What gets measured gets done – Improving productivity across the board

By Graham Burke, Transformation Lead – People, Construction Sector Accord. For the RANZ 2023 Autumn Member publication, RoofLink Magazine

Whether we are working in a market that is in an upward or downward part of the economic cycle, productivity is a key driver of a business’s profitability and possibly survival. Productivity is a measure of how efficiently resources are used by a business to produce goods or services.

A useful definition from Te Waihanga/New Zealand Infrastructure Commission’s 2022 report ‘Economic performance of the NZ construction sector’:

  • Productivity: Productivity reflects the quantity and quality of output that is produced for a given quantity of inputs. Productivity increases when firms work out how to do more with less.
  • Labour productivity is calculated by dividing real output by a measure of labour inputs, such as total hours worked.
  • Multifactor productivity is calculated by dividing real output by a measure of total labour inputs and capital inputs, including equipment and machinery used in production.

In the roofing industry, productivity can be measured by factors such as the square metres of roofing installed per day or week, divided by the labour inputs for labour productivity, or total inputs including plant, vehicles, and overheads for multifactor productivity.

While measuring labour productivity is useful for monitoring performance of individuals or teams, it is multifactor productivity that drives the performance of the business.

The roofing industry has experienced unprecedented growth for over a decade, however, the latest statistics for permits and consumer confidence indicate the market is slowing and may even be shrinking in some areas. Roofing is a competitive and dynamic industry and in recent years has suffered from acute labour shortages and COVID related supply chain disruptions. There has never been a more important time to take stock of the productivity of your business.

What gets measured gets done

It is a cliché that “what gets measured gets done”, but it is very true. What is also important is to measure what is important to your business and to ensure the way you measure is efficient and cost effective. Wherever possible, use metrics that already exist in the business and are readily available, such as material take-offs and timesheets.

It is also important to measure productivity in a way that is relevant to the scale and complexity of your operation. There is a huge difference in what is needed for a business with one or two teams to a large multi-faceted roofing business.

Effective time management

Time is a valuable resource, not just when we are busy, because wasted time is wasted money. Time management involves scheduling tasks and allocating resources in a way that maximizes productivity and minimises waste. This includes creating a realistic programme and timeline for each project, setting deadlines, and prioritising tasks based on their importance and urgency. There are many products on the market to assist in programming, and most include useful reporting functions. Again, it is critical to use a programme that is appropriate to the scale and complexity of your operation. These products will also only work as well as the information inputted to them and the ability of the business to keep to the programme. Check out some examples at Digital Boost

Skilled labour

Skilled labour is a critical element in any business and applies equally to every position in the business from trainee through to the owner. A roofing business must ensure that its people have the necessary skills and experience to complete their part of projects efficiently and effectively. Investing in training and professional development will help businesses improve the skills and knowledge of their workers, directly impacting productivity. Essential skills do not finish with the technical skills needed to be a roofer but extend to the interpersonal skills needed to lead a team and win work, business management, computing skills and many others. Indirect improvements to productivity will come from less rework, improved job satisfaction and staff retention.

Again, it is important to assess the benefits of training and ensure you are investing in skills that provide a positive return on investment. Reducing spending on training when work is quiet will often have a negative impact on productivity and limit the ability of a business to respond when work picks up.

Utilising technology

Advanced technology brings multiple opportunities to improve productivity across a business, making it possible to complete projects faster and more efficiently. The use of technology such as drones, 3D imaging, and roofing software can help roofing businesses improve their productivity by providing accurate measurements, reducing errors, and enabling better project management. For instance, initial estimates can often be completed using Google Earth, eliminating the need to visit sites for physical measurements. Drones can be used to inspect roofs, saving time and reducing the need for manual inspections. Roofing software can help manage project timelines, automate processes, and provide insights into the progress of the project.

Wellbeing, health and safety

Safety is a critical aspect of any roofing project and a legal requirement of every business, owner, and officer of the company. While some business owners see health and safety as a compliance issue and concentrate on minimising costs; smart operators incorporate their wellbeing, health and safety planning into their job methodology and programming. The task analysis that is essential for identifying hazards and managing risks is also a critical element in planning an efficient project. Robust planning and developing standard operating procedures will improve efficiency, reduce hold ups and ensure a safe and healthy working environment.

Paying attention to broader aspects of wellbeing also has a positive impact on productivity. Improved wellbeing equates to reduced fatigue, less absenteeism, fewer injuries and better output. This also applies to reducing the “minor” musculoskeletal injuries that plague the construction industry and take a huge personal toll on our people. There are some great resources available from Mates in ConstructionCHASNZWorkSafe and others. Recently RANZ has worked with CHASNZ to develop resources including a great training video that demonstrates practices that improve safety, reduce fatigue and improve productivity: WSNH Roofing

Reducing waste and rework

Reducing waste through accurate measuring and quality management is great for the environment and the bottom line. Over ordering or mistakes in ordering reduce productivity by increasing the inputs into a project. Likewise, product damage through poor installation or transportation are avoidable and will be reduced by good planning and investing in skilled people.

Fleet management

Motor vehicle expenses are often in the top two or three highest items of a business’s overheads, especially with the costs of fuel, servicing and road user charges having increased significantly in recent times. Motor vehicle accidents are also a leading cause of serious workplace injuries.

There are often opportunities to reduce fleet costs by applying the same disciplines of planning and training. Milage can be reduced by taking fewer vehicles to site, planning jobs to reduce the number of trips and planning routes to minimise distance. Just buying lunch on the way to work can make a significant reduction in mileage and lost time.

Driver training can provide benefits for safety as well as reducing maintenance costs and fuel consumption through better driving habits. There are many options for this type of training including online modules that can be picked up at any time, maybe filling in that wet afternoon or other downtime.

Technology is also available to track mileage and driving habits, providing reports on where savings can be made, automating purchase of road user charges and scheduling maintenance.

Effective communication

Effective communication is essential for the success of any project, especially in the roofing industry which requires coordination with multiple clients, suppliers, and other trades. An efficient roofing business must ensure that all stakeholders, including employees, customers, and suppliers are kept informed and updated throughout the project. This involves using clear and concise communication such as regular progress reports and meetings, to ensure that everyone is on the same page and to reduce the number of hold ups, down time, and trips to site.

Continuous improvement

Continuous improvement is an ongoing process of identifying areas for improvement and implementing changes to increase productivity and efficiency. A roofing business should regularly evaluate its processes and procedures and identify areas for improvement. This can involve feedback from customers, employees and suppliers. Performance metrics are of limited use if they are not analysed to find areas of improvement. Changes do not have to be big if we are continuously improving; making a difference of 1% each month is a 12.7% improvement over a year, which could make a significant difference to the bottom line of a business.

In conclusion, there are often multiple ways a business can improve productivity. It is unlikely a business will improve without measuring and monitoring performance, in a way that is appropriate to the size and complexity of the business. Technology can provide some useful solutions along with investment in training and business systems, keeping in mind the right solution must have a positive return on investment. Most importantly a successful business will always be tracking its own performance and using that data to improve productivity.

- Graham Burke, Transformation Lead – People, Construction Sector Accord, Connect with Graham on LinkedIn

For the RANZ 2023 Autumn Member publication, RoofLink Magazine. Not yet a RANZ Member? Get your application underway at the link here