Incremental Innovations that Lead to Major Gains

Posted on February 20, 2023 in Scaffolding

Chaos versus Control

Does this sound familiar to you?

Manager: “Are we going to finish today?”
Foreman: “No. We need one, maybe two more days.”
Manager: “What happened?”
Foreman: “Ran out of material. Truck late. Loading dock wasn’t available. One guy was a no-show.”
Manager: “Anything we could have done to prevent these problems?”
Foreman: “Not really. That’s just construction.”

Scaffolding Solutions Washington DC Project

Stepping out of Manufacturing into the Construction World a few years ago, it struck me how much more chaotic the day-to-day operations were in the field compared to the shop.  Job outcomes were more unpredictable.  Daily or weekly schedules were frequently disrupted for a variety of reasons:  not enough material; quality issues; labor shortfalls, unexpected job interruptions…and so on.  Field Supervisors spent a large amount of their time dealing with “hiccups” and resolving issues.  They rarely had time to look beyond today’s challenges.  

Field Supervision was also different than Shop Supervision.  Foremen and Field Supervisors were usually promoted based on their ability to “get things done” despite unplanned problems that came up in the field.  They were great at getting results, regardless of the roadblocks they faced.  As long as the overall job budget and schedule was met (with zero safety incidents), the supervisor was considered successful.  But how much unrealized potential was left on the table?

Shop Supervisors by contrast tended to be promoted based on their ability to drive sustainable Process Improvement.  Their performance was measured based on improving Throughput, Productivity and Quality, Safety and other KPI’s.  Yes, the overall bottom line mattered too: job profit, schedule, safety…but those broader goals were almost secondary to meeting the more tangible, measurable daily metrics. 

In manufacturing we mobilized small teams to observe and evaluate processes.  We broke down larger processes into smaller steps and looked for ways to shave minutes of the cycle time, reduce waste and improve quality.  Incremental innovation in the production process often added up to big gains in throughput and quality.  We called it “Continuous Improvement” or “LEAN”.  

In the field, however, I noticed very little Continuous Improvement occurring. I saw waste everywhere I looked: oversupply, down-time, quality issues, etc.  Few others seemed to notice and/or didn’t have time to deal with the issues.  “Root-cause” analysis was rarely performed to figure out why the problems were happening in the first place.  Supervisors appeared to be unusually busy all the time, reacting and solving problems on the fly, phones glued to their ears.  They put their heads down, resolved issues and got the job done – obstacles or not.  Once the issue was resolved, they moved on and rarely looked back. 

Asking Questions

We wanted to break out of this endless cycle of reacting to issues, but how?  Could we leverage innovation to reduce chaos and to drive process improvement?  

We dug deeper into our issues.  We collected data to measure how well (or how poorly) we were performing across a wide range of areas.  We asked ourselves very specific questions:

  • Why did we miss 10% of our labor targets?
  • Why were 7% of our deliveries late?
  • Why did we send 3% defective material into the field?
  • Why is there 14% worker downtime?

We sought feedback from our entire Team:  Sales. Project Management. Logistics. Trucking.  Field.  Purchasing.  We conducted observations to observe these issues occurring in real time.  

At first, we ran into roadblocks.  Some were reluctant to share problems for fear of retribution or blame.  Problems were not openly discussed.  To move forward we first had to look inward.  We needed to strengthen trust between management and labor.

We let our teams know this was a zero-judgment, no-blame zone – and we meant it.  We explained what we were doing and how it would benefit them.  Eventually people came around and started sharing information.  Trust grew. This in turn opened the door to challenging the status quo.

Seeking Answers

We gathered into small groups and challenged ourselves to throw out the old playbook and re-imagine our processes.  No solutions were off the table.  Sometimes one idea would lead us down unexpected pathways.  New opportunities emerged in ways we hadn’t considered. 

