Part 1: Subcontractors
Editor’s Note: This blog is Part 1 in a series.
What We Track and How We Track It
Plain and simple, we track production.
Most jobsites these days have cameras for security purposes, often operated and monitored by third party services such as OxBlue. B Team builds our own proprietary jobsite cameras which our trained technicians constantly monitor logging progress, correlating it with scheduling, and forecasting pay apps.
Subcontractors have foremen and – in some cases – project managers who are hopefully on site daily managing their performance. B Team is not interested in duplicating their work or managing other companies’ employees. Our intent is to reduce their reliance on anecdotal thinking and replace it with measurable numbers. As our database grows, the size, scope, and value of that information only increases. Hiring a consulting firm to provide the same services would cost tens of thousands of dollars, yet we’re sharing it freely with our partners.
Let’s examine the many benefits this creates for subcontractors, B Team, and the relationship between the two.
Delivering Value to the Sub from Day One
For many companies, working with B Team will be the first time they have had access to this level of information about their output. Examination of this data helps subcontractors confirm or refute assumptions about their production rates. Using it gives them the ability to identify trends such as types of work, days of the week, crews, and individual workers. If the rate of work is not on track to be completed as scheduled, subs can be preemptive in identifying the issue and creating solutions.
One of our founders has been experimenting with production tracking for years. On a previous project, he directed his team to monitor and record framing completion rates. During the project, the framer’s scheduled completion date was nearing, and he was contracted to be on site at a different project in January. The GC team was able to see that, at his current rate of output, framing would not be finished until February. Using the data, they were able to have a meaningful discussion which led the sub to increase production in the fall, finish in time to begin the next job, and ultimately avoid a costly overrun. Repeated experiences like this are what has convinced us that this model works.
Another advantage of B Team’s data collection and analysis is real time access to pay applications. The direct correlation between actual work performed and billing means the subcontractor can track exactly how much money will be coming in at the end of the month. Money may also offer a more tangible metric for the foreman or project manager who doesn’t always appreciate the intangible nature of a project’s schedule. This was demonstrated to one of our founders through another previous experience, this time with a drywaller. After analyzing the drywaller’s output against his pay apps, it was clear that a production rate increase was needed (see graphic). To accomplish this, the data was shared with the project manager, and he was given a goal of having his company bill 2 million dollars that month. The PM was elated by this request and asked how he could accommodate it. He was shown exactly how many apartment units needed drywall installed to reach this dollar amount. Viewing the goal through this prism clicked with the sub and kept the project on schedule.
In both examples, proactive data analysis demonstrates how we can constructively motivate the subcontractor and keep the project on schedule without cultivating stress or animosity. While this is an isolated example, imagine the potential for improvement when this concept is scaled to teams of analysts collecting metrics across numerous projects for input and analysis by our algorithms and data scientists.
Figure 1: Without frequent data collection and detailed production tracking, most projects operate on a mix of intuition and blind hope. Many projects do not track production of any sort, so conversations lack crucial information that both parties need. The hectic finish creates a very contentions environment. (Click to enlarge.)
Figure 2: Using real time data and production tracking, problems can be identified much sooner, and corrective steps can be taken. Conversations remain thoughtful and productive, actions are meaningful, and the final result benefits everyone! (Click to enlarge.)
Benefits Beyond the Current Project
Once the job is completed, our subcontractors have the opportunity to discuss lessons learned with their B Team analytics in hand. If their next project is with us, they will continue to be provided with the tools needed to experiment with different crews or individual workers and further refine their productivity. This feedback gives them the ability to identify which workers or crews are doing well, which are struggling, and which are performing above the curve. Perhaps they reshuffle assignments to pair struggling workers with their more experienced team members. Maybe they use the data to match teams to specific requirements. Furthermore, when the time comes for promoting from within or handing out bonuses, they know for a fact who is going the extra mile and who made the most improvement. Even if their next project is not with us, our subs have valuable information about their workers, rates of production, and the reasoning behind any successes or setbacks.
These discussions are educational for us as well. On our side, they add nuance and context to our figures and facts. Post-project debriefings held between our preconstruction and project teams are informed by empirical data and then used to help us make better, more informed decisions in the future.
As B Team grows it will capture the average output rates for trades both locally and nationally across projects of all types and sizes. This rich dataset is also passed on free of charge to our subcontractor partners.
Obstacles always arise on construction sites, but how and when they are discovered can have a huge impact. Previously, we gave some examples of experiences with a framer and a drywaller. On a typical job, realization of these issues would have come later, and the resulting conversation would have been reactive in nature. Anyone who has spent time in a jobsite trailer knows how those go down: the foreman is called to the trailer, blame is assigned, disappointment is expressed, emotions sometimes become heated, and stress builds. The relationship is affected. When B Team is able to preemptively identify approaching challenges, the conversations are entirely different. They’re constructive and civil, with more options on the table, and more potential to completely avoid a problem rather than just mitigate its impact. Not having stress and uncertainty looming over a crew is a benefit any experienced sub can appreciate.
Under normal conditions, even if a sub is exceeding expectations, they probably won’t hear about it for fear that this would cause them to reduce manpower or pace. After the project is over, members of the GC operations team often have individual opinions of subs that performed amazingly or failed miserably, and these opinions tend to filter informally through the ops and preconstruction teams anecdotally. These beliefs are rarely recorded, and certainly not in the form of quantifiable data. Future decisions made on this informal data are often unpredictable and inconsistent. This is not beneficial to the subcontractor or the GC.
On B Team projects, continuous access to real time information gives subs the capability to influence or improve the relationship through communication and performance. Subs who work with B Team know that our relationship is not based on arbitrary information, but rather specifically meaningful criteria. Furthermore, they have instant access to that information whenever they desire, which provides them with increased insight into their reputation on the current job. When it’s time to award contracts on the next project, they know that B Team considers a lot more than the lowest price.
The Future of Construction Partnership Has Arrived
It’s hard to overstate the value video production tracking brings to everyone. B Team and its subcontractors benefit from more efficient projects, more efficient partners, and a growing understanding of the industry as a whole. We provide this valuable resource at no cost to our partners because it elevates the entire field of construction and makes us all smarter and better at our jobs.
Today we’re tracking sub performance on critical path activities. As the company grows and our vision is realized, this practice will extend to all trades and scopes on a project. The knowledge gained from each job bolsters B Team’s databases and algorithms, giving us greater understanding of production rates for individual trades, schedules for whole projects, and costs across the entire industry. This knowledge will help us streamline and automate tasks leading to increased productivity and efficiency to the extent that it will eventually reduce the role and need for a GC. The future of construction data analytics is here.