficult and less repetitive. They require a different method:  hourly pay. Where judgment is involved, the worker should decide the best method for completing a task satisfactorily. This motivates workers and promotes independence. And appropriate supervision and training are also integral to quality and avoiding rework, as well as motivating workers for increased productivity.

Perhaps the most emphatic point on construction productivity comes from LePatner again:  ‘If the construction industry was competitive, workers would be paid by the hour with managerial direction, or they would be given autonomy and paid by the piece.’ Here is the implicit message:  for motivation, productivity and high quality work, a construction worker needs to be given guidance on how something should be done. In exchange, the worker is compensated by the hour because the freedom to complete a task has not been given. However, where freedom to complete a task is given, pay-per-piece is appropriate because it provides an incentive to come up with a quality way to produce the most work and the worker is paid accordingly.

Either way (by-the-hour or by-the-piece) motivation, compensation, supervision and communication all help avoid what no one wants—waste due to rework—and integrated design-build provides an effective system to minimize rework.