We examined each step of a process and looked at how we might re-arrange it, change it or improve it.  We identified obstacles to our new ideas and found ways to overcome them.  To get to the root cause of an issue we often had to ask “Why” multiple times to get the real answer.  

We didn’t try to hit home runs.  We kept the scope and time commitments small.  A 2% improvement in one process might seem insignificant – but multiply that by 10 smaller, incremental innovations and you begin to realize a much larger impact. 

Women's Center Scaffolding Project

Testing Hypotheses

Seeing is believing.  To demonstrate proof of concept, we tested our ideas at our scaffold yard or in the field.  We brought in our key field personnel to help us out.  We conducted time trials and recorded data.  We modified the process steps if we needed to.  In our “laboratory” we challenged the way things “have always been done”, scrapping ideas that did not work.  Often one test might lead us to 2 or 3 other ideas that we hadn’t considered before.  Those who doubted the new processes and ideas could work were able to see them in action.  Leaders emerged.  

Did it Work?

We quickly started noticing tangible benefits of our Incremental Innovations.  Across the board, our Key Performance Indicators improved: Delivery, Quality, Cost, Safety.  On-time delivery virtually 100%.  Defective material nearly non-existent.  Labor targets routinely crushed.  Project timelines rarely missed.

Once the process started working, our supervisors began getting much fewer “crisis” phone calls for unplanned field problems.  No more phones “glued” to their ears.  This gave them more time to look ahead, strategize and plan…solving problems before they became actual problems.  They became Proactive versus Reactive

Employee engagement grew.  Workers were able to use their own creativity and imagination to favorably impact their jobs.

One day early on in our journey my Operations Manager said to me, “Steve, My phone hasn’t been ringing today…I’m not sure what to do!”  I just laughed and said, “That’s what’s supposed to happen!  Now let’s get to work on the next thing.”

Conclusion

Innovation does not only refer to some new technology, expensive equipment or the “latest greatest” software.  Incremental Innovation harnesses the power of your own people – working together to ask questions and find answers.  It yields measurable results quickly, increases worker engagement and

identifies future leaders.  Management needs to make it a priority and stay involved.  Keep your innovations incremental at first to gain momentum and then never look back. Stick with it.  This process requires direct management support, coaching and involvement. Choose to control the chaos or it will control you.

Scaffolding Solutions Team Photo
Scaffolding Solutions Team Photo

Steven Ott, PE, is Division Manager for Scaffolding Solutions, DC-Metro Division. 

Scaffolding Solutions is an industry-leading full-service worker access company.  Scaffolding Solutions provides advanced access systems, top-level service and advanced engineered solutions – with an emphasis on safety, culture and innovation.

