How to Overcome Common Obstacles to Productivity

Norb Slowikowski / March 2018

Overcoming obstacles is an everyday (often every-hour) reality in this industry. Many times, contractors are unsure about why productivity is down or why there are work delays on the job site. The answers are not all that complicated, yet the common causes remain hidden because many times owners are not in tune with what is really happening on a job site. This lack of listening, support and follow-through results in inefficiency and poor morale.
Following are some of the major hidden barriers that have surfaced through extensive discussions with a sampling of superintendents and job site foremen.

Obstacle #1: Adverse Work Conditions
The missing pieces include the following:

  • Foremen do not understand the scope of work. It is rarely explained to them.
  • Too much criticizing. You make a mistake and you are sure to hear about it (many times belittled and put down). Little help is given to correct the mistake.
  • Too much second-guessing. You make a decision and then your boss comes around and says he would not have done it that way. But when you call for help, everyone is too busy to get involved.
  • Too many non-productive activities caused by late deliveries, lack of instruction and insufficient information.

Obstacle #2: Lack of Communication
The biggest barrier is lack of listening. When you have an idea or a solution to a problem, you cannot find anyone who will take the time to hear you out. You are constantly interrupted and told to follow the boss’s way of doing things, even if it doesn’t make sense. Basically, input from the field is not encouraged.
Another barrier is the project manager’s unfamiliarity with jobsite conditions. When you try to talk to him/her about a problem, there is little understanding of what you’re talking about. Worse, there seems to be little desire on the part of the PM to come out to the job site and find out what is going on. This results in the crew keeping problems to themselves or telling the PM what he wants to hear.
A third barrier that goes under this heading has to do with ineffective job progress meetings. These meetings are generally poorly organized. Without an objective and an agenda, too much room is left for “preaching” and a lack of input. This ends up being a colossal waste of time.

Obstacle #3: Inadequate Tool & Equipment Maintenance and Repair Program
This is a twofold problem. First, the foreman fails to tag defective equipment and identify what is wrong with it. The result is defective equipment being delivered to another job site. Even if the equipment is tagged, there is nobody in the shop qualified to repair it, and it’s not even sent out for repair. The warehouse supervisor simply stacks the equipment in a corner. This one factor costs the contractor a lot of money, since the foreman does not have operable equipment to do the job.

Obstacle #4: Demotivators
Field supervisors identified the following “demotivators” they consider to impact productivity in an extreme manner.
Lack of Pre-Job Planning. You are told to come to the office to pick up the blueprints for a job that starts tomorrow. Nobody sits down with you to explain the scope of the project you are asked to take on.
Disrespectful treatment.
You are tired of being yelled at or berated in front of others.
Lack of recognition.
You get little or no positive feedback when you do something well. You are taken for granted. It would be nice to hear good news once in a while.
Lack of participation in the decision-making process. Office personnel make decisions about jobsite problems without asking for the foreman’s input. Many times wrong decisions are made, and we have to live with those decisions with little or no support from our superiors. The decisions are reactive instead of proactive.
Do any of these hidden barriers sound familiar? Before you say, “they don’t exist in my organization,” may I suggest that you come out of hiding, bring your field supervisors together and listen!

Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill. Norb will conduct an education session, “Right from the Start,” on March 27 from 7:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. during AWCI’s Convention. “Right from the Start” focuses on getting it right in the end by starting the job right with a quality pre-construction meeting. The session is at the Walt Disney World Dolphin in room Asia 3.

To contact him, email