Steven Ott can be reached at [email protected] and at 571.364.1315

Search

Memberships & Associations

Customer Testimonials

heydy Landaverdeheydy Landaverde ★★★★★ Jeremy WishonJeremy Wishon ★★★★★ Frank was awesome to work with. The service was top notch, got the ball rolling immediately, and got us set up faster than expected. Looking forward to working with them on future projects.Lynn PierceLynn Pierce ★★★★★ Great service! Exceptional communication! I’m greatly to worked with Scaffolding Solutions.John WoodJohn Wood ★★★★★ Our heavy mechanical construction company have worked with Scaffolding Solutions for years now. Scaffolding Solutions are amazingly fast, responsive, & professional. They always exceed our expectations! Mr. Frank Giuliano is absolutely the best. Frank is always accommodating, extremely knowledgeable and always “safety first” in his approach to our scaffolding needs. We manage heavy mechanic projects within the transportation industry for Government agencies and Scaffolding Solutions & Mr Giuliano always exceed our clients needs. We highly recommend Scaffolding Solutions & Mr. Frank Giuliano for any, commercial or residential projects, you or your company has. 5 STARS! OUTSTANDING QUALITY WORK! GREAT COMPETITIVE RATES!Response from the ownerThank you, John! We are proud to be your "access partner of choice". Looking forward to many more successful projects to come. Thank you for your business! Hal CoganHal Cogan ★★★★★ Frank and his team with Scaffolding Solutions were great! Even with last minute changes and numerous headaches the day of they still got the job done. I look forward to working with them again!Response from the ownerThank you, Hal! Our goal is to provide the best service, safety and pricing of any other access company in the DMV. Exceeding your expectations is our mission! Hann HannHann Hann ★★★★★ Frank & his team didn't meet our expectations, they exceeded them. Everyone was extremely professionally throughout the project. Communication was over the top. Couldn't have asked for more complete turnkey service. Scaffolding Solutions is top of the list for any scaffold or shoring needs.Response from the ownerThank you! The amazing partnership, friendship and teamwork we have with Hann and Hann is what we're all about. We appreciate your business! rolando Tobarrolando Tobar ★★★★★ Great work & access to all kind of work ...The best in the DMVResponse from the ownerThank you Rolando! Our goal is to provide the best service of any other access company in the DMV. Kevin TaylorKevin Taylor ★★★★★ The team at Scaffold Solutions really got me out of a bind this past week. Set-up scaffold on Saturday morning and came back Sunday morning to take it back down. Communication was great, speed and safety were excellent and price was fair. I appreciate the solid communication and follow-up from their team and they did a great job helping me get the steel installed in the elevator shaft. Thank you!Response from the ownerThank you Kevin! We were very happy to partner with you on this work and "get it done". Safety, communication, speed - and great pricing. You hit the nail on the head my friend! Diana MiraldiDiana Miraldi ★★★★★ Response from the ownerThank you for your 5-star review Diana! Giselle AllenGiselle Allen ★★★★★ I recently had my fourth floor loft terrace enclosed. Scaffolding Solutions, LLC is the only choice you need to ensure your project is successful! Frank Giuliano visited my home and assessed the area, then coordinated with the Patio Enclosure installation manager to build a custom design that was efficient for the project. Frank’s customer service was remarkable. He constantly communicated updates and I felt very comfortable contacting him with any questions. The scaffolding crew only took one day to assemble and disassemble the scaffold without incident. They were pleasant, professional and respectful of my property. Hands down this was the best experience and I definitely recommend Scaffolding Solutions, LLC.Response from the ownerThank you Giselle! We were happy to be able to help you with your project...and are very glad the experience was so positive for you. Have an amazing day! G Man PalenciaG Man Palencia ★★★★★ Joe PodgurskiJoe Podgurski ★★★★★ fernando santos sanchezfernando santos sanchez ★★★★★ el lugar luce muy bonito, la atención muy amableMichael MatiasMichael Matias ★★★★★ Ruff Ryder SincereRuff Ryder Sincere ★★★★★ Response from the ownerThank you Ruff! We appreciate your business and look forward to many more successful projects together! Luis Jomar Rodriguez SanchezLuis Jomar Rodriguez Sanchez ★★★★★ Shannon WalkerShannon Walker ★★★★★ Charles AppichCharles Appich ★★★★★ Richard WhiteRichard White ★★★★★ Chad EssexChad Essex ★★★★★ Andi LopezAndi Lopez ★★★★★ Muy buenoDomonic ClardyDomonic Clardy ★★★★★ David BucciarelliDavid Bucciarelli ★★★★★ Fantastic companyMatthew AlemanMatthew Aleman ★★★★★ i love the work they did at DCJose PietriJose Pietri ★★★★★ Great company and innovative scaffolds!Diana DuVallDiana DuVall ★★★★★ The best service and competitive pricing!Tony BullockTony Bullock ★★★★★ I work hereJoel DiazJoel Diaz ★★★★★ Timmy WilloughbyTimmy Willoughby ★★★★★ Scaffolding Solutions... All I can say is "WOW". I was impressed with the professionalism, courtesy and efficiency of the complete experience.js_loader